[ By Dawne Belloise ]
Eric Davis was at one point determined to live his life as a surf bum. Instead, he found his way east, trading the California waves for the vertical frozen white stuff of Crested Butte and the surrounding mountains. E.D., as he’s locally known, spent the first few years of his childhood in Annapolis, Maryland, and with his father as a Navy pilot, the family moved around quite a bit. As a young boy, while the family was living in Memphis, his father brought him outside to witness a meteor shower and that event became one of his fondest childhood recollections. “I was 6 years old and there were fireballs and everything,” Eric smiles and also recalls the many airshows he attended with his family.
The Navy family was eventually moved to San Diego. “Our backyard sloped off into an undeveloped canyon and we played there, where there were rabbits, lizards, the occasional rattlesnake and all those things that kids like. It was great growing up next to the canyon.” They loved California so after the aerospace program collapsed, they moved to Los Angeles. “It was a drag moving to L.A.,” he says, because they missed their canyon playground. But now he was only three miles from the Hermosa Beach so when he hit his teenage years and could drive, he’d head to the shore where hanging out at the beach and surfing became his passion. “I thought I was going to grow up to be a surf bum but instead I ended up being a ski bum,” he laughs.
The market for engineers, along with the economy, wasn’t doing so well in the 1970s when Eric’s father took a job in construction in Aurora, Colorado, and Eric followed him there from LA. in 1971. Eric discovered that he really enjoyed the work. “It was no stress. I liked all the aspects of physical labor and being outside.” He had begun to explore the nearby mountains when a neighbor raved about this place called Crested Butte. “She continually went off about how cool it was. I had only skied once on a hill in Wisconsin. I didn’t know how to turn, I just jumped up in the air and tried to turn the skis sideways.”
Every few months, Eric would travel back to L.A. from Aurora in his VW van, working so he could support a surf bum lifestyle. What he discovered was, “I started liking the mountains and being upstream from all that people pollution. I wasn’t liking L.A. anymore.” On his way back to Colorado in 1973, Eric decided to check out this Crested Butte place that his neighbor carried on about. His air-cooled VW classically sputtered along like a sewing machine over Kebler Pass as night fell. “I didn’t see CB until the next morning from the side of Highway 135,” where he had pulled over to sleep. When he emerged from his van and looked up at Paradise Divide, he was wowed. “My jaw dropped. Just seeing the shapes of Purple Mountain against Mineral Point and the flatness of the valley floor contrasting with Paradise Divide, it’s hard to describe but I thought, oh my god, maybe I want to live here.” He came back several times, hiking Conundrum to soak in the springs and exploring the area. “Back then you could drive a VW to Copper Lake.”
Returning to Denver to work for a few more years so he could totally trick out another VW van for living in the varying mountain climates, Eric and his Irish setter named Freedom packed up and headed over the Divide to choose between either Telluride or Crested Butte in November of 1978. He had determined that skiing only 12 days a year on the Front Range wasn’t cutting it, “It just wasn’t enough.”
On the road, he picked up a hitchhiker on Highway 285, who happened to be Peachtree Jim’s roommate, Jim Guther, who was living with a host of others in the old “Cathouse” in Gunnison. “He suggested I live in CB and get a job as a maid but that didn’t sit too well,” Eric mused, but Guther’s explanation of why Eric should take a job in housekeeping piqued his interest. “Think about it,” Eric recalled Guther’s reveal, “a new guy in a new town and most housekeepers are women and you get a ski pass. The light bulb went off,” Eric laughs. It was the day before Thanksgiving when Eric walked into Ptarmigan Property Management in the Emmons building, just above the deli that Jim “Deli” Schmidt, the now retired mayor of Crested Butte, got his name. Eric was hired as a housekeeper on the spot, and began cleaning at the Emmons, Axtel, Whetstone and Snowcrest condos.
Eric lived in his van, most often parked in Whetstone or Axtel lots after a full day of working and skiing. One brisk evening, he let his dog out to do his thing and then fell asleep. When he awoke, his pooch had bolted, “Here’s this long haired and bushy bearded guy in a VW van yelling, ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ at 11 p.m. and then I see lights going on in the condos,” he grinned. Eric hightailed it out of there as soon as his dog named Freedom returned, “Because I figured the people in the condos thought I was some long-haired freak on acid screaming freedom.”
Eric moved to 417 Whiterock for a few years and then moved to First Street before buying the house next door in 1987, now known as the Air Conditioned house. “When I was living on Whiterock, a roomie moved out and left a bunch of stuff and this old air condition sign was part of that. We actually had it on 417 for awhile, and that’s how my house got its name. We figured it was a joke because nobody ever needed air conditioning here.” In fact, he tells of those days when Crested Butte’s houses or systems weren’t so energy efficient or insulated. “There’d be a really cold morning and you’d wake up and the pipes would be frozen so you’d go to the Forest Queen for breakfast, head to the bathroom, and sit at the community table with your friends and nod, ‘Oh your plumbing froze too.’ I think business doubled at the Forest Queen when the pipes froze around town.”
From 1984 to 2000, Eric was on the CBMR ski patrol. “I wanted to be on ski patrol because we got paid to ski, throw bombs and help people, I mean how good can it get? It sure was a good time with the camaraderie, early mornings out there on control work, being out on the mountain when it was so quiet. Some of my favorite memories was what we called taking super sweep. You’d be up at the top at ski patrol headquarters waiting for all the sweeps to get down and call in clear,” he says of the nightly task of ski patrol scouring every run to ensure no skier is left on the mountain. ”And then you’d ski down by yourself with this beautiful view of the whole range and the whole mountain to yourself. Most often I’d like to come down International because of the view. At that time of day, it’s sunset and it’s magnificent.”
After ski patrol, Eric shoveled many a roof, did various construction jobs and says happily, “I even did a little bit of housekeeping again.” He met Audrey Anderson at a camp out at Lost Lake where he led a group of friends for a hike up East Beckwith. “We’d go dog walking,” he says of their budding romance, “I had another Irish setter named Seamus.” In a town where dog birthdays are an event, he and Seamus were invited to a party for Audrey’s dog. “It was her golden retriever Estee’s second birthday party, January 12, 2008, and we’ve been together ever since,” he says. The couple recently tied the knot on 4/20 at 4:20 p.m. on skis in a Woods Walk ceremony with just the two of them and their pooches as witnesses during the height of the COVID lockdown.
Throughout his decades here, Eric has many exceptional memories of winter crossings to Aspen via Conundrum, winter snow caves at Copper and Green Lakes, Save the Red Lady tours over Pearl Pass to Aspen, and extraordinary summers which brought even more camping and mountain biking. “We didn’t even call it mountain biking back then, they were just klunkers with brakes and gears. My first mountain bike weighed like 40 pounds back in 1981 and we rode those over Pearl Pass.”
Eric and Audrey don’t think they’d find another home that feels as unique as Crested Butte. “I just still love it here, and all the memories. All my friends are here. There’s a sense of security here, being around town, hiking or camping, and then running into someone, an old friend who says, ‘Hi Eric.’ Besides,” he grins, “it would be too late to start over somewhere else and if we went someplace else it would have to be a place that had more snow than here. Even though it’s changed and become gentrified, and we’ve thought about moving, I feel it would be the biggest mistake I ever made.”