Profile: Laurel Clark Runcie

By Dawne Belloise

Laurel Clark Runcie had just moved to town with her husband Tom in 2008 when the recession hit. Luckily, they just wanted to ski anyway, and she already had a job lined up at the Ice Bar. Besides, they were young, didn’t have kids and, as she says, “Had the freedom to see where the journey took us.” 

They were completely awed and taken by their first Vinotok experience that year and, “We were just blown away with the community, the creativity and celebration.” She remembers calling her dad right after that, looking out at the mountains and telling him, “I have no idea how we’re going to do this but if we can make it work, we’re staying forever.” Through the years, they made it work and have flourished here. She started her own business, Laurel Runcie Content Design, which she describes as, “all about telling stories.” She helps businesses and nonprofits in everything from web content to grant writing.

Laurel grew up skiing at a tiny private hill called Cazenovia Ski Club in upstate New York. It had a T-bar and two rope tows, no running water and since it was maintained by the members, the grooming was not very good. But Laurel fondly remembers the great times she had there. “It was steep and narrow and it was so much fun. One of my favorite parts was that one of the local PE teachers was a member, so on snow days my mom would drop us off and all my friends would get dropped off too. The PE teacher would just run the lifts.”

Soccer was Laurel’s other main hobby when there wasn’t snow on the ground. They’d train indoors in the winter on unforgiving Astroturf. “I never liked indoor soccer as much as I liked playing on grass,” she says, understandably. A hip injury during her senior year ended Laurel’s soccer career, but she was still able to ski. Laurel graduated from high school in 2002 and enrolled at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. She had planned to study biology but changed her major three times just in her freshman year. She finally chose history of which she laughs, “I did as much reading as an English literature major except history was all true stuff instead of made-up stories.”

While at college, Laurel was on the volunteer Dartmouth Ski Patrol at the Dartmouth Skiway, and it’s where she met her husband, Tom Runcie, who was also on the ski patrol. Laurel graduated in 2006 with a degree in history.

Laurel had been a nanny as well as working at the Montshire Museum, a children’s science and discovery museum in Vermont on New Hampshire’s border. She did a two-year internship in the education department, and they kept giving her odd jobs, “like working at the summer camp where they had this cool program called Camped In. Schools would come in on a field trip and camp inside the Montshire Museum. I taught different workshops but my favorite was the planetarium. It was an inflatable dome with a light in the middle and we could set it up to match what was happening in the skies that night.” 

Laurel enjoyed working with the kids so much she decided she wanted to teach so she applied for Teach for America, which is a program that takes recent college grads into an intensive summer program, gives them professional development and training for teaching, then places the graduates into high needs schools. Laurel was placed in a Las Vegas school for two years. “It was hard, it was intense, but it was incredibly rewarding. I had so many cool students,” she tells of her fourth graders, but also found it to be heartbreaking. “I had students who were dealing with unbelievable generational poverty. I was really committed to having my students learn as much as possible while I was there.”  

Her hubby Tom had made a deal with her – he would move to Las Vegas if after her two-year teaching commitment, they’d move to a ski town. With no real plan of which ski town, they hit Steamboat and Telluride, checking out the rent prices online. “We were down to Whitefish, Montana and Crested Butte, but we thought we might go back to grad school so Colorado won out.”

They arrived in town in August of 2008, having never been here, picked up a CB News and went to look at an apartment at the Solar 6-Plex on the mountain. They signed the lease that day, went back to Las Vegas and packed up and moved in on September 15, 2008. “We were driving back to CB listening to the radio when we heard that Lehman Bros went under and we thought, oh my God, there goes the economy. And that was the start of the 2008 recession.” While Tom’s geology job succumbed to the recession, Laurel at least had the Ice Bar to start with.

She was working a couple odd jobs and remembers checking the News and seeing four jobs and 75 rentals in the paper. “I’d count them every week. We actually thought about leaving,” until she was hired in 2010 by the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab (RMBL) as the visitor center store manager. In the winter of 2011, she took a full-time, year-round position with RMBL that entailed half development and half operations. The job enabled them to stay in CB. She continued at RMBL through 2013. “I loved it and probably would have stayed but there wasn’t any opportunity to move up in the organization and I wanted to keep developing my career, so I started looking for something else.”

“The aspects I liked best about working at RMBL were communicating and the community itself. It was also an opportunity to inspire and it reminded me of teaching. I really liked that, and I started thinking I might be interested in marketing. I had a background in writing from being a history major. For me, I’ve always thought of marketing as a chance to tell a story.” 

That fall of 2013, the Tourism Association was hiring. She began as a webmaster and that evolved into marketing director. Laurel recalls, “At that time the economy here was still recovering and we had seen so many people get foreclosed on and so many people had to leave the valley, just a lot of challenges related to the economic recovery. It seemed like the Gunnison Valley was slower to recover than the rest of the country. I was drawn to opportunity to help support the biggest industry in the valley which was tourism.” She worked with the Tourism Association until her first child came along. She was the 2019 Vinotok Harvest Mother and Luca was born in November that year.

And then COVID hit. “I was coming out of the newborn fog and ready to see our friends again and then bam, COVID. We were isolated during a global pandemic with my first baby. At that point, I was focused on Luca and being a mom that first year.” Laurel worked from home and began the process of building a consulting business. She wrote grants for Sustainable Crested Butte and in 2021, helped the Community Foundation of Gunnison Valley (CFGV) to develop a communication strategy as part of their new strategic plan. “The plan was so appealing to me. It felt like an opportunity to get the chance to help share the good word about these organizations with the people of our community.” She’s still working with the CFGV, “It’s such a great group of staff, board members, donors, volunteers and collaborators who are all deeply committed to the mission and aligned on how to achieve it.”

In 2022, her second son Aidan was born. “My life right now is all about trying to balance my business and my boys.” She says thinking back to witnessing their first Vinotok upon arrival in 2008 and then being the Harvest Mother felt like coming full circle. “Getting to be part of the community in that role was the most nurtured, cared for and loved I felt throughout both of my pregnancies. That was so important to me because our culture doesn’t really care for mothers. It was the most special thing to feel like there is a part of CB culture that does cherish motherhood. I remember Marcie (Telander) saying to me, ‘Not a whole lot grows here so our babies are our harvest.’ I held on to that during those dark COVID times. It’s this community that keeps us here.”

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