Get to Know Crested Butte's Cowboy Charm and Steep Terrain

The isolated community is still a ski-bum heaven, with steep and deep terrain and a touch of cowboy charm.

Grab a pint in a bar with bullet holes in the walls after a day of skiing. How much more authentic can you get? (Courtesy of J.C. Leacock/Crested Butte Mountain Resort)
Crested Butte Colorado snowstorm outside magazine outside online snow channel snow report outside ski bums crested butte mountain snow town ski town

A 19th century mining town turned ski bum Shangri-la, Crested Butte is classic Colorado in all the right ways. Rowdy skiing compliments raucous drinking establishments, where cowboys sidle up to the bar next to Flylow-clad locals. Mount Emmons dominates the skyline and the white stuff that blankets it is light and fluffy.

Because it's a bit out of the way (about a four-hour drive from Denver) and legendary for its extreme terrain, Crested Butte has managed to retain its funky charm and old-school, laid-back vibe, as well as affordable prices. Keep in mind that downtown Crested Butte is about a five-minute drive away from the 1,547-acre mountain and serviced by a free shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes. Aside from development at the base of the mountain, Crested Butte delivers a taste of the Old West right alongside of a dose of world class skiing.

Must Stay

outside outside magazine outside online ski bums snow report january issue Elk Mountain Lodge Winter snow channel colorado
(Larry Lamsa/Flickr)

To get a true sense of what Crested Butte is all about, stay downtown at the 19-room Elk Mountain Lodge. Located just steps from Crested Butte's main drag, the Elk Mountain Lodge is owned by a nice local couple, the Nolans, who are full of good insider beta. Example: If it's a full moon, head to the mountain for a skin up the resort to Uley's Cabin for a raging bonfire and party. The complimentary breakfast is a dream—homemade granola, huevos rancheros, and cinnamon-raisin French toast. Plus, you're only two blocks from the bus stop, where you can catch a ride to the mountain.


Must Ski

Teocalli Bowl outside outside magazine outside online snow channel ski bums Winter january issue colorado
(TRAILSOURCE.COM/Flickr)

Start off with a few warm up laps in the East River area, a zone that gets tons of morning sun and is filled with cruisey groomers. For perfectly spaced trees, hit Sully Glades at the top of Double Top.

There are a few reasons Crested Butte is known as a hardcore skier's mountain and the Extreme Limits terrain is one of them. Take either the North Face Lift or High Lift (both T-Bars) to access the Extreme Limits' 543 acres of black diamond pitches, trees, and 10- to 60-foot cliffs. When the Freeride World Tour comes to town, this is where the event takes place and after a day schralping these steeps, you'll understand why.

On a powder day, Crested Butte is one of the best places on the planet to be. The snow is sublime and the skiing is steep and crowd-free. Your best bet is to follow a local, but in any case, beeline it to Phoenix/Spellbound Bowls, or to the Peel, a 1,700-foot banana-shaped chute that slices down the resort's front side.


Must Eat

camp 4 coffee outside outside magazine outside online ski bums snow report january issue Elk Mountain Lodge Winter snow channel colorado
(Larry Lamsa/Flickr)

Breakfast is one of Crested Butte's great pleasures. And there's no place better for early morning sandwiches than Izzy's. Grab a mug of locally brewed Camp Four coffee and a Basically Mikaela sammy to go and hop on the bus to the mountain.

Located at the bottom of the Paradise Lift, the Paradise Warming House is the go-to spot for a quick and easy lunch. Another on-mountain option is Uley's Cabin, located at the base of the Twister lift. The mushroom bisque and Elk bourguignon are sublime.

Once night falls, refuel at the Ginger Café, ground zero for Asian food. Try the spring rolls and lamb korma, topped off with a mango mojito. With those in your belly, you'll be ready to rock the next day of skiing.

Go totally local and head to the Secret Stash, a bonafide pizza emporium. Located in the heart of downtown Crested Butte, the Stash serves up tasty, creative pizzas in a lively setting. Try the Notorious F.I.G., a blend of mozzarella, asiago, and blue cheese topped with prosciutto, figs, and truffle oil. Go ahead and order a Moscow Mule. After a day skiing Crested Butte, you've earned it.


Must Drink

Crested Butte Mountain Resort ice bar
(Courtesy of Trent Bona/Crested Butte Mountain Resort)

Crested Butte is a town that likes to party and there's no shortage of places to kick your heels up.

Start off with a drink at The Ice Bar at Uley's Cabin on Mount Crested Butte. Uley's serves up a rocking on-mountain après scene, complete with a bar made of packed snow and ice, lots of afternoon sun, and tasty rum drinks, thanks to the new partnership with Montanya, the local rum distillery, which has a killer tasting room in town that's also worth a visit. 

Off the mountain, nightlife options abound. Hit Kochevar's for pool, darts, and a helluva good time. A Western bar that dates to 1919 with bullet holes in the walls from the old days, Kochevar's is the kind of place where cowboys and ranchers mix with bearded locals. 

For something a bit more upscale, head to the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin, a refurbished miner's cabin from 1891 that serves artisanal tipples, like the Beetnik, a beet-infused martini, which, paired with the chocolate fondue for two, is the perfect evening night cap.

With the tagline, "a sunny place for shady people," the Eldo is where you go to have the kind of really good time you don't always remember. A deck with great afternoon sun, live music, and an anything goes vibe make the Eldo a local's favorite.


Must Do

irwin catskiing outside outside magazine crested butte
(Courtesy of Irwin Guides)

Just ten miles outside of Crested Butte, Irwin is one of the best cat-skiing ops in the lower 48. Situated in a unique orographic vortex, Irwin gets over 600 inches of snow a year, whereas Crested Butte averages 300. Plush cats zip you from the bottom of runs to the top and depending on your group's speed and size, you'll average about 8 to 10 laps, skiing some of the best chutes and bowls of your life.

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