Gustafson: The elliptical ‘Edge’ of extreme

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

Like Northern Lights shining over the mountain top horizon, the glow from X Games makes its way to Snowmass Village at night, and the energy the gamers bring here is palpable.

The Inuit once believed that the polar lights were spirits playing in the sky. Parents would warn their children not to play outside at night when the Aurora Borealis was at it’s peak, believing that when it disappeared those spirit lights would take the children along with them.

Passing by the frenzy of prep occurring at the base of Buttermilk, my son inquisitively questioned what the “X” in X Games stands for. Many who have met my outgoing, precocious and active 4-year-old have called him a future X Gamer. And as soon as I began to explain it in terms of the “edge” of extreme sports, he stopped me and said, “I know! When I’m in the X Games I will snowboard down with a ski on my head and then do a flip and land on my ski-head.” Remember, he’s 4. While laughing at this impossible or at least paralyzing suggestion, I started to think if living on the sporting “edge” is a life I would wish for him? Are the alluring risks and dangers of the X Games and the lifestyle of extreme something that might one day sweep him away?

As I thought about what it means to be an adventure-seeker, risk-taker, thrill-lover, I began to wonder what kinds of people live on the “edge?” And I realized that I live among them.

Knowing no limits or boundaries, continually testing our peripheries and having an innate attraction to discovering the “edge” of life seems to be a theme in our valley. Here we exercise a culture of extreme: extreme nature, sport, art, intellect, philanthropy, access and excess, wealth, technology, innovation and, above all, passions.

So where do you define the “edge?” We each know when we’ve found our personal “edge.” I feel it’s the place from which a leap poses the most risks, those of danger and failure, but also the prospective risks of discovering our true self along with our strengths and passions is the place where we face our fears. It’s at our “edge” that we become aware of how our spirit and interests align, and it’s also where we connect with others and where our restraints are undone.

People who lived to the extreme ink the history throughout this valley. Individuals who left everything they knew behind for a fresh, and unknown future — the act of which is intrinsically risky — originally populated both Snowmass Village and Aspen alike, and consequently we likely have a local populace made up of above-average risk-takers. Here, at the “edge” of nature’s best, we are linked, or at least once were, by the more extreme struggles presented by the weather and environment. Now, we connect through our passions, adventures and in an effort to survive in a different sense of the word.

In many places it is getting increasingly difficult to live near the “edge” during the course of a typical day, and yet it seems as humans we still often have an innate need for exhilaration. Today, we protect ourselves, with more then just seatbelts and helmets, and coffee cups that warn us that the beverage we are about to enjoy is hot. We sometimes try to guard ourselves against failures and heartbreaks, missing the opportunities to do great things. As a result, inherent risk-takers may inadvertently seek out thrills with potentially dangerous personal or social consequences.

Cultivating extreme opportunities like X Game sporting keeps our energy directed into positive outlets, though some hazards must remain. It makes our society healthier to incubate extreme efforts and ideas and to continue having free and unrestricted access to wilderness, encouraging outdoor education and welcoming extreme sporting as well as extreme thinking. It is from those places where we can best explore our own “edge.” Those are some of the outlets where adventure seekers find their niche, from where they return improved and ready to contribute to humanity.

Extreme sports are those with greater consequences, or as American mountaineer and outdoor philosopher Willi Unsoeld describes as, “real enough to kill you.” But the outlet helps keep the mind and spirit open and released.

It seems to me that risk-takers are not just the big-air-launching, mountain climbing, winter kayaking, daredevils of the world; they also represent cutting edge inventors, entrepreneurs, explorers and lest we forget civil rights leaders and human rights activists who push us all to the “edge.”

Having grown up with some of the first X Game athletes and friends who have accomplished incredibly extreme feats, I can see how transformational those exploits can be. With a degree in cultural anthropology, I have an affinity for the nonconformist, often identifying with the peripheral actors, and I find it difficult to always stay in line, culturally speaking, and fortunately this community offers many opportunities for those unconventional personalities — Type-T in particular — to flourish.

So, do I wish this risk-taking lifestyle on the “edge” for my own offspring? Not sure, it is maternally counter-intuitive. Therefore I feel compelled to continually remind myself of all the advantages extreme living provides, and I do hope to encourage my children to explore, question and politely criticize their worlds, and discourage them from lining up with the lemmings. Something we all need to stay acutely attentive too as this new area dawns.

Maybe we are seeking more and more extreme lifestyles because the vast majority of survival danger has been eliminated from our daily lives and now that we are no longer living on the fringe of existence we need outlets that present challenges. But as I see it, pushing our limits, and finding our “edge” is the pursuit of life, and I encourage and celebrate those who make it to the edge and back.

To dabble in moderation, celebrate mediocrity and maintain low expectations isn’t what I wish for my children and it isn’t how we choose to exist here in this valley. We would not be the progressive and vibrant community we are today if we didn’t live on our own “edge” of the world while making room for future X Gamers.

Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind. Share yours and email her at


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