Paul Andersen: You’re not in Vail anymore, Toto!
The learning curve for new Crested Butte residents is steep, and for the new mountain manager of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, that curve is going to be as steep as the last pitch on the North Face.
Tim Baker was appointed to the position this fall by Vail Associates, which recently acquired Crested Butte in a package deal of three ski resorts in a move to diversify its portfolio.
Beaver Creek is to Crested Butte what the Vail Trail is to the Crested Butte News. The former are politically correct and predicable. The latter are irreverent and often outrageous.
Vail didn’t grok the importance of granting the job to a “local,” an important consideration in a community where legitimacy is heavily weighted by tenure as marked by the number of Flauschink buttons adorning one’s vintage down parka. (Special dispensation is due if that parka bears telltale singe marks from reckless proximity to the burning of the Grump.)
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Baker is a Vail protege and the former director of operations at Beaver Creek. That’s a good credential, but it’s a far cry from jumping into the fray at Crested Butte.
So there may be some challenging adjustments for Baker as he “manages” a complex mountain, not to mention finding a niche within the social fabric of the Bacchanalian Bhutan of the Elk Range whose inmates celebrate esprit de corps with a full-time costume party.
Not only does Baker lack exposure to Crested Butte’s exotic “culture,” he confessed in a recent interview that he has very limited experience with the mountain he is supposed to manage.
Here’s how it might go as Baker prepares for his first opening season facing a typically scant snowpack and a traditionally sardonic ski patrol whose mission is simple: provide stellar ski terrain to a hard-charging local clientele with a serious powder habit.
“So, Tim,” addresses a veteran patroller as Baker reports for duty, “the locals will want to see you active on the mountain. It’s all about making you look credible. Come out for some control work and we’ll give you a look around.”
“Sure,” says the obliging newbie, eager to be part of the gang.
“These look about your size,” says the patroller, rummaging through his locker and pulling out an ancient pair of Scarpa telemark boots.
“Yeah, but I’ve never skied tele,” says the flustered manager.
“You’ll pick it up in no time. Everybody in the Butte does. Here, put ’em on. Oh, and this, too.” The patroller hands Baker a Peruvian knit hat with a tassel.
“Is this gear in compliance with mountain policy?” asks a doubtful Baker.
The patroller smiles knowingly. “Trust me.”
The patroller leads Baker up a series of lifts to the top of the North Face where they are joined by several other grinning patrollers. After some perilous traverses that put Baker to the test on his first tele run, he is somewhat shaken as they arrive at an abrupt plunge called Spellbound. The patrollers motion him to the brink.
A ’troller wearing a helmet decorated with a pot leaf offers a vaporizer. “Here, take a hit.”
“What is that?” Baker recoils.
“Just a mild anesthetic … for frostbitten toes.”
“My toes aren’t frostbitten.”
“They will be.”
“The mountain manager always gets first tracks,” announces the lead patroller with a sweep of his arm. “It’s all yours.”
“Yeah, thanks, but — hey, it’s all rocks down there.”
“Naw, those are just early-season Crested Butte-style moguls. You’ll learn to love ’em.”
Later that afternoon, an ambulance crew prepares Tim Baker for a free ride to Gunnison Hospital where he’ll be treated for bruises, lacerations and PTSD. Strapped into the stretcher, he’s on his cell calling the home office to request a reassignment.
The lead patrollers saunters over. “Hey, you did great, Baker. When they let you out we’ll treat you to a shot and a beer at Kochevar’s. Then you can get lined out for your official duties in Flauschink, the Zombie Prom and, of course, Vinotok. You get to be the guy who sets fire to the Trump … I mean, the Grump.”
“Because you’re not in Vail, anymore, Toto!”
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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