A view of the West from on high

  • Dragons in Paradise

  What does a newpaperman-turned-professor who spends the better part of 168 pages reminiscing about life in the spliff-puffing ski town of Crested Butte have to say that's relevant to anywhere else in the West? Well, it turns out, a lot.

If you ever wonder whether the West will create that mythic society to match its fabled scenery, read Dragons in Paradise. George Sibley's scope ranges wide, including a cantankerous, accordion-pumping Croatian and life during the "paleotechnic" stage of development at the Mount Crested Butte ski resort — the pre-Snowcat era, when ski patrollers busted the tops off icy moguls by hand, long before Club Med hung its shingle at the base of the ski slopes.

Matching the scenery, Sibley believes, will take fewer chauffeured Land Rovers, and more mountain pluck. "Until I came to the mountains," he writes, "I thought, or had been generally encouraged to think, that money and capital were one and the same."

He discovers that human capital — ideas, passion and even a knack for a little wheeling and dealing — creates community. Starting the Crested Butte Mountain Theater, for example, took some money, and it took a little artistic talent. But, Sibley writes, it also took a rougher form of human capital: "I knew whom to talk to to get the use of the schoolyard and the gym for rehearsals, whom to talk to at the college to borrow some lights," and, of course, "whom to talk to at the Electrical Association to get a slightly illegal line and some help in the touchy task fo splitting 220 volts into two 110 volt lines."

Dragons is an inspiring reminder that in simply leading their lives, people can end up with a lot to say.