Uphill Battle

The fed-up community of Crested Butte is trying to seize its future. The ski industry may never be the same.

October 2003

Crested Butte’s marketing people refer to their cul-de-sac in the West Elk Mountains as “The Last Great Colorado Ski Town.” That may be accurate, but it also describes a situation shaped by happenstance and a certain benign neglect.

Crested Butte completely missed the gravy train that roared through the Colorado ski industry in the 1990s. Today, there’s a palpable relief in this town of 1,650 that Crested Butte was not sucked up by the corporate juggernaut that dominates ski resorts along Interstate 70 and deeply affected these mountain towns.

These corporate conglomerates – American Skiing Co., Vail Resorts, and Intrawest Corp. (known in the business as “The Big Three”) – appear to have hit their high water mark. Now, something new is afoot. The U.S. ski industry, built for baby boomers, is struggling to redefine itself as that generation grows creaky with age. Their slow disappearance from the slopes is a threat to many ski resorts, but it is also an opportunity. And so, in their remote valley, Crested Butteicians are trying to reinvent the ski town. What they are forging is something new.