I’ve decided that Crested Butte is a mountain with a split personality. Not in a “bad” Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort of way – it is not that one personality is good and one is bad. But Crested Butte has three distinct personalities and each one offers a distinctly different skiing/riding experience. It all just depends upon what you want. From their famed corduroy cruisers to the wild extremes, Crested Butte has a personality to suit your personality.
On the one had, many of the lower reaches of Crested Butte Mountain Resort off of the Red Lady chair are extremely gentle green cruisers. An expansion of the mountain in 2004 created another area of easy blue runs, off of the Painter Boy, Prospect and Gold Link chairs. These are the reaches of the mountain that attract young families, offer teaching ground for the ski school, and keep vacationing families without as much skiing experience busy. And, in a brilliant move, Crested Butte this season moved all of their park and pipe to these slopes, giving more skiers a reason to visit this part of the mountain.
The Core of the Mountain
The next Crested Butte personality is the one I grew up with, before the Extremes were open. First, skiing the Paradise and East River lifts and then conquering Twister and Silver Queen. This is the challenging on-resort experience. If Crested Butte’s lower reaches are gentle, the top of the mountain is not. Even the Paradise Bowl, shown on ski maps as intermediate terrain, is a big step up from Red Lady and the north side slopes.
Ruby Chief, to skiers left in Paradise Bowl, is a classic Crested Butte run. A steeper than the average blue with medium-sized moguls, it runs out onto Crested Butte’s famed corduroy, offering the best of both worlds in one run. Moving lower and east, intermediates can find more blue groomers at East River, as well as the famed black bump run Resurrection.
When I was a kid, I thought these bumps were as big as Volkswagen Beetles, I really did. Being able to ski Resurrection — in the bumps — without bailing to the groomed skiers’ right — was a badge of honor.
The next step up on the mountain are the steep runs under the Silver Queen and Twister lifts. International is a broad wide, groomed run that is often icy and always steep and looks easier than it is. The Twister runs are not long, but the moguls are usually deep and when the snow is good, one of the best runs on the mountain is the old Silver Queen lift line between Crystal and International. Practice your freestyle mogul skills here and you’ll feel (almost) ready for the Olympics.
Before the High Lift and North Face T-Bars were put in, Crested Butte’s famed Extreme Limits terrain area was out-of-bounds backcountry. Now, much of it is lift-served, with some traverses across the top and a few sweaty hikes out at the bottom, depending upon how far east you go into the North Face bowls.
In my opinion, the extremes make Crested Butte. When the snow is good, and all of the bowls are open, they turn Crested Butte from a fun, medium-sized mountain into a large, epic mountain. Even better, with the T-bars, it is possible to make lap after lap in the extremes without skiing much else.
For expert skiers, the Headwall and Teocalli Bowl off of the High Lift and Spellbound, Phoenix and Third Bowls off of the North Face are of life list quality. And then there is my favorite (less traverse and less hike) Hawk’s Nest to Last Steep and a short hike out to Black Eagle at East River.
This season, Crested Butte has initiated a new avalanche beacon policy. Skiers with beacons will be allowed into the extreme terrain before skiers without beacons after any avalanche control work. For more information, please see the Crested Butte Rope Drop and Beacon Policy.
Taking a Few Steps Back
Last season, we skied Crested Butte nine days and on only one of those days were the Extremes open. It was a lean snow year early in the season and our timing was poor. What we found was that while we could still have fun skiing the rest of the mountain — any day of skiing is fun — the mountain got pretty small, pretty fast. So we pulled out our tele gear and suddenly, the Painter Boy and Prospect lifts were perfect! Paradise Bowl became a challenge. While we would have loved to have been skiing the Extremes, we could still have a lot of fun and be challenged, taking a few steps back and remembering what it is like to learn to ski.
The Best Ski Town — Period
And then, of course, there is the town of Crested Butte. Even if the snow is not optimal, the town is always spot on. Great restaurants, funky boutiques and an authentic vibe that comes from being a real town first and a ski town second. The town of Crested Butte is worth a visit in any season — for skiing in winter, wildflowers in summer, mountain biking when the mud and snow are gone, and relaxing at any time.
When You Go….
On our most recent visit to Crested Butte, we stayed at the Nordic Inn in Mount Crested Butte. With a great location adjacent to the ski area, the Nordic Inn isn’t ski-in/ski-out, but is only 500 yards from the lifts (and you can catch the parking lot shuttle if you don’t want to walk). We had a room with two queen beds, which would have been good enough. But when we got there we discovered it also had a sleeper sofa! That meant our boys didn’t have to share a bed or take turns riding the floor. Perfect!
Breakfast was simple and filling, and the staff couldn’t be nicer. The Nordic Inn has a great outdoor hot tub with views of Mount Crested Butte and the ski runs, as well as a lovely sitting room with a fireplace where guests can hang out. The Nordic Inn also has two chalets sleeping either six or eight people with kitchens and other amenities.
Crested Butte is pretty much everyone’s favorite ski town and as such, has tons of other great lodging options and restaurants. I’ve covered a lot of them in a previous post Why We All Love Skiing At Crested Butte, Colorado.
We had dinner one night at the Avalanche Bar and Grill in Mount Crested Butte. It was packed, but we didn’t have to wait too long and the wait was worth it. The Avalanche has nightly specials such as All You Can Eat Fish and Chips on Fridays and Prime Rib on Saturdays, as well as a varied, casual dining menu. Two of us had pasta, one had pulled pork and one had a burger. No one was disappointed and no one left hungry and the bill was half of what we might have expected! Good food and a good deal!
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