Crested Butte a good early-season choice

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of November 28-December 4, 1996
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Crested Butte a good early-season choice
Question: I am taking a skiing vacation next month and am debating if I should go to Utah or Crested Butte. If I go to Crested Butte I would fly into the Denver airport and drive to Crested Butte (about a 220-mile trip); I'm just wondering if you know what the drive is like (i.e., are the roads between Denver and Crested Butte usually snowed in?).

Paul Salmela
Minneapolis, MN
[email protected]

Early-season powderhounds
ski for free at Crested Butte

Adventure Adviser: If you're planning your trip for anytime before December 21, there's really no decision to make: Crested Butte has free early-season lift tickets, which means the only thing you'll be shelling out cash for is airfare and lodging. And why bother with a rental car and the four-plus-hour drive from DIA when you can fly directly into Gunnison-Crested Butte airport--an easy 28 miles from the ski resort--via major carriers like American, Delta, and United? If you're like me and occasionally freak out at the thought of trusting your life to tiny puddle-jumpers, you'll be happy to know that Gunnison's ample runway, the third longest among ski area airports, is big enough to handle 757s.

Plan on making round-trip flight reservations to Gunnison, though, since one-way tickets will cost you major bucks. If you decide to drive, you'll only have one major vehicular challenge to conquer: 11,312-foot Monarch Pass on U.S. 50. Because this is a major east-west highway through Colorado, it's extremely well maintained, so making it over in one piece shouldn't be a problem. That is, of course, unless it's dumping snow. "In the middle of a blizzard," admits Gina, the Crested Butte marketing director, "it's a very bad place to be."

For one-stop flight and hotel reservations, call Crested Butte Vacations at 800-544-8448. Lift tickets go up to $44 on December 21, after which time it may not be a bad idea to think about Utah, since Alta's only a 45-minute drive or so from Salt Lake City. Plenty of steep and deep stuff here, but no high-speed quads, so get an early start on powder days or suffer through long lines or, worse still, getting turned back at the parking lot. The good news, though, is that lift tickets are a reasonable $27 per day--hard to beat, considering the huge range of terrain, from smooth chutes to above-timberline bowls like Devil's Castle. For upscale base-area lodging info, call 801-742-3333, or Utah Reservations Service (800-733-8824) for bargain accommodations at practically every national motel/hotel chain in Salt Lake. Still, if you're looking for small village charm with some good ole Colorado mining history thrown in for good measure and a whole slew of thigh-wrenching double-black runs, I'd seriously consider Crested Butte.

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