Discover the real Rocky Mountains in Crested Butte
Sitting just below 9,000 feet in Gunnison County, Crested Butte is picturesque even by Rocky Mountain standards. In fact, only about 1,600 residents make it their permanent home. Crested Butte’s size, in addition to its secluded location in western Colorado, gives it a small-town charm that glows from every storefront. You’ll also soon discover that Crested Butte is largely unchanged from the days when it was one of the Old West’s most successful silver mining towns. The type of development that’s turned many ski destinations into nothing more than collections of condos has skipped over Crested Butte — every building is one to two stories tall. (That’s even including a two-story outhouse secreted in a back alley.) And those historic, Victorian-style buildings, such as Old Town Hall, have stood for a century and more.
You’ll find Old Town Hall’s distinctive white facade and cupola on Elk Avenue, the main street in town. On this same thoroughfare, you’ll also uncover gems like Rumors Coffee and Tea House and its partner, Townie Books. This combo will have you talking recent must-reads between sips from your Americano — all while the perfect powder accumulates outside. Come suppertime, comfort yourself with the skillet-fried chicken, biscuits and traditional sides at The Slogar. Dessert or snack, ice cream is always delicious, even in winter. Third Bowl Ice Cream can really scoop out the classics, but they specialize in unusual flavor combinations like Lime Cilantro and Brie Balsamic Strawberry. Owners Kendall Tankersley and Matt Smith also pride themselves on their vegan and non-dairy options.
Enough dining. Let’s talk snow. We mentioned earlier that Crested Butte is tucked away — in fact, it’s at the end of a valley with only one road leading in and out. That means you don’t have to worry about the weekend warriors from Denver who’ve come to clog the lift line and turn Crested Butte Mountain Resort into a waiting game. Instead, you can expect fresh — not to mention challenging — lines that’ll make any experienced skier happy.
Mount Crested Butte (summit: over 12K feet) is renowned for extreme pistes that test daredevils with some of the most difficult inbound terrain in the country. If you want a run that’ll push you to your limits, look no further than Rambo. It may be short, but it’s the steepest cut ski run in North America. Just remember: Don’t be a hero. If you’ve never attempted a Double Black Diamond trail, stick to what you know. The good news is that, alongside the narrow chutes and steep glades, there’s also plenty of more gentle ground to cover. More than half of the mountain’s trails are rated for beginners or intermediate skiers.
What about the après-ski? The locals definitely know how to relax after a day on the mountain. And “relaxing” doesn’t require the highfalutin’ setup that’s standard issue at most resorts. Stroll down Elk Avenue and be on the lookout for a building with the words “The Company Store” emblazoned above its awning. Once a literal company store operated by one of the town’s mining outfits, the renovated space is now occupied by the Secret Stash — a pizza joint designed to stop you in your tracks. If it’s lunchtime, take a seat at the bar and grab a slice, a PBR and a shot of bourbon for an inexpensive but reenergizing bite. Or stick around for dinner and grab the Notorious F.I.G. Just trust us on that one. And, if the Red Room downstairs happens to be open, request a table there. Again, trust us.
If you’re looking for the watering hole where Crested Butte’s born-and-raised refresh themselves, head to Kochevar’s. Your gaming options at this historic tavern (still named for the man who established it back in 1886) include pool, darts and shuffleboard. Whatever you do, be very confident in your jukebox selection. Otherwise, just sit back, enjoy a Colorado craft brew and revel in the rich atmosphere. Legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once stopped in to relieve their thirst but were quickly chased out by an opposing gang who introduced themselves by gunfire. Butch reportedly exited in such a rush that he forgot his gun and holster, yet somehow he remembered his whiskey. Want proof? Look for the bullet hole in Kochevar’s tin ceiling.
Cocktails more your speed? The Dogwood Cocktail Cabin is classy without feeling overly fancy. Nestled just off Elk Avenue, it sports a cozy interior as well as a courtyard for those who care to brave the elements. Wherever you choose to camp out, The Dogwood’s extensive selection of house-infused liquors and simple syrups will have you telling the barkeep to leave your tab open for just one more round.
Of course, before you can visit any of these uniquely quaint destinations, you’ll need to book your tickets first. A short direct flight from Denver or Dallas will land you at the Gunnison/Crested Butte Regional Airport within mere hours. With only two flight gates to navigate, finding your luggage and getting on the road to your cozy lodgings will be a breeze.
There may have a lot of options when it comes to skiing in Colorado, but Crested Butte has real variety to offer. There, you’ll find the ski town you never knew you were missing — small, local and authentic. This winter, check out the best-kept secret in the Rockies.