Crested Butte Mountain Resort Ski Vacation Guide

Crested Butte Ski Resort Review

Crested Butte is one of those perfect all-around resorts. Terrain serves every level of skier well, facilities are top-notch and the historic mining town offers plenty of diversions.

While the mountain, it is a-changin’, under the new ownership of Tim and Diane Mueller, Crested Butte is still the “anti resort” of Colorado—that is, anti-glitz, yet with all the amenities and spectacular scenery for which the state is famous. The question is: Can the Muellers attract more skier visits to the resort without losing its soul? We sure hope so.

Extreme terrain is Crested Butte’s signature and for good reason. With an expanse of more than 500 acres of double-blacks, it’s a lift-served backcountry world. In fact, locals who have skied and snowboarded here for years claim to not have had enough time to fully explore the possible lines. That’s not hard to believe. Some traverses require a lot of work and take you across exposed steeps that need at least a 5-foot base and new snow on top to boot. Since there are so many excellent choices for dropping in, it’s easy to give up and leave the untouched bounty beyond for more patient—and perhaps intrepid—souls.

Beginners and intermediates can find plenty of fun as well. The mountain is laid out in such a way as to keep beginner and intermediate skiers and riders safely on easier runs. Recent development has, in fact, made us wish we were beginners all over again. Not only is the beginner terrain gentle and extensive, but it also has its own midmountain cabin with in-your-face views of the main mountain, plus food service and outdoor seating. Taking a break gives not only physical rest, but it also affords peace of mind. From this same mid-mountain cabin, intermediates can access blue runs off the backside that are sure to bring grins, whether the preference might be groomers, rollicking wood shots or trails left au-natural.

The resort is host to some of the most entertaining competitions in the West, including the 16th Annual U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships in February, the U.S. Freeskiing Telemark Championships and the Annual Slush Huck. Add the locals’ penchant for celebrating anything related to snow, skiing and the great outdoors, and you’ve got a big party on your hands.

The Muellers, who also own Okemo, Vt., purchased Crested Butte Mountain Resort in March 2004 and plan to spend more than $200 million on a resort-wide makeover. One of the on-mountain changes that is instantly noticeable is the perfectly manicured trails, which shouldn’t be a surprise given Okemo’s reputation for excellent grooming. More snowmaking goes hand-in-hand with this effort to make the lower mountain a better experience for beginners and intermediates.

The new Mt. Crested Butte base village called “Mountaineer Square,” which includes a conference center, aquatic/civic center, visitor center, and upscale lodging, is open for this season. Also new for 2006/07, a high-speed quad that will replace the East River Chair. The beginner and first-timer areas will also see more improvements. Planning is underway for terrain expansion to neighboring Snodgrass Mountain.

Crested Butte Skiing

Our base elevation in the stats box is at the point of the lowest lift, East River. The base area where the facilities are located is about 200 feet higher, at 9,375 feet. Our stats reflect lift-served access—you can hike to the 12,162-foot summit for a 3,062-foot-vertical descent.

Be aware that the trail map warns of extreme terrain, marked “EX” on the mountain, but not labeled on the map itself. It is possible at any time while on double-blacks to come upon sections with EX trail signs. Anyone who plans to spend extensive time in the Extreme Limits should consider buying the Extreme Limits Ski Guide, a trail map that covers this territory in depth.

Crested Butte does not offer any gates to the backcountry and it is illegal to go out of bounds here. Given the extensive number of cliffs, chutes and other extreme features, it is wise to heed this law if only so you live to enjoy another day on the mountain.

Crested Butte Resort Quick Facts

  • Summit elevation: 11,875 feet (lift-served)
  • Vertical drop: 2,775 feet
  • Base elevation: 9,100 feet (lowest lift)
  • Expert: +++++
  • Advanced: +++
  • Intermediate: ++++
  • Beginner: ++++
  • First-timer: ++++
  • Address: 12 Snowmass Road, Mt. Crested Butte, CO 81225
  • Ski area phone: 970-349-2222
  • Snow report: 349-2323 or (888) 442-8883
  • Toll-free reservations:  (800) 810-7669
  • Internet: (resort)
  • Number of lifts: 15—4 high-speed quads, 2 quads, 2 triples, 3 doubles, 2 surface lifts, 2 moving carpets
  • Snowmaking: 25 percent (282 acres)
  • Skiable acreage: 1,125 acres
  • Uphill capacity: 19,850 per hour
  • Parks & pipes: 2 parks, 2 pipes
  • Bed Base: 5,550
  • Nearest lodging: Slopeside
  • Resort child care: Yes, 6 months and older

Crested Butte Expert & Advanced Skiiers

The overwhelming sense of “feeling exposed” is the first hint that Crested Butte is no ordinary mountain. Then watch skiers work their way through rocky chutes to launch themselves off 40-foot cliffs and you know you are among some of the most elite skiers on the planet. You’ll find some of the toughest in-bounds terrain on the continent here, much of it serviced by a T-bar ride. And while you don’t have to traverse or hike, you’ll find yourself doing so anyway in search of yet more fresh tracks, the best lines, and more adrenaline thrills.

It’s advisable to make friends with a local or a mountain guide before venturing off into Crested Butte’s steeps. They are filled with cliff bands, so be sure to know your line before jumping in. The hardcore runs are the infamous Extreme Limits, comparable to their more famous counterparts across the boarders in Utah and Wyoming. Pitches average 39 to 44 degrees, and extreme terrain is described by the Ski Safety Act as “cliffs with a minimum 20-foot rise over a 15-foot run and slopes with a minimum 50-degree average pitch over a 100-foot run.” If that doesn’t make you think twice before venturing out, then nothing will. And, as you might suspect, the Extreme Limits usually don’t open until mid-January or later.

To test your mettle on something difficult, but not too hairy, try Peel (just off the Silver Queen lift). Anything in this vicinity offers the longest amount of vertical. For a chute that’s wide enough for some error but sure to give you rubber legs because of its 2,000-foot descent, try the 40-plus-degree Banana and its sister chute Funnel. To find where the untracked snow stays longest, work your way out to the farthest reaches of Teocalli Bowl and Third Bowl. If the weather and snow conditions are right, consider hiking to the summit, taking in the view, and floating turns down The Peak or Hall of Fame.

Note: You can hire a mountain guide for the Extreme Limits for $30 per person, and that’s a steal of a deal.

Crested Butte’s single-blacks are long, bumpy and fun. The well-traveled ones are under the Silver Queen lift, but the Twister lift is the local secret. Try anything in that area. While it is in the middle of everything, it doesn’t get the traffic you would expect. The Double-Top Glades served by the East River Lift are a nice test of your skills. Crested Butte doesn’t have many single-diamonds and the double-diamonds are demanding. If you’re adventurous, try the double-blacks that are just off lifts, which will cut down on long and exposed traverses—Peel, The Glades, Rachel’s, and Half Pipe Gully into Headwall are good choices. If you prefer groomed terrain, you’ll be relegated mostly to the realm of the blue-square, which can give you a rush but won’t be challenging.

Crested Butte Intermediate Slopes

Crested Butte has added intermediate terrain, all linked by conveniently placed lifts, making it easy to work your way across the mountain to get to increasingly more demanding runs. Warm-up on the Gold Link and Prospect lift, exclusively serving intermediates. From here, head to the Teocalli and East River lifts for yet more isolation from faster skiers.

When you’re ready for a big-mountain experience, Paradise Bowl awaits, giving you a taste of powder on good days. Explore this area and find many hidden, yet non-intimidating, nooks, and crannies. From this area, put it in auto-drive down lovely, long trails such as Treasury, Ruby Chief, Forest Queen, Bushwacker and Gallowich.

Advanced-intermediates can manage most of the runs down from the Silver Queen lift. The short and steep Twister and Crystal both have good bailout routes about halfway down. Lower-intermediates will enjoy the greens off the Red Lady Express.

Kids can find plenty of fun in the glades off the Gold Link, Prospect and Red Lady lifts—they’re more like luge runs through the trees. Keep an eye out for the signs with cartoon characters pointing the way. Be sure to pick up a kids’ trail map too.

Crested Butte Beginner & First-timer Skiing

Red Lady Express accesses a nice variety of beginner trails. Wide-open green-circles are plentiful here. For solid beginners and beginner-intermediates, this is heaven—all fun runs with no chance of getting in over your head, and few encounters with yahoos going too fast. For a change of scenery, head up Painter Boy Lift and take Gunsight Pass around the back of the mountain to the Teocalli Lift, which drops you off at the top of the same area served by Red Lady Express. Be sure to stop by the midmountain cabin and outdoor seating at the top of the Painter Boy lift when you need a break.

If you have only been on skis a few times or are a timid beginner, you might find some of these runs are more turquoise—greens leaning into blues. In this case, however, you’ll be safe if you stick to Houston as well as skiing off the Peachtree and Painter Boy lifts. Confident beginners should try the wide-open intermediate cruisers off Gold Link.

The resort has a terrific learning setup. First-timers are separated into one area for adults and another for kids, each served by a moving carpet. Kids also have a small snow play zone where they can get used to moving around on skis. Practice for a day or two on the three trails off Peachtree Lift before attempting the Red Lady Express. When you’re ready for Red Lady, try Houston first since it’s the gentlest. Houston also takes you to Painter Boy Lift.

Crested Butte Snowboarding

Crested Butte as a town harbors no prejudice against those who approach the world a little differently—and that reflects in its attitude toward snowboarders. Welcome. Now strap in and get ready for a frickin’ ride. Just make sure to read the notes about cliffs in the mountain layout section, and find a local or guide to take you into the Extreme Limits the first couple of times.

A great feature about Crested Butte is the humongous amount of big air you can find if you’re into it. Anywhere experts go off the T-bars is good. The farther out you traverse from the top of these lifts, the less likely you are to see people. The downside is that if you want to do laps all the way to the bottom, it’ll take you three or four lifts (depending on your destination) to get back to the top. Of course, this also helps preserve untracked snow.

An excellent choice for true hardcore is the 40-degree Headwall. Once again, the farther you traverse, the less likely you are to cross tracks. But don’t go out here if you are not really a seasoned expert. The 12-inch-by-12-inch sign that reads “Cliff Area” actually means that there is a 400-foot-long cliff band below you. If Teocalli Bowl is open, go there immediately.

Off of Silver Queen, traverse to the phenomenally good west-facing chutes. Banana Peel and Sunset Ridge are the places to be on a spring day when there’s lots of sun and conditions are soft.

Silver Queen takes advanced riders to some of the steeper groomed black runs in the state. Intermediates will have a ball in Paradise Bowl and on the long cruisers that start at the top of Paradise Express and dump you out at the base of the East River Lift. Be ready to feel weak in the legs by the time you reach the bottom. Beginners also have a great selection of trails, most just off the Red Lady Express. But don’t skip the midmountain cabin and runs off Painter Boy Lift.

Flats are unavoidable here, as they are almost everywhere. The really annoying one, though, is returning to the Red Lady Express after riding Peak, Peel, Banana, Funnel and Forest. Keep your speed or you’ll get stuck on a heinous flat. It’s—yes—a quarter-mile long. You’ll also have to hike out from the Extreme Limits and Teocalli Bowl.

Crested Butte Parks and pipes

As if the steeps and cliffs aren’t enough, Crested Butte has an awesome advanced park along the lower Canaan run. The Canaan Terrain Park, above the Paradise warming house, is long, with good sequences of tabletops, rails and kickers—including a 55-foot monster—that allows for creativity. The wallride is where you’ll really find out just how good you are. Because the park’s beneath the Paradise lift, it’s the perfect place to collect a bunch of cheers—or jeers—depending on your style.

Crested Butte’s 420-foot-long superpipe is also off the Paradise chairlift on Forest Queen. The Zaugg cuts it to be 55 feet wide and 18 feet high with a slope of 17 degrees.

Painter Boy Park at the top of Painter Boy offers solace to those who aren’t ready to jump in with the big contenders, -though you’ll see some kid riders and skiers here who are pretty hot. Kids, as well as adults, come here to ride the smaller features and get a feel for tabletops, rail slides, and the mini pipe.

Cross-country Skiing and Snowshoeing in Crested Butte

Crested Butte is linked with one of the most extensive cross-country networks in Colorado. The Crested Butte Nordic Center (349-1707) is at the edge of town, on 2nd Street between Sopris and Whiterock Streets. About 70 km. of Nordic tracks begin a few yards from the Nordic Center. The center also has an outdoor rink and sledding hill for apres-Nordic activity. There are more than 100 miles of backcountry trails. Group lessons, half-day and all-day tours are scheduled several times each week, but private lessons and special tours must be requested two days in advance. Snowshoe activities are offered. Snowshoe and cross-country rentals are available. There are also hut-to-hut cross-country and snowshoe trips.

Snowshoe tours at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (800-444-9236; 349-2211) depart from the Crested Butte Mountain Schools desk at 9:45 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. daily. You’ll ride the Red Lady Express lift up the mountain, and then make an easy loop that offers spectacular views. Tour takes about 2.5 hours and includes a snack break. The price includes snowshoe rentals, lifts, guides and snacks. Moonlight snowshoe tours are a fun evening activity for people of all ages and abilities. You’ll ride in a snowcat to the top of the Red Lady Express lift and snowshoe the moonlit mountain trails back to the base area for hot cocoa and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Cost includes snowshoe rental, snowcat ride and guided tour. The tours are offered only during the full moons.

Crested Butte Mountain Dining

Crested Butte is blessed with more excellent, affordable restaurants than any other resort in the West. You can dine on gourmet French cuisine in an intimate setting or chow down on platters of family-style fried chicken and steaks. We’ll start with dining at the mountain and then move down into town.

The WoodStone Grille (349-8030; $$$; above) at The Grand Lodge Crested Butte serves contemporary cuisine for breakfast and dinner. For a quick lunch, WoodStone Deli ($) is good for soup, pizza and specialty sandwiches.

For a full-service lunch, you’ll find first-rate Italian fare from soups to desserts at Rustica Ristorante (349-2274; $–$$) in the midmountain Paradise Warming House. On warm days, sit out on the deck which has limited seating for restaurant patrons but provides spectacular views of the mountain. Rustica also has the earliest happy hour, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. But remember, you have to ski down the rest of the way afterward. For a special evening, make reservations for Dinner @ 10,000 Feet (349-2211; below right). A snowcat pulls you in an open sleigh up the mountain for a four-course dinner at Rustica. You can choose from prime beef, seafood, and poultry entrees. There’s a full bar and handpicked wine list to accompany your meal.

If you’re looking for an on-mountain gourmet lunch experience, you’ll be delighted by the creative culinary practices at the Ice Bar and Restaurant (349-2275; $$–$$$). As you bite into delicate seafood and out-of-the-ordinary meat dishes, remember that this was all shipped up the mountain and prepared in a cozy cabin, making it all the more awe-inspiring. It’s true that “sexy ice babes” serve specialty martinis and by-the-glass fine wines at the deckside bar sculpted from ice. Make reservations for Last Tracks Dinners here through Guest Services (349-2211).

The hopping slopeside Butte 66 Roadhouse BBQ (349-2999; $–$$) showcases everything from auto grills to sporting gear and whacky signs. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The lunch menu features appetizers, salads and unique sandwiches. For dinner, of course, choose from the extensive barbecue menu.

The Avalanche ($) is another good lunch stop, especially for burgers and grilled sandwiches, and has killer cookies. It also serves hearty breakfasts and some great dinner deals.

Camp 4 Coffee ($) is the locals’ favorite hangout and serves the “Best Coffee in Town” with tasty breakfast items, from pastries to breakfast burritos. Find it in the mountain village or at the top of Painter Boy Lift, where it also sells lunch items.

Another option: Make reservations for a First Tracks Breakfast (349-2378), where you’ll meet at 8:15 a.m. at the Red Lady Express lift for first tracks on the mountain and an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.

Crested Butte Mountain Lodging

The Grand Lodge Crested Butte ($$$–$$$$; above), purchased by the resort in spring 2006, is located in the base village a short walk from the lifts. It’s the only full-service hotel other than Club Med and offers hotel rooms and condominium units. You’ll find an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, fitness room, concierge, room service, gift shop and business center here.

Black Bear Lodge ($$$$), the newest high-end property, features three-bedroom condominiums near the Peachtree lift. The custom condos are spacious and include a gourmet kitchen, fireplace, outdoor hot tub, and covered parking.

The Plaza ($$$$), just steps from the Silver Queen Quad, features one of the most luxurious and roomy condominium units in Mt. Crested Butte. There are two hot tubs, a sauna, and covered parking. They give excellent value and are especially popular with groups because special functions can be arranged. There’s also a great pizza joint and pub here, The Firehouse Grill. Kid’s World is just 50 yards away. Treasury Point ($$$$) features premier three- and four-bedroom townhomes. They are spacious and beautifully furnished and include a garage and a complex with an outdoor hot tub.

The Villas ($$$$), the most luxurious townhouses in Mt. Crested Butte, are just across the street from the lifts. The three- and four-bedroom units are tastefully decorated and have private balconies and fabulous views of Mt. Crested Butte.

The Buttes ($$$–$$$$; left) are well-appointed condos close to the lifts. Rooms range in size from studios to two bedrooms. The Gateway ($$$–$$$$), across from the Peachtree lift and near the Silver Queen, may be the best luxury of any condo on the slopes when you trade price for space and amenities.

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