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Crested Butte’s Big Change

Residents of colorado’s Last Great Ski Town are both optimistic and uncertain about Vail Resorts’ purchase of their local hill.

In the 58 years since Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) was founded, the local lifts of “Colorado’s Last Great Ski Town” have transferred hands only a handful of times. Former owner Howard Callaway steered CBMR for more than three decades—during which, an ’80s advertising campaign promised “We’re not Vail.”

Last year, when Vail Resorts (VR), one of the world’s largest ski resort operators, took ownership of the family-run ski mountain, more than a few heads turned. The Muellers sold CBMR for $74 million alongside the family’s other properties—Okemo Mountain Resort and Mount Sunapee—plus $155 million to settle the leases.

A year into the transition, many locals are optimistic about the new holding. “CBMR needed money for infrastructure… [VR] has funding for the quality of product and upkeep that everyone is hopeful to see,” says Frank Konsella, a 25-year local and realtor.

In June 2019, the U.S. Forest Service green-lit the 500-acre Teocalli Drainage Expansion Project, which includes nine intermediate-advanced trails, three chairlifts, and a ski patrol outpost. Additionally, Teocalli Lift, a 1979 double-seater, will be replaced with a quad before the 2019-20 season, according to VR.

Several CBMR employees, like Angie Mauldin, a 20-year alpine and telemark instructor, are happy with VR benefits, which include a 401(k) Retirement Plan; medical, dental and vision insurance; PTO; and free counseling.

“Crested Butte is in a huge investment phase. Certain business owners are excited and others see the change as negative,” says Sam O’Neil, a restaurant manager and CBMR lift operator. “Immediately, VR upped minimum wage to $12.25 per hour, above Colorado’s $11.10. They offer support like educational grants for employees and their children,” he says.

Aware of the housing demand, VR entered a 25% partnership in the proposed Brush Creek housing development, of which more than half of 156 units are deed-restricted workforce housing. Still, O’Neil worries that the strain of affordable housing for full-time locals, including his restaurant colleagues, is exacerbated by a higher socioeconomic class of renters and buyers who are being introduced to the Valley via VR’s Epic Pass. Others anxiously echo that concern and speculate that VR-driven visitors will fuel the already-powerful Airbnb market, which competes with long-term rentals.

Adjacent to CBMR, The Grand Lodge’s condominiums and hotel rooms experienced market surge post VR acquisition. “Before VR’s announcement in June, the average price of a condo was $94K. Twelve months later, it was $141K. There was an increase in demand. Individual condo owners saw value in raising the price, until all of the condos hit the higher prices we see today,” explains Konsella.

Generally, it’s difficult to attribute Crested Butte’s tourism or property cost heights to VR, given those trends were in upswing prior to CBMR’s sale. “[Real estate] prices were increasing before Vail announced it would buy CBMR, then the real estate growth continued through the sale closure, last fall,” says Konsella, noting that the former Rocky Mountain Super Pass attracted new home buyers and that the Epic Pass might, too. Regardless, the Valley’s real estate is in a discovery stage, he says.

Denverite and two-decade VR passholder Matt Cullen has day-tripped along I-70 up to 45 days per winter since 1999. After VR bought CBMR, Cullen purchased a lot in CB South, a housing development eight miles southeast of Crested Butte. His family has a 10-year plan to transition from the city to the mountains.

As the Valley evolves, locals hope Crested Butte’s character prevails. And many choose to focus on the positive perspective of change, too. As Adge Lindsey, co-founder of the Crested Butte Dance Collective, says, “Let’s try to believe VR sees and loves our funk.”

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