Just what does it take to become a true local?
I’m still what people call a newcomer, but it seems to me that most people who live in the mountains fall into one of three categories: Second-home owner, transplant from somewhere else – usually a city, like me – or native, though I meet very few natives who are older than 10.I’ve lived along a Colorado stretch of the Continental Divide for two years now, so I’m ready to share all kinds of observations, some of them familiar if you’re a Westerner with several years under your belt. Many of my tips involve ways to deal with crowds during high summer and winter tourist seasons, such as: Stay away from the grocery store around 4 p.m. and the coffee shop around 8 a.m. And if it’s tourist-free peace and quiet you want, pick a small town that lacks amenities like a ski resort or golf course.Mountain weather affects everything. In winter, icy roads or a sudden snowstorm can kill you. But then there are the mundane realizations, such as the fact that it’s nearly impossible to grow mold – something that greatly extends the life of shower curtains. Birthday cakes are best left to the high-altitude baking experts. Liquids in sealed containers can be unpredictable and potentially messy if you drive over a pass or climb to a peak. Fleece comes in different weights and is something you wear not only in January but sometimes also in July. My favorite, an observation from a visiting friend: “There are no fat people here.”That I have lived here two years recently dawned on me. Time takes on a different dimension in the mountains. I routinely hear comments that reflect this, such as “I came here eight years ago to work as a ski instructor and have been here ever since.” Or, “We came here every year for vacation, until one year we decided we didn’t want to leave.”This led me to wonder: At what point does one become a local? I have a Colorado driver’s license and my vehicle has Colorado plates. I’m a registered voter and pay taxes here. I have a ski pass, and I patronize local businesses. Yet I don’t presume to consider myself a local. All my work is done on a computer, thanks to the Internet, and none of it involves a local business, though I recently began working with somebody who lives in a nearby town. Still, I am unlikely to have any local clients, and you won’t find me in the phone book. I’ve had the good fortune to live in my sister’s townhouse, so I don’t have a mortgage or even a lease. I’ve come to believe that one of the indicators of local status is how passionately one participates in the “holy trinity” of mountain activities on publicly owned land: Hike, bike, ski. Yes, I know there are many other mountain activities, but it seems to me that until I ski, bike or hike with unwavering commitment, I may never come close to being considered a local. I’ve been doing all three, though when it comes to participation with others, I seem either to excel or lag pitifully, depending on who I am with.When friends visit from sea level, they look suspiciously at difficult ski runs and can’t hike for more than 30 minutes or 300 feet, whichever comes first. So I hold back. Then with locals, for whom it’s not a hike unless it’s a fourteener, and who look scornfully upon skiing that’s not off-the-beaten path or at least black diamond, I push myself to keep up while keeping lungs and limbs intact.Recently, while traveling on business throughout Europe, I found myself answering the question about where I lived by saying that right now I was living in Colorado, as if it were temporary. Yet when I told clients in cities like London or Paris that I lived in the mountains of the American West, many expressed what I could only describe as a kind of awe and envy. There is a mystique to mountain living, and it holds its own against any great place to live: The silhouette of jagged peaks against a sun-washed sky at dusk. Clouds that sometimes touch the earth. The fresh pine scent and calm of a morning hike. Waking to a fresh coat of powdery snow and figuring out how I can arrange work to hit the slopes for a few hours. All of this leads me to say that while I’ve come to realize it might take a lifetime, I’d like to become a local.Cathy Houdek is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). A former Chicago resident, she now lives in Dillon.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has tested positive for the coronavirus. Polis and his partner, Marlon Reis, both have COVID-19 and are asymptomatic, the governor said in a statement Saturday night.