In Crested Butte, the winter of ’79-’80 was big. Snow buried buildings and skiers rejoiced. I moved to the town just before that big snow and partook of it. It was also a time of political intensity, as the Amax mining corporation was pushing hard to build a billion-dollar molybdenum mine in the Red Lady bowl of the mountain right next to town, Mt. Emmons. I moved to Crested Butte for both those reasons, and our great community of people. Most of us opposed the construction of that giant mine. Out Town Council and the environmental group High Country Citizens’ Alliance conducted an effective political campaign to block the project.
Roy Smith, an English international adventurer with a home on Maroon Ave., came up with the idea of building solidarity with Aspen, a bigger more famous city on the other side of the Elk Mountains. He organized the “Save The Lady Protest Ski Tour” and I naturally, wholeheartedly, had to participate.
About 30 of us started up Brush Creek early with Whetstone Mountain gleaming in the sunrise. It was a bright, cold day with excellent fresh snow. That many people carrying heavy packs packed in superb double grooves, making the cross-country skiing easy for everyone except the strong leaders who “broke trail”. With ample rest stops accompanied by Myles Rademan’s flute playing, we all made it to the designated overnight stop below Pearl Pass. We dug snow caves and slept soundly despite very low nighttime temps.
The next day was somewhat stormy going over the pass. That fresh snow definitely helped with the downhill using our early-model, wimpy, nordic ski boots. Many fell and got thoroughly doused in powder, and still smiled for my camera. Everyone regrouped at the Taggert Hut and chatted on its deck. Then a final push down to Ashcroft where a pre-arranged bus took us into Aspen.
That night we all dined for free at a macro-biotic restaurant, The Little Kitchen. I had worked there a year earlier during my winter traveling the state as a cross-country ski bum. I learned how to make their miso-tahini sauce and I still do that regularly today. It’s the perfect accompaniment to brown rice and vegetables. I and a few others slept in the attic of the Aspen thrift store.
The next morning we paraded through Aspen with our “Save The Lady — Hand Off Amax!” banner, led by our charismatic Crested Butte Mayor W. Mitchell, who was in a wheelchair. Two county commissioners of Aspen and at least one radio journalist joined us, so we did at least somewhat spread the word to the world that we did not welcome molybdenum mining in the mountain next to Crested Butte.
That afternoon a bus took us back to CB, a five-hour ride in winter. Someone handed me a bag of weed and papers and told me to roll some joints. I rolled the entire bag and passed them out. Suddenly that not-public bus was entirely filled with cannabis smoke. No one minded; many enjoyed.
The whole escapade was huge fun, but of dubious political value. Nonetheless, a year and a half later Amax announced they were temporarily suspending their mine project. Another big group of Crested Beauties did another big outdoor adventure. We climbed to the top of Mt. Emmons to celebrate our hard-won victory. A Denver television station helicoptered W. Mitchell to the top.
Since that day, other mining companies have proposed mines to extract the large molybdenum deposit still under the Red Lady Bowl. Crested Butte is still fighting and winning. I think it’s unlikely a mine will get going in the foreseeable future.