Crested Butte Mountain Resort sits in the rugged Elk Mountain Range of Southwestern Colorado, 30 miles north of Gunnison and a hardy five-hour drive from Denver. The mountain and adjacent town aren’t far from Aspen, geographically speaking (hardcore runners even race the 40 miles between the two mountain towns every year during the warmer months), but the two resorts couldn’t be further apart stylistically. If Aspen is fur and celebrities, then Crested Butte is leather and ranchers.
The town was originally settled in the 1880s as a remote mining camp, first supplying silver, then coal. Mining operations ceased in the ‘50s, and skiing showed up in ‘62, along with Colorado’s first gondola. But even with ski tourism as the driving economical force, Crested Butte has retained its Wild West charm, both on and off the mountain. The skiing is adventurous, and the town is lined with antique street lights and historic Victorian architecture, attributes that have earned Crested Butte the title of “Colorado’s last real ski town.”
Crested Butte’s 121 trails are spread over 1,547 acres. On paper, there’s plenty for your average skier to do, with 57% of the trails dedicated to intermediate skiers, but make no mistake, the mountain is tailored for expert shredders. Though only 15% of the mountain is dedicated to black and double black trails, the resort only grooms 500 acres nightly, which means even some intermediate trails will get bumped out on a regular basis. The resort peaks at 12,162 feet, with a respectable 3,062 vertical drop, but you’ll have to hike to squeeze the top 300 feet of vert, as the true summit is only accessible by foot. Make that hike, and you’ll have incredible views of the town below, and the double black Banana and Funnel at the tips of your skis, offering plenty of steeps and exposure.
Skiers looking to tick off a “Life List”-worthy run have to ski Rambo, the steepest-cut run in North America, with a sustained 55-degree pitch. When you’re standing at the top of the run, all you can see is the bottom, so wait for a heavy powder day to provide friction and, um, cushioning. The steep and cliffy Headwall sits on the edge of Teocalli Bowl, and was the staging ground for the U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships for years. For decades, this was the run you’d ski if you were looking for a sponsorship. The TeoCalli Bowl itself is packed with double black lines through trees and over short cliffs that see less boards and planks than the rest of the resort, because of the ten-minute walk out of the bottom of the bowl. The resort also boasts a handful of terrain parks, including a beginner’s park, a snow cross track, a jib park, and ones for both intermediates and experts.
Don’t worry if a developed sense of mortality keeps you from hucking cliffs. Crested Butte has put a lot of energy into developing new beginner and intermediate terrain each off season, cutting ten acres of gladed tree skiing specifically designed for the intermediate skier (check it out between the Double Top and Black Eagle lifts in the East River area). And there are three kid-specific trails off Topsy Turvey that wind safely through the trees. Everyone should make sure they hit the Waffle Cabin, purveyors of addictive handheld Belgian waffle snacks packed with sugary goodness.
STAY: The Grand Lodge Crested Butte will get you on the mountain a few steps from the Silver Queen and Red Lady Express lifts without breaking the bank (standard rooms start at around $200 during peak season). Most rooms have kitchenettes, and the hotel has the best pool and hot tub in town.
DINE: The Last Steep Bar and Grill has classic ski town pub written all over it. This is where you go for hearty burgers and sandwiches made from local Parker Pastures beef for $10-12, and arguably the best Bloody Mary in town.