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Upward Mobility: The Coburn House

Upward Mobility: The Coburn House

It’s hard to come home from a ski trip—especially one in Crested Butte, Colo. Which is why a Boulder family decided to move there.
By Philip Higgs, Contributor, SKI Magazine
posted: 11/07/2008

The kitchen, living, and dining rooms sit on the second floor in what Bill Coburn calls his "upside-down house." He says, "In Crested Butte, the snow stacks up above your first-floor windows. You want your living area to be where you can see out."


Bill and Annie Coburn didn’t mean to move to Crested Butte. They met, some time ago, at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Bill grew up in Boulder. They got engaged in Boulder, had three kids in Boulder. “I’m a big Boulder fan,” Bill says now. And yet Boulder, tiny but urbane, sitting enviably in the Rocky Mountain foothills, had one serious and perhaps insurmountable drawback: The closest skiing is 40 minutes away.

So, 10 years ago Bill and Annie decided to ease upward—buying a lot on Butte Avenue along Crested Butte’s northern edge and building a house there with friends. “It was going to be our second home,” Bill says. “And we were coming up as much as we could: a week here, a week there.” But leaving a cozy home just three miles from one of the West’s best skier’s mountains is never easy—especially when that house has a bedroom view stretching across horse-strewn meadows and up the Slate River Valley to the Paradise Divide. So Bill and Annie thought they’d take another step: spending a full year in Crested Butte.

The Coburn children—Emma, Gracie and Willy, now all college-age but then all grade-school kids just making their first lifetime friends—thought differently; they wanted to stay in Boulder. “I kept saying, ‘It’s just for one year,’” says Bill. “After they got here, of course, each of them was like, ‘We’re never going back.’” The senior Coburns had similar epiphanies: “We came here and met some of our closest friends immediately,” Bill says.

So they bought out the other half of the house and moved to CB full-time. Bill, a developer and builder with pro-jects around Colorado, opened a Coburn Development satellite office three blocks away on Elk Street, to which he now rides on a cruiser bike he pulls, unlocked, from a rack in his Butte Avenue driveway. “No one locks their bikes,” he says. “I had my townie ‘stolen’ this year. I found it two days later in front of a bar. Somebody had just borrowed it to get down the hill.” He and Annie skin up the resort’s frontside on AT skis twice a week; one of the town’s groomed cross-country tracks rolls right past their backyard. “After a few months, we thought, ‘Man, this is it.’”

The kids did their own brand of fitting in, excelling in the small schools. This year, Emma, an eight-time state running champion, will be the third of the Coburn siblings attending CU Boulder on a scholarship. The kitchen fridge and a nearby wall are papered with newspaper clippings, photographs and ribbons from Emma and her siblings’ athletic exploits. But mostly Emma: “There’s a bit of layering on the fridge, but if you go down deep enough you’ll find the other kids,” says Annie. “The high school here always scores Top 5 in the state,” says Bill. “The graduating class is like 20 kids. The teachers are young and energetic. We really stayed not just for the lifestyle, but for the schools.”

A fourth Coburn will likely excel at those same schools: Joe, now 7, was born in Crested Butte. “Life up here is just so simple,” says Bill. “In Boulder, our kids were in two or three different schools, their friends were all 20 miles away through traffic. In Crested Butte, they were all in one school.”

Such a full-size family required a few changes to their one-time second home, originally designed as a getaway for two families. “If I had to design it all over from scratch, for my family, I would do it differently,” Bill says. “I had to make it all fit—make enough bedrooms for enough kids, for starters.” A main-level “don’t-call-it-a-master” bedroom was expanded and a “bigger, better” steam shower added. A third-floor loft, once Willy’s bedroom, was enclosed to add a game room. “Now it’s Joe’s scene,” Bill says. A booth for breakfast or coffee or cocktails was installed in the kitchen, and a hot tub was stashed on the back porch, looking upvalley into the Raggeds Wilderness. “It’s not very big—2,500 square feet is all—so we had to do lots of little things.” A two-car garage sheathed in rusted tin holds four seasons’ worth of athletic gear. “We’ve got everything: AT, XC, downhill...and there’s incredible skate skiing here.”

Three bedrooms—one for Gracie, one for Emma and one for Joe’s “secret train project”—hold down the first floor, while the living/dining/kitchen area occupies the second. “It’s an upside-down house,” Bill says. “When you live in Crested Butte, the snow stacks up above the first-floor windows, so you want your living area to be above that, where you can see out.” Last year they had to cut a tunnel through the snow from the street to the front door. “It was an incredible year.”

Location: Crested Butte, Colorado
Elevation: 8,900 feet
Closest Skiing: Crested Butte Mountain Resort, three miles up the road
Square Footage: 2,500


- SKI Magazine, November 2008

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