Britta Gustafson: When are you local? |

Britta Gustafson: When are you local?

We seem to set a fairly high value on knowing where a person comes from. It’s usually near the top of the list when getting to know someone new and whether it truly defines us, the place with which we most identify can play a unique role in shaping who we are.

Having grown up here in Snowmass, and with a desire for this particular lifestyle that kept looping me back to the village no matter how I strayed, I have ended up with a fairly analogous connection to my location. My roots here run deep.

But in a tourist town, it doesn’t take much to consider yourself local. Perhaps little more than working and sleeping here will suffice.

I don’t believe we are as territorial here as in some places, which may result from the necessary transient community we have built around the ski instructor lifestyle. But how does one really define local? Is it status, earned over time, or is it a state of connection to the place?

Perhaps it’s a point of reference that denotes knowledge of a specific place and time. If you consider yourself an Aspen local, you might know what it means to meet at the popcorn wagon or the cantina, or your reference point is central to the building where Boogies once was, or Shooters or Little Annie’s. Maybe you still even use “Where the Chart House or Skier Chalet used to be” when giving directions.

In Snowmass Village, you might fondly recall where Gracie’s Cabin was, or perhaps even the very mention of it evokes memories of moonlight parties. And speaking of parties, you may recall dancing in ski boots at the Timbermill, or dining at Chez Gramere. You might still reference the Silvertree’s cul de sac, and you probably still call our grocery store the Village Market.

Perhaps it boils down to our affection for a place and the mutual memories acquired there together over time.

You can probably consider yourself local if you ever skied with Stein Erikson or his crew, heard John Denver play at the Leather Jug, met or had Hilder Anderson as a teacher, caught up with comedian Robin Willams cracking jokes at the former cross-country ski shop, or chatted with Goldie Hawn at the Snowmass Club.

You also can probably dub yourself local if being called a “snow bunny” wasn’t referring to your scanty après-ski attire but rather the title on your ski school bib, or if the phrase “See you at the Dragon,” means, “Let’s meet for apres drinks.”

Or if you learned to swim at the community pool, danced with Ballet West, learned about pottery from Paul Soldner or discovered the world of art with Evelyn Siegel or Susan Casebeer. And yes, it’s pretty local to roll your eyes in exhaustion when the topic of Base Village politics arises.

If you ever frequented the Hive, danced around the old fire pit during Oktoberfest, went sledding behind the Little Red School House (or attended it), ate lobster slopeside at Butches, or already miss the Chocolate Factory, you may be eligible for local status. And if you remember the Tower Fondue or experienced its late night Magic Bar with Doc Eason or Bob Sheets, participated in Banana Days, attended the ski splash, rode the triple chair, or hiked to the Wall, you can probably refer to yourself as local.

For a long time it seemed that to be local meant to have shared a long-term set of experiences that shape our mutual values and life paths, or that intertwine our interests with an era. But perhaps it’s simply the commonalities of our daily rituals that define our roots in one place or another. Those routine experiences that cause us to understand who we are in relation to those around us at that particular moment in time.

Sometimes I feel more connected to Snowmass Village when I’m in one particular place versus another. At Gywn’s High Alpine I’m a local, but when I go to Elk Camp I feel a little less so. I spent almost every day of the summer in my youth at the Snowmass Club, but now when I’m there I’m an outsider, yet I feel very locally connected at the Snowmass Rec Center. And walking to Fanny Hill through the Old Mall feels natural, where navigating Base Village seems less like my home turf. No longer donning a ski instructor uniform, I don’t feel as local when in with the Aspen Skiing Co. crowd.

When we visit a place and feel an instant connection, is that a rift toward local status? The global citizen is a trending definition with lifestyles that seem to allow a more fluid and transient culture. And here, we are blessed by exposure to people with a diverse range of historic and social context. I’d venture to guess that local status is achieved more through mutual exchanges common to our daily experiences and an intention to seek out similar lifestyle than it is to the number of years we call a place home.

I guess local is about where you feel most connected. Whether you visited year after year, have a second home here, or have since moved away, while you are here you are a local; that is if this is the place you want to be from.

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


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