What happens when you combine epic powder and some of the gnarliest in-bounds terrain in Colorado, then subtract the hours you’d typically spend sitting in the car in I-70 traffic?
No, it’s not a trick question.
The answer is Crested Butte, lauded as “the last great Colorado ski town”. The mountains just north of Gunnison feel a little wilder than those on the Front Range, and CB has terrain to match: advanced and expert skiers won’t get bored here. Still, whether you’re looking to crush it or are skiing for the first time, you’ll feel right at home in Crested Butte.
Here you’ll find a laid-back attitude and a vibe that stems from the ski area’s early days, which were as grassroots as it gets. Crested Butte opened for business in 1960 on a plot of ranchland on Mount Crested Butte, using an operating permit from the US Forest Service and a T-bar lift. The resort’s two original owners struggled to keep the lifts running during the first decade CB was in business.
Crested Butte’s first gondola (the second to be built in Colorado), the Silver Queen, starting hauling skiers in 1963. Despite its comical reputation—the cabins were tiny, and passengers were occasionally subject to collisions—it ran for nearly 10 years before it was replaced by a bubble-double lift. As more (and more varied) terrain opened throughout the 1970s and 80s, the resort constructed more chairlifts to access it; eventually, in 1992, Crested Butte got its first high-speed quad. The resort changed hands a few times in the early 2000s, and it became Vail Resorts’ newest acquisition in the summer of 2018.
Today, Crested Butte boasts nearly 1,550 acres of skiable terrain, some of it at elevations over 12,000 feet above sea level, with a vertical drop of more than 3,000 feet, if you’re willing to hike a little. And if you’re not, don’t worry, you’ll still get more than half a mile of vert. Fifteen lifts (including four high-speed quads) serve the mountain’s 121 trails and two terrain parks, and all this infrastructure sees 300 inches of snow—not to mention Colorado’s much-beloved 300 days of sunshine—every year.
Don’t be scared off by the resort’s reputation as an expert-skiing mecca. About a quarter of Crested Butte’s terrain is beginner-friendly, which means even if it’s your first time skiing or riding, you won’t be stuck on the bunny slope all day. Thanks to all its press as a hardcore destination, you’ll find that the green-rated slopes are decidedly less crowded than at other resorts. The Peachtree lift will get you to several short-and-sweet runs to get warmed up, and Mineral Point (off the Red Lady lift) will keep the fun going. When you’re ready for a break, take the Lower Twister Run to the Ice Bar at Uley’s Cabin and treat yourself to a hot drink.
For Intermediate Skiers
If you’re an intermediate skier who is comfortable making turns, carving, stopping, and controlling your speed on steeper runs, you’ll find things really open up for you at Crested Butte. The trail from Peak to Treasury—the resort’s longest trail, clocking in at just over 2.5 miles from start to finish—is a great intermediate run, and skiers can challenge themselves to run the whole thing without stopping. There’s also a high concentration of approachable intermediate terrain in Paradise Bowl (keep an eye out for ungroomed patches here, which you can use to test out your mogul skills).
For Advanced Skiers
Advanced and expert skiers flock from all over to ski Crested Butte’s legendary terrain. Advanced at CB isn’t the steep-and-deep terrain you might see at lots of other resorts, although there’s plenty of that, too. Here “expert” skiing is technical skiing: think chutes, tight trees, cliffs to huck. Some of the expert terrain at Crested Butte, like much of what you’ll find in Teocalli Bowl, is hike-to terrain, but there are still plenty of black diamonds and double-blacks for the taking if you’re not up for the commute. The Headwall is one of the ski area’s most iconic and talked-about runs, and once you’re at the top of it, you’ll see why. There’s also Rambo, which has earned a name for itself as the steepest lift-served, tree-cut run in the continental U.S, and Spellbound, which will have you feeling like you’re skiing out-of-bounds.
Crested Butte may be a tiny town, but that doesn’t stop it from having some of the best après-ski grub you’ll find anywhere. The mid-mountain Ice Bar at Uley’s Cabin (really—the bar top is covered in snow) is your best bet for a midday break. Once the lifts stop running for the day and it’s time to leave the mountain, head back to town. Grab a novel drink at the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin, which makes its home in an old miner’s shack on the corner of Third and Maroon, then make for Secret Stash, where you’ll find excellent pizza, wings, and local beers on tap.
How to Get There
Driving to Crested Butte is a little over four hours from Denver, or take advantage of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport, with direct flights from Dallas, Houston, and Denver. The small airport is easy to navigate, and you’ll be on the slopes before you know it.
No matter how you get here, you’ll find Crested Butte to be a welcome gem in central Colorado, with a type of skiing that stands out from the rest of the pack. Now that it’s part of Vail’s Epic Pass, it’s a whole lot easier to see for yourself what makes it so special.