If I were to tell you that my ski week would begin with a 26 inch base, no snow in the forecast, low temperatures in the negative double digits, and highs in the positive single digits, you might conclude that the week was doomed.
But you’d be wrong.
I just completed a heavenly week on the mountain at Crested Butte, Colorado. And if you’re not jealous, you should be.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort is located about a 45 minute drive from the airport at Gunnison, CO. Unlike most of the more-famous Colorado ski mountains, Crested Butte is not a short drive from any major population center, and that’s part of what makes it so magical. Without the crowds that characterize Summit county resorts, Crested Butte retains the old Colorado ski charm, while lacking nothing for great skiing and amenities.
Crested Butte Mountain boasts a lift-served rise of 2,775 feet, a lift capacity of over 20 thousand people per hour, 1,524 acres of skiable terrain, a good distribution of beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes, and one of the largest offerings of extreme terrain anywhere. The mountain base is at 9,300 feet, which is higher than the average for Colorado.
Crested Butte Mountain gets an average of 300 inches of snow per year. Its higher altitude and location make Crested Butte one of the colder resorts, but that can be good: despite the fact that there had only been 3 inches of powder in the week prior to my arrival, the snow was in great shape, and was quite good off piste, where open. At the point of my arrival, only 81 inches of snow had fallen, and the resulting base of 26 inches was insufficient to open the extreme terrain and much of the glades. But the bulk of the runs were indeed open, well covered, and glorious.
The cold at the beginning of the week gave in to sunny days with highs nearly freezing at the base. With the low humidity, it felt positively warm on the hill, and it was great to hang out on mid-mountain decks with a drink and soak up the sun and the relaxed vibe characteristic of Crested Butte. Everywhere were smiles.
One of the great things about Crested Butte is the lack of crowds. It was often the case that the only people on my run were those I brought with me. I never encountered a significant wait at the lifts. I did notice an increase in people as the end of my week approached, because it ended in the MLK three-day weekend; but the “crowds” were never daunting. (Apparently, the MLK weekend is one of the few “rush” times at the mountain.)
As you would expect, the mountain offers a great range of terrain. It also has nice manmade terrain parks that are not too crowded and offer a variety of features. A surprising little gem is a run called Home Owner’s that’s a fun path taking you on a curving rollercoaster to the base of Gold Link lift. Another surprise is Columbine Hill -; reached from the top of Home Owner’s -; that takes you to an expansive open area that will probably remain untracked longer than most territory. The cruiser in you will demand at least one shot down International, a black from near to the top that is groomed every night. Certainly, there is challenge and fun for everyone’s taste.
There are several choices for food on the hill. Of special note is Uley’s cabin, a fancy restaurant that is very good, and serves a great Elk stew. In front of Uley’s cabin is the Ice Bar, which serves drinks al fresco from a bar that is actually made of ice. Less expensive fare (at usual resort prices) can be found at Paradise at the base of Paradise lift. Look for some good desserts there.
The base of the mountain features the usual assortment of eateries, sports stores, lodging establishments, and the like. I bought a pair of K2 Aftershocks at Peak Sports at the base (nice people there). Not typical is the family-friendly area right at the slopes that has a treehouse jungle gym, a set of bungee-assisted trampolines, and a putt-putt golf course.
The best food bargain I encountered was The Bakery at Mount Crested Butte, located next to Christy Sports (look up to the second level) near the slopes. This Crested Butte institution, open 7 am to 9 pm every day, gleefully serves great baked goods, plus pizza, calzones, sandwiches, burgers, breakfast burritos, and lots of other things to locals and visitors in the know; if you don’t have breakfast or lunch there, at least treat yourself to some après-ski sweets. And speaking of sweets, you must check out Sweet Spot for something completely different (especially the momo stand with Nepali food). For an evening’s pampering, if you want a really tasty (but not inexpensive) dinner, go to Django’s, which serves small plates (tapas).
Every fifteen minutes (30 minutes in the later evening), a Town Bus departs from the base area to take you to the town of Crested Butte. In less than 10 minutes, you find yourself in a quaint town of quirky fun shops, restaurants, and painted houses. Here you’ll find a quiet, laid-back, friendly atmosphere that will make you wish you lived in such a place. The bus stops at the base and at the town have nice indoor areas to wait in if you feel too cold to hang outside.
I stayed at The Grand Lodge at the base -; a wonderful place. From the Lodge, a two-minute walk brings you to the free ski storage area; a further one-minute walk takes you to the slopes. The rooms at The Grand Lodge are modern, nice, spacious, and well-appointed, with a microwave, small cooktop, small refrigerator, dishwasher, and bar sink. Wi-fi is free throughout and does not have to be renewed every time you connect. The lobby is large, comfy, has a constantly-burning fireplace, and has warm cookies appearing in the afternoon. The staff is unbelievably nice and very responsive. The Lodge also has an indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub, a restaurant, and a little shop. It is also a one minute walk from the Town Bus stop.
Although I didn’t get much powder, I really enjoyed my week: great skiing, wonderful, friendly people everywhere, scenery to die for, and a relaxing atmosphere. Cold? Perhaps, but well worth it.
For the great Colorado ski experience -; without the crowds -; consider Crested Butte.