The secret is out. In a tucked-away canyon in central Colorado, skiers have rediscovered “The Last Great Colorado Ski Town” – Crested Butte. Thanks in part to skyrocketing traffic and prices for non-Epic Pass holders at Front Range and I-70 resorts, more and more locals and tourists are flocking to Crested Butte for its uncrowded slopes, top notch expert terrain, and authentic appeal. Those factors combine to make Crested Butte the best value in Colorado skiing.
The first thing that strikes a visitor to Crested Butte is the towering stone massif whose shape so clearly provided the town’s name and which looms imposingly like fortress over the broad valley and town below. Strolling down the broad main street, a scene of brightly painted wooden houses unfolds against the majestic backdrop – a perfect postcard image of the American West. It is truly one of the most beautiful scenes in American skiing.
Dotted with restaurants, shops, and bars, the village of downtown Crested Butte buzzes with activity. At every hour of the day and night, it seems that someone is doing something fun. Whether it be riding fat bikes, stopping in for a bite to eat after a long day on the slopes, or tossing a few darts in an authentic western saloon, the town offers something for everyone. That said, don’t expect glitz and glam. This isn’t Aspen or Telluride. As one local we rode a T-Bar with put it, “In Telluride they mined gold. In Crested Butte they mined coal.” The buildings are wood, not stone and the town is more hipster than refined.
In fact, if a minor critique were to be expressed about this spectacular place, it would be the sense that the marketing slogan of “The Last Great Colorado Ski Town” doesn’t quite match the reality. Certainly, it is a great ski town, but less so a true Colorado one. the area’s remoteness and offbeat spirit has acted as magnet for hippies and hipsters, few of whom see the irony in turning their noses up at Golden Colorado’s own Coors Original while knocking back $4 PBR’s and opining on the quality of the “legal” marijuana found at any of the town numerous dispensaries. The architecture may still be authentically Wild West, but the crowd and vibe are much more Portland, Seattle or Brooklyn than Colorado. That does nothing to detract from the fun and festive atmosphere, but if you’re looking for the true Old West, places like Jackson or Steamboat come closer to the ideal.
Just a few miles up the road from the colorful downtown, one finds the ski resort base (known as “Mount Crested Butte”). Mount Crested Butte and the downtown are linked by an efficient, free and frequent shuttle service that makes getting to and from the downtown relatively painless. In Mount Crested Butte, skiers will find the lion’s share of lodging properties, few of which are truly ski-in, ski-out, but almost all of which allow for a short walk or easy shuttle to the lifts in the morning. Compared to the technicolor downtown, any slopeside village was bound to be a bit of a letdown. However, the odd layout and tiredness of some of the peripheral structures does not befit a setting as grand as this. Sadly, the on-mountain village also lacks a true central hub or day lodge. One can’t help but think the resort would do well to promote “addition by subtraction” of some of the clutter around the base.
On the slopes, skiers will find a mainly modern lift system which, combined with Crested Butte’s more remote location, mean lift lines are non-existent except at the most crowded of times. Beginners will be surprised to learn that despite the resort’s fearsome reputation for steeps, it is actually one of the most novice-friendly resorts in Colorado. Of course, it’s the steep stuff that gave Crested Butte its reputation as a must-ski destination and the resort has no shortage of heart-pounding steeps sure to challenge even the most hardcore skier.
Lastly, we would be remiss if we did not note that it is almost unfair to compare Crested Butte to its Colorado peers. We may quibble with a minor point here or there , but what is undisputed is that Crested Butte presents a tremendous value as a destination resort. We can think of few other resorts that offer such a tremendous variety of offerings at prices as reasonable as Crested Butte. If you’re looking for a 4-star Colorado vacation at a 2-star price, Crested Butte is surefire winner.