Andersen: ‘Aspenizing’ Crested Butte
When I lived in Crested Butte, Aspen was a fun place to ridicule. Beautiful, rich, arrogant Aspen was a haughty temptress whose wiles were nearly irresistible. Yet her persona seemed shallow and materialistic to us homespun mountain folk on yonder side of the range.
This grossly dismissive view satisfied the majority of Crested Butteicians who refused to genuflect to Aspen. Relegated as peasants living beyond the walls of the enchanted kingdom of Ute City, we felt a bit superior living 1,000 feet higher.
Aspen was Sodom and Gomorrah, plagued with sin and corruption and capable of turning one into a pillar of salt. Crested Butte was Shangri-La.
When I broke ranks and moved to Aspen in October 1984, 30 years ago this month, I felt a wave of guilt for my betrayal of Crested Butte. I felt a tectonic shift as I drove over Kebler Pass in a 1964 Volkswagen bus packed with all my earthly belongings.
Would I suddenly age as I crossed the county line like the grotesque visage in “Lost Horizon”? Would my Butteician friends ever speak to me again? Would I become Aspenized with the wicked taint of original sin? Would I go Gucci?
Aspen opened a wonderful new world for me, but I have not forgotten my mountain roots in Crested Butte. I have dreams about it still, conjuring images from the 1970s when the streets were unpaved, coal smoke hung in the air and the few hundred residents were like docents in a museum diorama.
Today, Crested Butte is soul-searching to see if it has Aspenized itself. The Bud Light spectacle last month, in which Crested Butte became a commercial stage set, has sewn seeds of doubt about the town’s identity.
Letters in the Crested Butte News suggest that the Butte has lost is soul by selling itself for half a million dollars, by endorsing a burst of shameless commercial debauchery, by displaying a sense of hubris that it could profit from and then withstand the corruption of mass culture.
If AMAX, the mining corporation the town fought in my day, had driven this wedge into the community, there might be an industrial mine there today. Something happened with the Bud Light bamboozle that cheapened the Butte and made it the commodity for which it has long chastened Aspen.
“Congratulations, Crested Butte, you just sold out your town,” Joe Krizmanich said in a recent letter to the editor. “The town passed a major milestone in being Aspenized.”
Joe, who was born in Crested Butte in 1938 and now lives in Glenwood Springs, scolded, “You’re in the fast lane now. Kiss the small town, fun, friendly feeling and the pretty pristine surroundings goodbye.”
The bitterness in those words reflects heartbreak for many who, like Joe, feel that Crested Butte has a soul wound and a serious case of post traumatic stress disorder. “This was not an easy time for some,” Crested Butte News editor Mark Reaman wrote. “It brought up serious philosophical questions from the heart.”
Philosophically, Crested Butte surrendered to the Machiavellian triad of money, fame and power. The platonic ideal of the good, the true and the beautiful was subverted, and from that came a loss of innocence.
“Just like Aspen, money wins the day,” Krizmanich said with disappointment.
There are places you love for their enduring values, where the sacred bonds of place and community are writ large in every detail. When those values are bought and sold, there comes a feeling of loss. Call it soul or spirit — Crested Butte’s has dimmed.
Like most aches, it will pass, and that’s why it’s important that the town preserve one of the blue light posts painted for the Bud Lite event. That light post is a shrine, a reminder that mass culture can compromise the highest ideals, as many think it has in Aspen.
“We lose our soul when we disrespect those who live with us,” Reaman wrote. “For members of the tribe to wallow in a place of anger and meanness is when the community will lose its soul.”
Souls are slow to heal. It takes love to mend them, and one blue light post to remember why.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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