Gustafson: A little more conversation, a little less action |

Gustafson: A little more conversation, a little less action

Britta Gustafson
Then Again
The roundabout pictured in 1978.

In its current chaotic state, the upper village roundabout catches the unwitting visitor off guard. They arrive in our quaint mountain town having just experienced a scenic drive up either the rural Brush Creek Road, or along the picturesque Owl Creek Road. They followed along the rolling meadows of the golf course or passed the peaceful Little Red School House, and looped around the Snowmass Chapel and Anderson Ranch point nicely rooted in place, all while the majestic view of Mount Daly backdrops the drive.

Passing beneath the old wooden footbridge just beyond Faraway Road, the pavement begins to expand. Out and around it grows until suddenly they find themselves encircled and circling a bombardment of lights and signs and flags and banners and abstract futuristic artworks.

Just try for yourself to take a novice look at the 75 signs once you enter that roundabout — yes, I wrote that correctly — 75 signs around our little roundabout. For context, there are 35 functional signs around the Aspen roundabout, which is a much larger, more complex junction with trees. I counted 33 signs at the Colorado Mills roundabout that diverts traffic off onto West Colfax, Denver West Boulevard and Interstate 70 in Denver. So why do we need 75? It’s as mysterious as the sculpture that punctuates the place.

We locals who know where we’re going don’t need any of the signs that confuse the Snowmass roundabout, but those who actually need direction are expected to navigate a schizophrenic funhouse on their way to our slopes.

There’s no doubt that each sign has a purpose, but no one seeking navigational guidance can be expected to easily understand the information they need.

The roundabout we already have is visual cacophony. That cannot be denied. Adding layer upon layer of makeup can’t mask the mess. It needs the critical eye of a seasoned minimalist to step in and save us from ourselves.

At this point, we can no longer toss out our oversaturated painting or cast aside the messy script and start fresh. We should probably try to fix what we have done and then add it to the list of lessons learned.

That said, are we really ready to entertain the idea of adding another roundabout? Perhaps an urban solution is not needed to solve a simple small town problem.

Who keeps gazing into the crystal ball, and frequently suggesting solutions to problems that we don’t even know we have? I suppose there is a prophetic advantage in allowing the mistakes of our past to guide our future.

I’m no wizard or magician, but I’m guessing if I were to read the tea leaves, I would see millions of dollars spent to build a roundabout at the juncture of Owl and Brush Creek roads, which will not only uproot Ben Rawlings’ memorial garden but also will further assist in the creeping urbanization, diminishing the serenity of the arrival experience and likely confusing our guests.

For what? So we can save ourselves from the possibility that we might have to wait for a minute or so to make a left hand turn on the night of a Thursday summer concert?

I make that left turn nearly every day — not once did it occur to me as a location that needs immediate attention. I can appreciate the possibility of an emergency vehicle scenario playing out. But , just a simple suggestion here, maybe a single red light controlled by the fire department could stop Brush Creek traffic if a fire truck or ambulance was coming from the new firehouse to respond to an emergency? That would take a fraction of the cost to install. Maybe we just need to be more creative and a little less construction happy.

It seems almost safe to assume that we don’t yet know the impacts of what has already been approved for development in Snowmass. Who among us has the clairvoyance to predict the need for more?

Buildings are one thing, perhaps, but the periphery, the streets, parking structures, sidewalks and traffic lights? My inner ESP is whispering, “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

I’ve asked it before, but we should all really take a look at what makes this place special.

The next time you take a drive somewhere and feel struck by a cozy sensation, or energized by the thrill of adventures about to come, look around. Take a back country road and ask yourself why this place evokes such a feeling. Drive over a pass and take in the power of that majestic experience. Wind your way down to a river confluence, can you feel the adrenaline kicking in?

For most of us, those sensations are probably not evoked by a circus of flashing lights and banners, while we are navigating a frustrating labyrinth of concrete roundabouts — unless, of course, Vegas gets you going.

But hyperbolic snarky comments aside, we do continue to shoulder the responsibility to share the experience of our serene mountain valley, not just with our fellow residents and visitors, but with the future generations who would like to feel those same sensations as they approach Snowmass Mountain with Daly beckoning from beyond.

These sounds, these smells, these feelings, this energy; it’s all about the context of our relationship to our environment. Don’t take my word for it, look at these photos from the past intersection in 1978 to the current roundabout. Ask yourself, who are we now and what do we want to become? Even if visitors, and some locals don’t think they want it rough around the edges, the slick suburban sidewalks and street signs and traffic lights all add up to the same context whether you are in Littleton, Arvada or Snowmass Village.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that if small adjustments around the periphery are added little by little, there will not be an unintentional effect on the overall experience.

I’m pretty sure we don’t need an Oracle to predict the unintended consequences of how this space will feel once it is overdeveloped, but I guess as long as the Ouiji dial keeps landing on the dollar sign, does anyone really care? Maybe we should before we kill the goose who lays our golden eggs.

Like the mistakes of yesterday, the mistakes of tomorrow will belong to all of us.

As there is continual transformation of the landscapes everywhere on Earth, inadvertently our relations with the natural world are becoming more disconnected and now we are causing a seismic clash between branding and reality. Here we market a natural, wholesome experience and all while building an inauthentic facade. We promise visitors authenticity and wilderness, but we give them Starbucks and loads of American cement.

The wild, unfettered mountain experience is ingrained in the DNA of this place, and yet by rending it from nature, we create a void that has to be filled by branding or at least by other thrill-seeking experiences like ziplines and rollercoasters.

How about a little more conversation and a little less action for the moment. Let’s see how things feel once, at least a few of today’s projects, are complete.

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