Defining a local |

Defining a local

Caught up in a Steamboat state of mind

John F. Russell

I’m sorry. If you’ve ever complained out loud that there is too much snow on the ski trails and all that white stuff is interfering with your ability to turn your skis, you’re not a local. That’s just the way it is. Don’t come to me for help.

On the other hand, assuming you’ve never committed that one cardinal sin, it’s easier to become a card-carrying, genuine local resident of Steamboat Springs than ever before.

If last year you went through three snow shovels, snowboarded more than 100 days, purchased a Winter Carnival button, ate breakfast at the Shack, Johnny B’s or Winona’s more than eight times, volunteered at a ski race, attempted to explain the Steamboat bus routes to a visitor, and poached a hot tub, well, then, by the powers invested in me, I now confer upon you lifetime membership in the Steamboat Locals Club.

Congratulations. Do you feel any different thanks to your elevated status? I thought you did. Your secret locals decoder ring will arrive in the mail.

As a bona fide Steamboat local, wide-eyed visitors from afar will seek you out for your wisdom.

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“Hey lady, who’s got the best buffalo tenderloin in town?”

Or :

“Dude, where can I go to meet women in this town?”

The relative importance of being recognized as a local in mountain resort towns may increase with an influx of exceptionally wealthy people seeking vacation homes.

Rick Krannich, a professor of sociology at Utah State University, has studied the changes experienced by rural Western communities when traditional industries give way to a new economic and social order.

“There’s a pretty strong tendency for longstanding local populations to suddenly realize that the nature of growth and the sudden arrival of the truly elite has hit a tipping point and is out of hand,” Krannich said. “There’s a realization that the things you value are slipping away.”

Everybody wants to be a local. And some people will try to tell you that you haven’t lived here long enough, haven’t seen enough winters, and haven’t suffered enough to possibly be one. But the truth is, being a Steamboat local is all about becoming involved in the community.

Nancy Kramer, a Steamboat local for 34 years, said she arrived at that magical stature almost overnight when she first arrived in Steamboat and went to work at the hospital. A local is someone who pitches in, Kramer says.

“You’re not on the sidelines. You’re in the thick of it,” she said.

She would know. After her nursing career, she ran a popular local restaurant, was a fixture on City Council, and led the Steamboat Springs Arts Council through an entire era.

That’s a local. But don’t be discouraged.

If you volunteered to help build the new accessible playgrounds at the elementary schools in the summer, you should be well on your way to becoming a local. If you’re a member of the Rotary Club that organized the playground project, or among the Kiwanians who gave up a glorious September Saturday to run the Rubber Ducky Race, you’re clearly on the right path.

If you supported the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club by purchasing a Winter Carnival button in February and registered to take part in an event yourself, you’ve taken one giant step toward becoming a local. If you’ve galloped down Lincoln Avenue on horseback, pulling a skier behind you during Winter Carnival, that’s even better – you’ve been a local for a good long while.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that all this talk about who is a local and who isn’t smacks of elitism. Proclaiming oneself to be a local and implying that other, more recent arrivals are not locals can be condescending – even mean-spirited.

Is it still OK to be proud of your status as a Steamboat local? Of course it is.

J.R. Thompson moved here in 1988, and looking back on 20 years, he thinks longevity in Steamboat contributes to one’s local-ity or local-ness. Or is that local-motion?

“I think there has to be some timeframe that involves seeing all of the changes,” Thompson said. “You have locals and you have LT, or longtime, locals.”

The experiences we’ve shared, both highs and lows, bind us together in a way that resembles kinship. If you spent the entire winter of 1976-77 in the ‘Boat, there’s no way anyone can question your local-hood. That was the winter in the pre-snowmaking era when a particularly harsh snow drought caused the ski area to close in January. The slopes opened up to abundant snow in March, but the locals who stuck around endured considerable hardship, not to mention abject poverty. And the adversity they faced together still confers special local status upon them.

Kramer, who came here in 1974, has one particularly vivid memory of the winter of 1976-77.

“We had a unique Winter Carnival Parade that winter,” she said. “But guess what? We still did it. We had to hold it at the rodeo grounds” instead of on Lincoln Avenue. “That’s resourcefulness. It’s a great quality.”

Krannich would recognize two familiar trends in Kramer’s anecdote. When people pull together to meet a challenge, whether it’s a wildfire or a long, hard winter, they grow closer.

“A population that has experienced a big challenge that requires a collective response can certainly begin to build ties and bonds,” he said.

And the observance of long-cherished traditions such as Winter Carnival can continue to provide a symbolic representation of cultural heritage, even when the activities the festivals are based on have long since disappeared. Many Western towns continue to celebrate mining days and logging days, or even a berry festival, though those activities are largely a thing of the past, he said.

Is it possible to become a local if you don’t ski or snowboard? You bet you can. In fact, if you’re a rancher who spends long nights each spring bringing calves into the world while the meadows still are covered in snow, you know more about being a local than the rest of us skiers.

Valerie (McLaughlin) Tuthill can recall waking up to find as many as five calves in the family ranch home on Routt County Road 62. They were in the kitchen and the bathroom one frigid spring morning.

Tuthill wants new arrivals to Steamboat to be reminded of the community’s ranching heritage. However, after working behind the bar at the VFW for 14 years and working for Alpine Taxi even longer, she embraces all sorts of people as Steamboat locals.

She derives great satisfaction from extending her employment at the VFW to volunteering with the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

How can you become a local if you aren’t a skiing cowboy? Well, you could support the Routt County CattleWomen at one of their annual functions, or you could purchase a 4-H steer at the Routt County Fair. Or, I guess, you could just date a cowboy.

Tuthill has always welcomed fellow restaurant workers and cab drivers into her home at the holidays. She has never felt more like a local than when sharing those special occasions.

“It’s not how long you’ve lived here that makes you a local,” Tuthill said. “I’ve met a lot of people over the years who make this their home. Some have only been here a couple of years, some longer. I guess you’re a local if you call this home.”

Will the affluent second-homeowners poised to enter Steamboat society within the next five years become Locals with a capital L?

That could depend upon how they invest their capital, Krannich said.

Some new arrivals may bring economic capital but fail to become involved in the community. Others will bring human capital in the form of expertise developed in their careers. But they may not succeed in implementing their expertise in the community unless they also have the social capital to form relationships in the community and gain a reputation for being trustworthy.

“That’s the big trick,” Krannich said.

There you have it. Now, go be a local.

Local is as local does …

“I’ve lived here five years, but it’s only been in the last couple, since I began volunteering for the Humane Society, that I felt like a local.”

– Kat Schaeffer, Animal-loving Local

“You become a local when this is the place you identify with.”

– Essam Welch, Thoughtful Local

“You’re probably an honorary local when looking up at the banners in Olympian Hall gives you chills.”

– Mark Johnson, Long Lost Local returns

“You’re a local when you know where the Lithia Spring is, and you’ve drunk from it.”

– J.R. Thompson, Lithia Local

“I aspire to being on a first-name basis with the people working behind the counter at my favorite watering holes and liquor stores. That’s when I’ll know I’m a local.”

– Tad Huser, Aspiring Local as of July 2007

“To me, it’s who you work for. At some point in time everyone works for the Ski Corp. to get the ski pass and enjoy the fantastic snow. The locals are the people who stay for the summer no matter what kind of season we had, and work for small businesses.”

– Molly Cannon, Double Local: Can legitimately claim citizenship in both Aspen and Steamboat (now prefers the ‘Boat)