Mountain Mama

It didn’t take much to lure me back to Colorado from West Virginia. While I loved the idea of living in West Virginia my reality didn’t measure up. I wanted a rural life – but I lived in an industrial city. I wanted a farm – but I literally lived next door to housing projects. When West Virginia friends settled in Crested Butte and invited us to join them I didn’t take much convincing.

This was the latter 1970s. Crested Butte today is a funky ski town. Crested Butte then was a REALLY funky ski town. The majority of its buildings were aged mining shacks and storefronts. There was one paved street. The ski area was just coming into its own as a destination location.

Times were hard when I arrived in the spring of 1977. There had been two terrible snow drought years in a row. This crippled the local ski economy which really was the life blood of the town. Probably what saved it was the general youth of the population. We were young and not yet worried about our portfolios or resumes. You worked multiple jobs to pay the rent. You lived in a beautiful place and spent your time outdoors. Nobody had much of anything so you weren’t envious of the next guy. It was simple.

My multiple jobs were: teaching a kids Art & Recreation program for the Town of Crested Butte in the summer and doing general office work (remember “typing”?) for the Town Marshall. I also worked for Crested Butte Airlines (a single 6 passenger plane that flew daily to both Aspen and Denver). I also had a custom quilt company and spent many hours at my sewing machine or hand stitching. Oh – and I had my first kid.

When we first arrived we rented a small log structure (I think it had been some sort of barn but was converted to a crude but cozy cabin.) I hadn’t lost my urge for homeownership however and kept my eyes open. After the two previous, dismal winters prices were depressed. I wish I could say I was a savvy investor but I don’t know that I really recognized the opportunity that low prices provided – I simply wanted a better place to live that I could decorate myself. Sometime around Thanksgiving a duplex became available. It was newer construction; but designed to look older (a wise requirement of the local building ordinances). It had 3 levels on each side. The first level was a mud room entry (a place to dump your skis), the only bathroom and two bedrooms. The stairs to the second floor opened into a great room. There was a south facing bay window and deck, a small kitchen with an island / bar, a dining area and a living room. Climb the next set of stairs and there was a largish bedroom with a dormer window and under eaves storage.

There were leases in place for both sides through the winter that had to be honored. My baby due date was May 1 and the lease expiration was May 15. Even at depressed prices the cost was terrifyingly high: $72,000! I had to tell myself that I was buying two houses for $36,000 each to help with the jitters. But I ran the numbers and they made sense. With the other side rented our mortgage payments were much lower than rent. The space seemed cavernous. The sunny, south bay window was just crying for some plants. I needed to own it. I became a landlady and spent the winter months and my pregnancy eagerly looking forward to the day when I could move in.

Then the snow came. It snowed and snowed and snowed. It snowed so much that it covered the entire first floor and crept up to the second floor windows. There were trenches to the woodpile for my cabin higher than my head. The snowplows kept piling it up in front of the house until a staircase had to be carved to climb up out of the yard and then down to the street where my car was parked. And still it snowed. The skiers came back and Crested Butte was bustling again. The baby arrived on May 8th and on May 15th I laid him in a cardboard box and moved into my new investment property.

The snow kept up year after year. Although I left Crested Butte for Denver I continued to rent the duplex at a profit until I sold it about 5 years later for almost double the purchase price.

Copyright October 2018

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