Climate change poses threat to Crested Butte’s ski industry, small town culture, and natural land

By Carly Valerious

Road leading from Gothic to Crested Butte. Photo by Carly Valerious.

Climate change is making the harsh winters in Crested Butte more livable, but also threatens the small towns solitude and wilderness.

Warming temperatures in already hot states are pushing residents out to more temperate places. Ski areas are closing all around the country, which impacts the entire industry. The livelihood of the town and the ecosystems surrounding it are in danger.

“Colorado is going to grow by 50% by 2030— Crested Butte is a hot [awesome] place and people want to live here,” former chief of operations at Aspen and current head executive at Crested Butte John Norton said.

Temperatures are rising and it is becoming more and more difficult to live in southern states like Texas, Florida, or Arizona over the summer. Those who can afford it have started coming to Crested Butte to enjoy comfortable summer weather and over 800 miles of mountain bike trails. With an influx of summer visitors, a number that will only increase, the town has started working to protect the Gunnison State Park.

Sitting in his remote solar powered home a few miles out of town, Norton said “we could carry a lot more people.”

The population in Crested Butte is not large, but the residents enjoy it that way. Norton and his wife moved into their beautiful cabin precisely to be away from the crowd.

More people means more outdoor recreation. People were trashing camp grounds Norton said.

“You can’t pull your car off the road anywhere you want anymore” said Norton.

In an effort to manage and protect the backcountry there are now designated car camping areas. As more people come every season, trail management will become difficult.

Summer visitation seems to be on an incline, but that does’t matter if the ski industry fails.

With out skiing Crested Butte would be in a “super bunch of trouble,” said Norton.

Butte relies on tourism. In fact, during the offseason most shops in town close until the tourists come back. Norton is not worried that there will be no snow to ski because of Crested Butte’s high altitude, but the rest of the United states is not so lucky. The earth is getting hotter and ski areas in the United States have already begun closing. 

“If people don’t learn elsewhere how to ski they aren’t going to come here because it just won’t be that popular a sport anymore,” head of High Country Conservation advocates Sue Navy said.

Navy has been working in conservation efforts for over 40 years. She is optimistic we can turn things around.

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