Roger Marolt: When all Vail breaks loose in Crested Butte
Poor Crested Butte. It must be painful. It is certainly embarrassing. Since the beginning, their mantra and mandate has been not to become another Vail. Suddenly, just like that, they are.
Darth Vailer has landed and marched his storm troopers through the central Rockies village formerly know as the funkiest little ski town in Colorado. He blew their cool. He took the hitch out of their giddy-up. He cut the dread from their locks and made it their reality. What once was 100 percent organically grown will now be genetically modified and enhanced with artificial sweeteners.
I don’t even know how to express my condolences. Every time the words come, a snicker forms in my nasal passages. I chew my tongue, but have no confidence I won’t laugh out loud trying to express my sympathy. As much as I love our neighbors over East Maroon Pass to the south, they have had a smug tendency to throw their grunge in our faces. They believed they were different.
They were different, a breed apart. They called us a “city.” They derided our glitz and glamour. They talked about our traffic as if they didn’t really know what that is. We were the place they loved to hike to, but wouldn’t want to camp here. In fact, just about the only two places they thought were worse than Aspen are Gotham City and … ta dum …Vail.
Forgive and forget. This situation is so awful that I feel sorry for them in spite of their history of hippy haughtiness. What happened to them is worse than selling out. Their identity was stolen and is not recoverable. If history is any indicator, all they’ll get out of this are new and improved false fronts on their hitherto charming downtown buildings and an upgraded airport in Gunnison to make possible more frequent flights with bigger jets. Messy vitality will become sanitized commercialism.
My first grown-up remembrance of Crested Butte is a mountain bike ride on the famous 401 trail. At its most remote point, we encountered a local rider coming from the opposite direction. He was completely naked except for his cycling shoes. He arrogantly chewed us out for riding the trail in the “wrong direction.”
What will this character be replaced with? My guess is a new MBA in a raccoon costume, combing the trails while handing out maps, sunscreen samples and granola bars on a red three-wheeler with flashing lights.
Two or three years ago we visited Crested Butte shortly after Bud Light did a big promotion and filmed a beer commercial there. They painted Main Street blue and gave away free beer at every bar and restaurant in town for a week. They had big concerts and all kinds of events. Bud Man paid the town a superhero size pile of cash for their hospitality.
You would have thought it was Armageddon. The locals cried. They proclaimed the beginning of the end. The reaction seemed outsized to an outsider. Who knew? They were right!
Of course, now that all Vail has broken loose, everyone who predicted it is in denial. Nothing will change. The people at Vail Resorts want to preserve the old Crested Butte character. They love the locals and the way a real towns feels!
Sure. And, they hate making money, too. They are going to spend millions upgrading the lifts and town amenities simply to bring bigger smiles to the citizens’ faces.
The only reason they won’t build gigantic new hotels in Crested Butte is because, to them, a gigantic hotel is 30 stories tall, like in Denver where their headquarters are located. I am sure they will be very pleased to propagate their idea of small-town flavor with quaint, formulaic, mere eight-story hotels as the cookie-cutter market survey-based blueprints for their base villages indicate tourists love. Yes, this time will certainly be different for the development firm in a ski company’s neatly tailored uniform whose slogan could be, “We contrive harder.”
But, don’t worry, Crested Beauties. We have been where you are, although what took 50 years to accomplish here might just take five in these modern times there. They will come, they will change your town forever. But, the new look will be popular with the masses and your property values will skyrocket and many of you will cash out bigly. At that point, you can all move downvalley to Gunnison and start convincing yourselves that you can make it the next Crested Butte.
Roger Marolt knows a local can become comfortably numb in a modern base village. Email at email@example.com.