Written by Mark Reaman
Wednesday, 21 January 2015
By almost every indication, MLK weekend was busy in the upper valley. It was perhaps the busiest such mid-January holiday weekend we’ve had in a while. There was the three-day holiday weekend, the Mountain High Music Festival and great weather for January.
Perspective is different when viewed through different eyes. Social media, hearsay and photos from locals all indicated an unusual January busyness. I got back in town Sunday in time to ride the Queen the last 45 minutes of the day. The Packers were playing at the same time so that put most locals in the bar and tourists not from Wisconsin on the lifts. Now, every tourist I chatted with commented on how much they were liking it here and how un-crowded and un-busy it was. To the newbie, the trails were happily open and lift lines—well, to them there were no lift lines. To the local—man, was it busy.
A snowboarder from Frisco said he couldn’t believe the mountain and how lucky he was to hit the opening of some of the Extremes. He commented on the difference between the first run and the third run. The rocks were more prevalent as the day went on but he loved the steeps that were open. He dealt with the afternoon rocks on Saturday and went back again Sunday. The Extremes mean something to good riders and they understand why the terrain is tagged “The Extremes.” The Extremes are the happy trails on our mountain. They are the soul and the spirit of the lift-served terrain.
This boarder and his girlfriend came because they had the Rocky Mountain Super Pass. They’ll be spending time in Steamboat, Eldora and Winter Park as well. It sounds like he’ll be back to check out the rest of the mountain once it opens.
A couple from Denver had Crested Butte on their “must visit sometime” list and they took advantage of a hotel promotion to get here for the long weekend. They said Crested Butte has been advertising a lot on the Front Range and the ads drew them here. Driving four hours to Summit or four hours to Crested Butte and spending less time in lift lines made their decision easy. And gas is cheap, they noted. It is. I filled up in Denver Saturday at $1.79. That was cool.
Now, that cheap gas and oil might have another impact on us in the long run if oil stays cheap. A local Realtor mentioned that there could be a pullback from the money in Dallas and Houston where people rely on oil and gas for income. Traditionally, we have drawn a lot of people here from Houston and Dallas. We’ll see how long this cheap oil lasts and what it does to Crested Butte. Who’da thunk a decision in Saudi Arabia could blaze a trail to Elk Avenue?
As locals feel it getting more and more crowded on the mountain, more and more people are heading to the local backcountry. The Forest Service will be considering a winter management plan in the future but tension is already getting stretched over the idea of managing the backcountry in the winter.
Some of the local Nordic skiers have thrown out a preliminary idea of having at least one “quiet” drainage where mechanized activity is prohibited. Think only skiers and those on snowshoes recreating up the Slate River Valley, for example.
This idea of course has some of the backcountry snowmobilers in a spin. Many people use sleds to access backcountry skiing as well as roosting the local buttes. These hybrid snowmobiles are used as backcountry lifts up every nearby valley. Twenty years ago the Forest Service facilitated a “Gang of Nine” citizen’s group that divvied up the local valleys. It ended up being a sort of gentlemen’s understanding. If memory serves, the Kebler area was designated as a place with an emphasis on snowmobiling. Cross-country skiing was discouraged in the Kebler area. Washington Gulch had some commercial snowmobile operations but the recreational emphasis was on cross-country skiing. The Slate was designated for no commercial activities with less snowmobiling and more skiing. Fat bikes weren’t even a glimmer of an idea.
Anyway, that was then and it is a lot more crowded now. It might be time to revisit and build on that “Gang of Nine” effort that came to some reasonable compromises.
Speaking of compromises, in the midst of the social media brouhaha over just the thought of having a “quiet” drainage, a local groomer weighed in with easy to understand directions: “Sleds, bikes left. Skis right. Happy trails.”
There you have it. What happens in the Middle East can impact how much a Crested Butte bartender might make this summer. Advertising and promotions like the Rocky Mountain Super Pass apparently work to draw people here. What we think is busy isn’t necessarily busy to the rest of the world. And when things come up that make us start spitting at each other, there might be ways to find not perfect, but uncomplicated, solutions.
Happy Trails, everyone.