Writing the book on Snowmass
Six years of effort are coming to fruition with the publication of “The Story of Snowmass,” the first book to exclusively cover the history of Snowmass Village.
The project, which has been in the works since 2007, overcame funding obstacles and the test of time thanks to the dedication of the individuals working on it. And with a final push over the past five months, the book has been printed just in time for a heritage celebration on Aug. 10.
It was lifelong resident Britta Gustafson’s idea to tell the story of Snowmass Village. Working at the Snowmass Sun as an editorial assistant, Gustafson would report on events happening in the community and had difficulty finding background information on some of them. She thought it would be nice to have a reference guide, but other residents she talked to about the idea encouraged her to publish a book.
After a stint at Aspen magazine, Gustafson approached then-Community Relations Officer Kathleen Wanatowicz about securing some funding from the town. Local author Paul Andersen was hired to write the narrative.
“(Paul) took it on right away, just sort of took the lead and went with it,” Gustafson said. “For a couple years he worked on it, and he didn’t even know where to start. He just started talking to people around the community and sort of figured out which avenues he needed to go down and produced an amazing story.”
Journalist Catherine Lutz, who also used to work at the Sun and had talked about the project with Gustafson, joined the team as editor.
“I wanted to make sure that I was part of it because I thought it was something that would be right up my alley and be a great project for Snowmass,” Lutz said. “I thought it needed someone who’d been working the editorial side in Snowmass for a while.”
A 17-minute film was produced in time for the 40th anniversary of the resort and 30th anniversary of the town’s incorporation, but after Andersen had done the bulk of the writing, the project stalled because of lack of funds.
“Then Randy Woods came in and basically saved the day,” Gustafson said. “(He’s) the one that made it happen.”
After that, the committee continued to keep regular meetings, even as Lutz and Gustafson had four kids between the two of them.
“One of us was pregnant or had a newborn pretty much for four years,” Gustafson said. “And it was just such a challenge too because every time we’d get together we’d think of another thing that we just needed to look into or discuss or decide if we wanted to write about.”
History continued to be made as they were working, too. Halfway through the project, thousands of ice-age fossils were discovered in Ziegler Reservoir in 2010.
“That’s what I’ve learned through the process: that Snowmass has a fascinating history, starting of course with the early stuff, the mammoths, but going back to the homestead ranchers of the Brush Creek Valley and kind of reliving what the yeoman farmers went through who lived there in really a very secluded rural valley,” Andersen said.
Andersen estimates that he conducted more than 100 interviews while researching for the book, some of which were with the children of those early farmers.
“It’s not that long ago that people were living very rustic, remote lives there,” Andersen said.
The team collected 3,500 photos over the course of the project.
“For me personally, because this is such a labor of love having grown up in Snowmass and being so connected to so many things, I was not the best photo editor,” Gustafson said. “I had a really hard time saying ‘no’ to anything. … This book would be 400 pages long if Catherine hadn’t been the editor.”
According to Lutz, finding those photos was a difficult task. Local photographers had images of the community today, and the Aspen Historical Society had some older ones, but some of the photos the committee wanted were not readily available.
“We had to do a lot of research and digging to find those images, and a lot of those came from people’s scrapbooks, dusty boxes that were in basements that they dug out,” Lutz said. “A lot of the images were generously donated but also have never been published before, so that’s very exciting.”
One discussion the team had was whether the project was a coffee-table publication or a history book.
“We decided it just had to be a hybrid,” Gustafson said. “I thought, ‘Well, the best thing to do with something like this would be to make every single page have information on it that you could read in one sitting.’”
Marking the occasion
The Snowmass Village Rotary Club has organized a Heritage Celebration for Aug. 10 that will unveil “The Story of Snowmass” and gather longtime residents, “mainly because a lot of them are passing away,” Woods said.
“We wanted to have one more time to have a meet-and-greet and the fellowship of the people that have lived here for 40 years,” Woods said.
A discussion among Rollie Herberg, Chuck Vidal and Bob Lowe, all members of the original Janss Corp. team that developed the resort in the 1960s, will be moderated by Jim Chaffin and Jim Light. The film produced by the book committee will be played during dinner.
Once the date was set for the Heritage Celebration, the momentum picked up on the project, Gustafson said. For the last three to four weeks of the project, she was working 20-hour days, sending her kids, Lia and Noa, to her parents’ house. They also accompanied her to the press in Denver where she self-published the book.
“They were troopers,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson said that when she was asked if she would ever work on a book again, her first response was “Never.”
“But now, it was rewarding,” she said. “I wouldn’t try to have two brand-new babies at the same time.”
Lutz discovered a passion through the project. She has since edited some books for People’s Press.
“This is the most heavily involved I’ve been in a book project, so it’s really a point of pride to see something come out in one neat package in a way that we hope encompasses the real story of Snowmass and catches all the characters, all the important events and all the memories that people have of this place,” Lutz said.
The book will be available for $60 at the Heritage Celebration and then at area retail stores, including Sundance Liquor and 81615 in Snowmass Village. After Gustafson, Lutz and Andersen are paid for their time, proceeds from “The Story of Snowmass” will go to the Snowmass Community Fund.
“It’s fun to be more than a footnote now, as a community which has always been a sidenote to everything Aspen,” Gustafson said. “Which is where it came from, of course — we don’t deny our roots — but still, it’s got its own story.”
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Break out the neon windbreakers and the ski jeans for the last week of the at Snowmass: the lifts stop turning at the end of the day April 25.