[ by Dawne Belloise ]
Snow adventures in the winters and lake adventures in the summers is how Maddie Thomas describes growing up in Crested Butte. Skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating and sledding, and as the snows melted, flying out over the water on the swing at Long Lake before splashing down, swimming in Nicholson Lake across from her childhood home and riding bikes out from the Slate through Wildbird, arriving at Peanut Lake to continue pedaling into town. Her family had horses, too. Of course, there were summer chores to prepare for the always approaching winter, where the whole family split and stacked firewood together in an assembly line fashion. There was always something to do as a kid in the north end of the valley.
After biking to town, Maddie recalls, “We’d run around and be Crested Butte kids. Go to the park. Everybody knew everyone and someone would always be looking out for us because it’s such a small town. We were really lucky to grow up here in a small environment where it’s safe. We had freedom but we always had security in that freedom because we were being raised by the whole community.”
Maddie was born on her older sister Katie’s birthday, but is two years younger. Both girls were raised entirely in Crested Butte by their parents Beach (Jim) and Jane Thomas, who arrived in town in the mid 1970s. Beach is a locally renowned roofer with his own construction company since 1974 and Jane worked in the ski industry before becoming the long-time librarian at the Old Rock Library.
Growing up in a winter resort community, Maddie remembers middle school days when local kids under the age of 16 only had to pay their age to ski. Skiing was also part of the school’s weekly P.E. curriculum.
High school classes were tiny back in the day and there were only 16 graduating seniors in Maddie’s 2007 class. She recalls the challenge of dating in a small town where everyone grew up together. “It can be tough. I didn’t really date until I was out of high school. You’re all so close. I had so many close friends and meaningful relationships that I still have.” That year after she graduated, her parents decided to sell the home on Nicholson Lake that Beach had built when Maddie was only two years old and move to Gunnison.
Although she was initially hesitant about college, Maddie found that she was missing that education piece in her life, so she enrolled at Western Colorado University. “I thought it was a good opportunity to try college while staying close to home,” she says, and feels that it turned out to be a good choice. “I made friends and was able to stay close to home and my community but it also allowed me to branch out to find educational growth that led to professional growth.”
She started out on a medical nursing track, but she laughs, “Math and science… I couldn’t succeed as much as I wanted to in those disciplines.” After an awakening through an encounter with law enforcement, Maddie decided to change her major to sociology with a criminal justice emphasis. “I got really into it. It was fascinating learning about law enforcement and that world.” She graduated in 2013 with a degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice and a minor in politics and government.
Maddie felt her move to Gunnison reflected the changes currently happening in the north end of the valley. “I felt I could afford to live in Gunnison. I was closer to my parents and college but I always maintained a job in CB.” Her first job at the age of 18 was in food and beverages at the Club at Crested Butte. All through her five years of college, she worked at the Avalanche on the mountain in both winter and summer.
After college graduation, Maddie had an internship with the Gunnison police department, doing record retention and case follow up on petty offenses. “I really enjoyed it and it opened my eyes. I thought it was really cool to be applying my college education,” she says. “I was waiting for an opportunity to open up while working in the beverage world and for my dad.”
When that opportunity presented itself in 2016, Maddie took it. “I was hired to work as a legal assistant at the Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s office,” where she was initially in charge of discovery and restitution, which deals with all the materials and records involved in a criminal case file, and getting files to a defense attorney or a party to the case. “It was a great learning experience. I enjoyed seeing the process and getting the perspective from the prosecution side of things,” she says of her two years there. Afterwards, she became a court clerk, a position where she was responsible for accepting and processing all court filings in Gunnison. “It was different because it also includes the civil side of things,” she says.
But then COVID happened and she felt it best to part with the court position and seek professional growth elsewhere. “It was the very beginning of COVID and we were on lockdown. There were a couple months where I just worked for my dad and that August I started working for Eleven as part of their lodge staff.” Maddie hung in, she says, hopeful that a position in her field would come up locally.
Then last year, the Mt. CB police department advertised a position for an administrative assistant and she took the job. “I feel like this job is more aligned with my college education and I’ve come full circle. I started out with the internship in law enforcement and this is more along those lines, going back to where I began. One of the things I really like about being in law enforcement, judicial, and working in government in a rural community is that you get to wear a lot of hats. You get to touch on all things, you’re not pigeonholed to just records,” she notes and says that in a small department in a small town you essentially learn to do every aspect of the job, “And it makes the job more interesting for sure. The commute can be tough,” she says of driving from Gunnison up to the mountain, “but it’s definitely worth it. It’s having the best of both worlds – being able to work in Crested Butte but living in Gunnison.”
Getting the job with the Mt. CB police department has worked well for Maddie in so many ways, and this year she was able to ski more. “I got my pass again and now I can do lunch laps,” she says enthusiastically. “I’ve got a yellow lab who is a big part of my life. She’s my fishing and hunting buddy,” she says of her pooch named Paloma. She’s also got a 16 pounder black cat named Poncho, “He’s more of a dog,” she laughs. “Animals are pretty important to me. If I could have a dozen dogs, I would, but I’m grateful for the one I have.”
These days after the winter snows retreat, and when she’s not working, Maddie loves to head out and go flyfishing, something she grew to love as a youngster with her dad. “I found it a really rewarding passion. I’m a big advocate for the health of our fish and rivers, all of that is important to me.” She’s a hunter as well, which she also attributes to her dad. “Dad would do a lot of bird hunting when I was growing up. We are so lucky to live in Gunnison County where we can hunt big game. I got my first buck this year,” she proudly tells. She harvested her first elk in 2016.
Maddie acknowledges the changes she sees in the valley, especially in Crested Butte. ”l’ve been here so long I’ve been somewhat desensitized to the changes,” she says of having seen other major changes in Crested Butte throughout her lifetime here and she explains, “because the solutions are beyond me and worrying about things that I can’t control is going to take a toll on me. There’s more volume of people and although it’s frustrating, they come here for the same reasons we’re here. I think it’s a combination of both Vail and COVID that exacerbated the situation that was already upon us. As many friends as I’ve seen return to CB, I’ve seen just as many leaving because they can’t afford to build a life here.
“I still feel like CB is my home,” she continues. “Working up here and with the community again, I feel a sense of loyalty to the community that basically raised me. It’s rewarding to be able to serve that community now as an adult in a profession here. I love it here. All sorts of things can happen in life and I don’t want to say I’ll never leave, but this place will always be here.”