CRESTED BUTTE WHERE I USED TO LIVE – SEPTEMBER 2021
Last week, we returned to Crested Butte, Colorado where we used to live. Our introduction to Crested Butte was in the winter of 1986 for a ski trip. We were living in Los Angeles and wanted to take a ski vacation to either Vail, Colorado, or Taos, New Mexico. I went into a big warehouse-type sporting goods store during my lunch hour. They priced out both trips which would run us around $700.
But the person I spoke to said, “The best deal this year is Crested Butte.” For a mere $297, we would get round trip airfare from L.A. to Salt Lake City, Utah (no change of plane was necessary), and our final destination would be Gunnison, Colorado. It included transportation to and from Crested Butte, a 30-minute drive up the valley. The bus made a stop in Gunnison at a liquor store so you could stock up on your favorite libations for the shuttle ride and beyond.
Included in our package was the Christiana Inn, a bed and breakfast, only steps from the bus stop that took us up to the ski area. The room was tiny, with a bed, dresser, and nightstands. I believe we had a small closet as well. Breakfast was delicious. The package included a ski pass for the week. If we liked, we could get free skis, boots, and poles; we brought our own equipment. The ski area was six miles up the road in the town of Mt. Crested Butte.
That was our first exposure to the town. We had a great time skiing and even more fun exploring the town. Many people refer to Crested Butte and the surrounding area as “God’s country.” The mountains are majestic and the scenery breathtaking. I think it was the locals we met at stores and restaurants that convinced us that this was a special place. The restaurants were extraordinary for such a small community.
But the winters were long and cold. They piled the yearly 400+ inches of snow into large mountains on the sides of Elk Avenue the main street in town. One night while walking back to the Christiana it was so cold, I was hyperventilating so we went down into the basement laundromat on Elk Avenue just to warm up. The next day I bought a down ski jacket in one of the ski shops. The locals we spoke to told us, “You have to come back in the summer.”
We finally returned in the summer of 1989. Driving into town on Highway 135 it happened. The beauty of the place took my breath away. At the time, Anita and I were doing well financially and decided we wanted to buy something in Crested Butte or Mt. Crested Butte. After looking at condominiums on the mountain, we made an offer to buy a small one-bedroom condo right across from one of the ski lifts. The condo was only $40 thousand. I told our tax accountant about it when we returned home and he said, “What’s wrong with it?”
There was nothing wrong. There was a lot of oil money invested in the area and oil was taking a financial hit at the time. There were bargains for qualified buyers. We bought with cash from the equity in our L.A. house. We started to enjoy the area in summer and winter. Summers we enjoyed fishing, hiking, and mountain biking. Winters were for skiing. One of the ski lifts was right across from our condominium. We used to ski home for lunch.
In 1996, Anita was an up-and-coming Disney executive and we wanted to make another real estate investment—this time in a house. That’s when we found our house on Cockleburr Circle in Mt. Crested Butte. It was a three-bedroom plus a loft, two and a half bath house with a large two-car garage on about one-half acre of land. The views out every window were outstanding. We tried to get there as much as possible.
Near the end of 1997, my mother passed away suddenly, followed by my father shortly after in January of 1998. That was a difficult year for me. I had to deal with cleaning out my parent’s house and selling it. Now, we owned our house in L.A., my parent's house in Staten Island, our condo in Crested Butte which we rented at times, and our new Cockleburr house. It was only about two years old when we bought it. Roger the builder and his family lived there the whole time and we were the first people to make an offer.
It was 1998 when Anita decided it was time to retire from her vice presidency at Disney. She had been suffering from undiagnosed ailments which were probably a result of stress. I was more than willing to leave L.A. but it pretty much meant giving up my Hollywood acting career.
We poured ourselves into the town. The Mountain Theatre was a big draw. I continued my acting fix in plays. Some plays that I performed in—I couldn’t even score an audition for in L.A. We also joined the theatre’s board of directors.
But it was the people we met that made the biggest difference for us. There is something special about the area and our new friends. We all loved where we lived. That’s what we had in common. When we decided to sell our house and move to Santa Fe, New Mexico we knew we were going to miss the place and especially, our dear friends.
In the five years since we left, we’ve only been back to visit twice due to unforeseen circumstances. Each time we return, friends and acquaintances greet us with open arms. One friend stopped her car and jumped out to give us hugs. Last week, we were there for the debut of our friend Arvin Ramgoolam’s Slate River Journal. Arvin co-owner with his wife Danica of Townie Books asked me a couple of months ago if I would contribute something to the journal. I sent him an excerpt from a new memoir that Anita and I are working on about our years in Hollywood entitled Our Hollywood Tales.
There was a launch event at the new Center for the Arts. We had a nice turnout in which I read a chapter from the book and showed a short film we had made that coincided with that chapter.
We enjoyed seeing friends and dining with them in our favorite restaurants. The town is changing. The pandemic brought lots of new people to town who want to live in this beautiful place and work remotely. These changes have priced locals out of the housing market. Like most places today, there is a housing shortage that has affected the workforce. Short-term rentals have taken away long-term rental units. It felt like there were lots of tourists walking and driving around, but we were told that earlier in the summer it had been much worse.
Several years ago, Vail Resorts bought the ski area. What will happen to the town? It’s hard to say. As the area once transitioned from coal mining to a vacation destination, I think the town will once again transition, although I’m not sure what that will look like.
What I do know is when you drive up Highway 135 it will still take your breath away. For us and other Crested Butte ex-pats, it is still home.