In the cycle

Many of the hippies that stumbled into a not yet gentrified Crested Butte in the ‘60s and ‘70s stayed in the valley and watched the “old-timers” move on – either to places like Pueblo or New Mexico, or to one of the most scenic cemeteries in North America located just north of town. That’s all part of the cycle, the circle of life. 

Now it appears it is their turn. A lot of the CB hippies that stayed at 9,000 feet for decades have either found their own warmer winter spots at lower altitude or have ended their journey (at least physically) below the west side of the pointed laccolith overseeing the North Valley. One of the most iconic of the early CB newcomers, a true legend, Eric Ross, was one. He sadly moved on from the physical journey last week from his home in Wildbird. He won’t be writing any more hilarious 10-minute plays or adding to his voluminous pile of funny KBUT radio sketches, but his spirit is probably making Mitch laugh pretty good about now.

One quick story Eric probably was never aware of: Several years ago, a friend of mine who was in a place of struggle was driving back to the valley from a road trip. He says he was in what would be considered a rough mental spot and was at the wheel wondering if it would be better to just swerve left into the path of a Mack truck. As he came through Almont the radio started playing Cool Stuff, Cool People — one of Eric’s many short but weird and zany vignettes he did for KBUT. My friend said hearing Eric’s voice going on about something crazy changed his perspective and he kept the steering wheel straight. Because of Cool Stuff, Cool People he was reminded of why he lived here and was jolted into remembering that he was comfortable and accepted in a valley full of different sorts of people…people like Eric Ross.

Maybe Eric didn’t save a life that day – but maybe he did. He certainly impacted a member of the community in a time of need, and my guess is that he has not been the only one to feel the positive vibe of Eric’s uninhibited and joyful mind. He sure made me smile a lot the last three decades. I’m sorry to see him move on…but it is part of the cycle…

Speaking of…it is difficult to believe the 2022-23 CBMR ski season begins in less than a week. For whatever reason, that is hard to get around my mind. It has certainly been cold enough the last few weeks to understand the inevitable move from fall to winter. It’s just for some reason this year has been a particularly hard transition. Instead of getting used to the single digit temperatures early in the morning, it just still feels cold.

I will say that CB Nordic has done an incredible job with Lily Lake and skiing up there is nothing but sweet winter. The grooming has been great, and it is fun to see a lot of people heading up there on both Nordic and AT gear. It sure is a pretty postcard type of place and a traditional transition to move into the winter wonderland that is Crested Butte. Kudos to the skinny skiers.

As with the start to any CBMR ski season, it is normally met with joy and hope. Skiing is a big reason most of us came here originally. Getting the lifts turning so we can again ride with joy the slopes that lay below the point of Crested Butte Mountain will start next Wednesday and run until April. The hope of course is that we have a big season in terms of snowfall. The thought of waking up regularly to a foot of fresh so we can experience a pleasure not everyone can enjoy is part of the anticipation of the new season.

And then there is the hope that we have the Goldilocks tourist season — not too many and not too few but juuuuust right. To me, tourists and part-timers add good energy to a ski resort and provide diversity and new perspective to our home. I really enjoy that and appreciate the amenities provided in a resort-based community. No one wants the lines at the chairlift to be pouring out beyond the maze and no one wants to not be able to go out to eat because the wait is two hours. That benefits no one — those working or those hoping to enjoy a meal. It just adds stress to what should be a good time. Who needs that? 

A legitimate concern is that because there are now so many restaurant spaces that used to be filled with dynamic local eateries but are now sitting empty, the ones that are operating will be overwhelmed. More stress. That leads to burnout on the employee side and bad experiences on the customer side.

As reported this week on page 1, aging commercial kitchen ventilation systems are contributing to the issue but so is the takeover of downtown business spaces by just a few people of means. Someone said to me that Crested Butte’s favorite billionaire property owner, Mark Walter, sees his spending here like dropping $20 at the bargain bin. That’s fine and I sort of get it. But his spending spree that has so far resulted in a lot of empty buildings has real impacts on us living in the bin and the vibe of a unique place that depends on visitors for much of the economy. It takes away from the dynamic spirit of our community and frankly will not encourage those that came here wanting to see Colorado’s last great ski town to come back — and like it or not, that matters. 

As I have offered more than once, if Mr. Walter wants to sit down for 10 minutes and communicate to the community through the community newspaper what it is he wants to do to add to the community, he is more than welcome. 

Heck, I’ll give him as much space as he wants to write an unedited letter so he can relay his thoughts about a place he apparently likes. So far, no word. While he has enough money to not care if the buildings he bought are full of revenue generating customers, I’m just curious to know if he understands the impacts on the rest of the community.

So here we are on the cusp of another ski season. Like the passing of the Crested Butte old-timers and the original CB hippies, the circle of life and of the changing of the seasons march on. No one knows for sure what will come next. That’s part of the charm of living in a small town at 9,000 feet in the mountains. We will no doubt miss some of the local legends this winter, but the seasons continue to come as will young people looking for the same thing Eric did in the hippie days. May they be fortunate enough to experience half the life and make half the impact he did here. 

The cycles continue….

—Mark Reaman

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