Crested Butte family and powder friendly
CRESTED BUTTE — At 10 below zero on New Year’s Day, the Paradise Express chairlift at Crested Butte Mountain Resort carried knee-high skiers enjoying a powder day away from their parents.
“Where’s your neck gaitor?” demanded the helmet-clad Lilliputian next to me on the four-pack Paradise chair. “Don’t you think it’s cold out here?”
Assured that I was wearing a neck gaitor but had pushed it down for the moment, the future Olympic-hopeful smiled under her bright-colored neck protector.
“That’s OK. I’ve been skiing for four years and this is the coldest I can remember,” she said, adding she was all of 7 years old.
With a wave and a “let’s go ski moguls,” she and her friends headed down Paradise Bowl.
Meeting (and being passed by) the younger generations on a ski hill isn’t atypical at all at Crested Butte, which remains a ski town with a family base, where youngsters meet at soccer camp in the summer and on the chairlift in the winter.
Come to think of it, that’s where their parents meet their friends, too, although instead of soccer camp it’s the town’s summer softball league.
Crested Butte ski area celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and counts in its many plaudits being named among the 10 best outdoor towns (Outside Magazine); “Top 20 Ski Towns” (Ski Magazine); and “Best Steeps, Trees and Powder” (Powder Magazine).
The skinny: Crested Butte Mountain Resort (the ski resort’s official name) offers 2,775 feet of lift-served vertical — a short hike to the peak is 287 more feet — on 1,167 acres of skiable terrain.
Sixteen lifts, including four high-speed detachable quads, serve 121 trails — 23 percent beginner, 57 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced. The longest run is 2.6 miles.
A resort of firsts: It was first to develop direct flights from major cities, the first U.S. resort to host an extreme skiing contest (now in its 20th year) and the first to offer lift-served extreme terrain.
It also has had its share of downturns, the latest being a denial in its effort to expand onto nearby Snodgrass Mountain, where the ski resort was expected to develop some needed intermediate terrain.
History: Crested Butte Ski Area opened Thanksgiving Day in 1961 with a T-bar and a rope-tow. A gondola, the state’s second after Vail opened its gondola one year prior, opened in January 1963.
Crested Butte changed its name to Crested Butte Mountain Resort in 1977. The North Face Lift, which birthed a new sort of in-bounds skiing experience, opened in 1987.
Parking: Locals don’t drive, they ride the free shuttle buses running from town to the ski area.
Free public parking is available at the Fourway Stop bus station. Paid parking — $8 per day — is available at the base area within walking distance of the lifts, shopping, dining and ticket office.
Feed the hunger: Start your day by rubbing elbows with a few locals at Lee Dickelman’s Paradise Cafe (303 Elk Ave., 970-349-6233), which Crested Butte Realtor Mindy Sturm calls the “locals’ fave.”
The cafe offers $3 breakfast specials before 8 a.m. along with affordable lunches, including vegetarian fare.
You could eat lunch on the mountain, but a recent lunch at the Paradise Warming House was expensive and uninspired.
Instead, hit the assortment of restaurants at the base area, including the lively Avalanche Bar & Grill, for lunch, apr&233;s ski and dinner.
“It’s the kind of place all us hard-core locals go while we’re still wearing our ski boots,” Sturm said of the Avalanche. “Even the rich Texans with the fancy lockers next door love the Avalanche.”
Downtown, dining choices ranges from affordable (Teocalli Tamale, Brick Oven Pizza, McGill’s) to the pricey (Le Bosquet, Le Soupcon Bistro).
Snow day getaway: Crested Butte’s ski patrol does a marvelous job of getting even the steepest areas open as soon as they are safe. Watch the signs and head for the North Face Lift or the High Lift, which access some of the steepest in-bound skiing you’ll experience.
It’s all labeled as double-black, expert-only. Teocalli Bowl is an area that sees lots of snow and little pressure, probably because you ski in and hike out.
You also can ride the Silver Queen Express out of the base area and spend a snow day getting face-shots on the Banana, the Forest and other double-black runs that lead back to the base area.
Intermediates can find long cruiser runs off the Paradise Express and Teocalli lifts.
Powder clause: “Anything over 6 inches is a powder day,” said Drew Canale at Teocalli Tamale Restaurant, where the employees regularly update the Powder Day poster.
He said employees come in extra early on snow mornings and then take off for a couple of hours of powder skiing.
“We open an hour late but everyone is cool about it,” Canale said. “It really helps the attitude when waiting on customers who want to talk about their ski day.”
Watch it snow: Plan your powder day by watching the resort’s entertaining Pow Cam, a webcam aimed at the snow stake where new snow is measured.
On a recent day, watchers saw 15 inches of snow fall in 41 seconds. Actually, it was overnight but time lapse is a wonderful thing.
Stompin’ the pow: Join the enthusiastic crowd Feb. 15–19 for the Sabaru U.S. Freestyle Skiing Championship.
Watch and marvel as some of the world’s most-daring and talented skiers and boarders rip it up on the super-steeps of the Butte’s North Face, plunging down cliff-strewn areas named Staircase, Hand Rail, Body Bag and Dead End.
Free mountain tours: Crested Butte’s mountain ambassadors offer free tours that will show you the area like you live there. Meet at the base area near the covered skating rink.
Adaptive ski center: The center offers winter and summer outdoor activities for people with disabilities.
Winter skiing opportunities include private or group instruction, equipment rentals and lift tickets.