Some good light in the darkest time of year

The shortest day of the year in Crested Butte is next week. I always remind people that while winter is dark and cold at 9,000 feet, the days will start getting longer after the winter solstice on December 21. So understandably, while the darkness isn’t always full of happiness and joy, there are some great “good news” stories happening around here right now to keep in mind.

I can’t repeat enough the story of the local named Orion (see page 1) who last week found himself buried in the snow beneath the Paradise ski lift and literally came to the edge of death — his heart had stopped beating — until half a dozen locals came to the rescue and saved his life. Orion has been in the ski business for decades and is totally certified with first aid credentials. He knew the peril he was in and figured he had a slim chance to see Christmas this year when he basically couldn’t dig out of a freak snow hole he dove into head first after clipping a punji tree top. But the Universe works and in this case the Universe placed the right people in the right place at the right time. Six passionate people who know CPR and Wilderness First Responder protocols happened to be in the exact spot on the lift they needed to be to save a life. Had they loaded the chair 30 seconds later, or 30 seconds earlier, the outcome might have been very different. Crazy stuff. As it happened, they realized the gravity of the situation and put their learned skills to work — and it worked – which they will be the first to say, is not always the case. Anyway, the fact that six locals saved the life of a seventh on a slow Tuesday afternoon on the mountain is a very good news story indeed.

By the way, longtime local Billy Rankin has been teaching CPR and Wilderness First Aid courses here for decades and has a CPR and Standard First Aid class scheduled for Thursday evening, January 4 in CB. If you’re interested in getting trained and certified, touch base with Billy at Intuition Consulting (

In a similar vein, Gunnison Valley Health is sharing the story which we plan to run next week about another local that was doing a home improvement project and accidentally shot a nail from a nail gun into his chest. It was as bad as it sounds. Through the efforts of a lot of local people, he survived and that too is a good news story you can read about more in-depth in next week’s CB News.

It appears the relentless fight to protect Red Lady is in the final chapter…and that story appears headed for a happy ending. That is incredibly good news after decades of fighting to protect the iconic mountain overlooking Elk Avenue. On December 8, the Forest Service released a draft Environmental Assessment (see page 1) and finding of no significant impact for the Thompson Divide Mineral Withdrawal Project. That EA document includes a mineral withdrawal for the area around Red Lady. Every indication is that the USFS is following the recommendation of the White House and proposing an administrative mineral withdrawal on all mining on Mt. Emmons that is good for 20 years. The next effort will be to turn that into a congressional mineral withdrawal that is permanent. U.S. Senator Michael Bennet has been key in pushing for Red Lady protections for more than a decade and has been instrumental in this action. He has also introduced the CORE Act in Congress that would provide permanent protections. He is doing the good work for his constituents in this valley. 

Gunnison has for years thrown down and kicked butt when it comes to the holiday lighting standard in the valley. Their giant tree and festive block party during its unveiling rocks and the North Valley is a mere shadow in that regard to the county seat. But the town of Crested Butte is getting pounded this year on social media for its lack of festive lighting and I can’t defend it. While the main “Light Up the Night” event has been held for a few years now in Mountaineer Square by the ski area, CB would usually throw some light on the trees at the south entrance to town and on the big tree by the Post Office. This year they appear to have thrown in the towel. It sure seems dark coming into town and without that landmark tree lit up, Elk Avenue feels a bit dreary for the holidays. It’s not just about being a “tourist town” and providing light to visitors here for the Christmas postcard we know we can be — but as a resident, most of us need and want the light too. Seeing light in the dark days surrounding the solstice brings a little hope to the soul at the start of long, cold winter.

I talked to some of the town peeps this week and they said the entrance trees have gotten so big their lift doesn’t extend high enough to do a good job. The ongoing renovation of the old Brick Oven by the PO resulted in the nearby outlet being removed, so no lights there. While the crew is small and certainly busy, I see those as problems easily solved and they promised they will look at it for next year.

But the “good news” is that a group of locals have come together to address the dearth of light in town during these dark days. What is being billed as a “grassroots event” will be held Saturday afternoon in the 300 block of Elk Avenue as a cadre of local businesspeople plan to light up the private tree on the south side of the block at about 6 p.m. One online post explained that, “It’s more than just lights. It’s about lighting our community in the darkest time of the year. Showing others that we are here for each other by showing up. Our community is amazing in so many ways and bringing the cheer of the Holiday season is the core of our town.” Cheers to that and thanks to those who jumped in to provide some good news, some literal light, in these darkest of seasonal days.

In a week, the sun will start sitting higher in the sky and the chance of experiencing apricity—the warmth of the winter sun on your face (thanks for the word, Anna Fenerty) — will expand. In the meantime, realize there is a lot of light in the stories taking place all around us — even during these shortest days of December. 

—Mark Reaman

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