Britta Gustafson: Call it a facelift? |

Britta Gustafson: Call it a facelift?

Whispers of winter taunt the air as the trees are set aflame once more, their colors riotous in a final attempt to grab our attention before they are cast aside by the fall breeze.

All that foliage, that drapery, protects us from the visual impact we have had on the landscape. When gone, it will reveal the cement monuments and expose the materialistic pursuits that have been etching their way into our landscape.

Our dwellings will sit for a brief season before winter’s snows come to adorn our structures once again in the divine magnanimity of nature’s drapery. And onward we will rush, blissfully veiled, to draft up the plans to build some more. Each new development begins undressed and bare, a human-made scar on the landscape marred by upturned dirt, trees and brush slashed away, cold and stark against a soft natural vista.

But with age and maturity, nature will eventually reclaim the periphery. And if development is done with mindful consideration, our human impact may begin to blend well into its environment and come perhaps to even feel in harmony.

Today, the Crossings subdivision feels established and in the prime of its life and Rodeo Place is even beginning to age-out of its awkward adolescent stage. Sinclair Meadows, above the Little Red Schoolhouse, is still feeling the strains of growing pains with that unwieldy gapped-tooth smile and gangly arms, too long for a torso that hasn’t yet caught up. Coffee Place will eventually scream for attention, like any newborn, until it settles in. These developments do seem to grow into their settings overtime. After all, they were conceived and created with care and are now nurtured by those who call them home.

But the Old Mall and much of these original developments in Snowmass stand in opposition to developments like Base Village, which suffers from a set of contradictions. It tries to bring visitors closer to nature while shutting nature out, capitalizing on what made Snowmass unique and bringing the urban setting to the heart of the rural mountains.

Base Village, the offspring of “never big enough,” dons the “Just big enough” logo emblazoned T-shirt just the same. But like a botched facelift, you can’t go back to where you started. Once you eliminate the environment, no superfluous attempt to recreate it will suffice.

There is a noticeable contrast between the settled-in feeling of Anderson Ranch, which is shaded by a tower of 100-year-old coniferous pines, and the sparkling new fire station surrounded by a sprinkling of four-foot tall skinny saplings. It’s a reminder that a new development can eventually settle in and one day age with grace.

But aging with grace is perhaps a dying art in this valley. There are some days when Aspen feels like a walking Madame Tussaud’s “Cougar,” once a colloquial term meant to describe the personality of women of a certain age but seems now to be more of a literal description of the stretch-surprised, cat-face look achieved intentionally by accident. And like with plastic surgery, the decision is often either older or weirder.

Maybe it’s a sign that we now value youth over wisdom, fresh and new at any cost, no need to learn from mistakes or grow into our beauty with understanding. Perhaps it’s a battle against nature at force, a human need to conquer what owns us.

Maybe that is the underlying rationale for public space AstroTurf. Sure, perhaps there is a benefit to it, particularly when you will be replacing it annually with a skating rink, but when we actually begin replacing our real, genuine, gorgeous wildernesses with fake grass, is that a step too far? People need to stand barefoot in the grass much more often to feel a genuine connection to the planet, our mother, from which we all came.

The Limelight plaza with its astro-facade is like a bad toupee. It’s just pretending to care about connecting to nature. We actually completely covered a hillside in concrete, then proceeded to carve out a few select spaces to fill with man-made grass. What will our kids’ kids think of us? Has anyone read “The Lorax?”

Please don’t do this again at the new town entryway or anywhere else if it can be avoided. Preserve what we have; accentuate, don’t eliminate.

If we claim to be giving the new village entryway or Town Center developments a facelift, we should proceed with caution. Because like with any little nip and tuck, once you start to pull one thing one direction then you have to do the other side and suddenly you’re all stretched and deformed. And is there really any going back from bad plastic surgery? Once you mess with nature it’s hard, often impossible, to go back.

Luckily, here perhaps, as long as we leave well enough alone, nature might be able to reclaim the landscape or at least shroud us from ourselves with lush foliage and snowdrifts to hide the scars.

When our children come to recognize how ridiculous their parents’ generations had been as they started replacing real grass with plastic grass, perhaps they will be able to say at some point enough is enough. What’s next, silicone mountain implants?

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at


See more