The Ski Channel Primer: Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Posted By: Zeke Piestrup on September 14, 2009 9:15 am

Past the Front Range

It’s always worth it to go a little bit further.  Beyond the beaten trail is where adventure begins.  To go just a little bit further yields scale-crushing results.  Oz would never be on the front range.

The ski resorts of Vail and Crested Butte were birthed by the same Rocky Mountain mother, one year apart in the early 1960s.  Past the Front Range, two brothers, one raised on I-70, while the other went just a little bit further.

I’m not challenging your routine.  But, when you’re ready to deshackle from habit, to move beyond the rest, your “up next” spot should be Crested Butte.

Authenticity.  It’s an historic mining town straight out of a Hollywood movie with no Hollywood culture in it.  But, this is about priorities.  I go places to ski(!) and Crested Butte Mountain Resort, is a spot you need to ski.  Any great ski spot should be approached humbly with respect for the mountain and the locals.  We’ve dialed it down to a melodramatic tone, because it’s the Butte!

Your Ski Channel Primer for Crested Butte Mountain Resort is an informal introduction of the what and the how.  What makes Crested Butte beyond special?  And how to make it happen.

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[page]Cul-de-sac of Hwy 135
Set apart and isolated, there’s only one way in and one way out, Crested Butte has preserved its mining town historical authenticity.  Victorian houses dating back to the 1800s line Elk Avenue.  Truth is hard to find in advertising, but there’s never been a truer tag than Crested Butte’s moniker of Colorado’s last great ski town.   Utopia for the city escaper.

Of course, since we don’t want to raise the ire of environmentalists and city planners, with Crested Butte we’re talking cul-de-sac in the metaphorical sense.  Urban cul-de-sacs are bad.  They create car dependency, with residents spewing four-times the average amount of green house gasses, whereas Crested Buttte’s residents main mode of travel is the bicycle, even in winter.  City cul-de-sac dwellers are fatter, on average six pounds heavier, whereas Crested Butte’s residents are fit, active outdoorsmen (and women) playing among the towering Elk Mountains.

But, there is one big similarity between the virtual and actual.  Cul-de-sac isolation creates friendlier environments.  E.g. the block party and the cul-de-sac go hand-in-hand.  Crested Butte’s locals are laid-back and welcoming, zapped of the attitude prevalent at so many of the high-end destination resorts.  A wrong turn down a cul-de-sac is the right turn as highway 135 dead ends in Crested Butte.

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[page]The Pareto 80-20 Principle

If your type of skiing revolves around super steep pitches, you already know much about Crested Butte.  But, speaking to the non-limb-risking skiers and families, it’s known as the Pareto principle.  It states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  The genesis of this principle comes from an Italian economist who noted that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.  In the biz world, 80% of sales are said to come from 20% of your clients.

The Pareto principle is in full effect at Crested Butte.  Even though the mountain is known worldwide for its extreme, beyond black diamond terrain, in actuality 80% of Crested Butte’s terrain is beginner and intermediate, while the other more publicized 20% is advanced.  The fearless and families have mountain to ride at the Butte.

It is the minority 20, however, that has made Crested Butte’s name synonymous with the word extreme.  The first extreme skiing championship in the U.S., the U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships, are held each year on Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s “Extreme Limits.”

So while Crested Butte’s rep rests on the North Face, merely human types have plenty of non-death-challenging terrain from which to choose.  Eighty percent worth.  The Pareto princple = Crested Butte.


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[page]Bars & Brothels

The first bars in Crested Butte did not adhere to building codes or liquor licenses.  Chop a big tree down, split it in two, there’s your bench.  Whiskey is served!…straight from the keg on the wagon.  Crested Butte was the hub town, the party town.  The on-your-way-back-from-working-the-mines town.  Saloons, brothels, and a bad, bad reputation.  The Bucket of Blood (for real, that was the name of the spot) was just one of 17 saloons in Crested Butte in the 1920s.  A nearby brothel was run by a prostitute named “One-Eye” Ruby.

To that backdrop lived a population of hard-working immigrants paying bills in the coal mines.  Hungarians, Irish, and thanks to a heavy dose of Slavs, you can go Polka dancing tonight in Crested Butte.  Amen.

While the brothels have gone the way of prohibition, you can still slap your gold down and (politely) demand a drink at many of the original saloons in Crested Butte.

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photo by Andrew-Hyde

Teocalli Priorities

The priorities are straight in Crested Butte.  At Teocalli Tamale, powder days outweigh serving up wickedly good tamales.  I, too, am a Mexican food junkie, but nothing beats a powder fix. 

With this truth, accordingly, know that there will be no huevos paperos for breakfast on a bluebird powder day.  The service industry needs service too, and the staff delays opening Teocalli Tamale when the Teocalli Bowl of Crested Butte’s High Lift has received a generous blessing from Mother Nature.













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The CB (Citizen Band) of CB (Crested Butte)

What’s your 20?  For the best skiers in the world, that answer has often been Crested Butte.  Matchstick Productions, one of the top-dog ski film companies, calls the Butte home.  Warren Miller, TGR, Level 1, ski celluloid magic and Crested Butte have a symbiotic relationship.

Seth Morrison honed his technique in his teens as part of the Vail Ski Club, but it was in Crested Butte where Seth Morrison became the man.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s (CBMR) Body Bag is aptly named.  It’s a deadly 55-degree slope filled with countless cliff drops.  A 19-year-old Seth Morrison bombed down the Body Bag at the 1996 U.S. National Extreme Skiing Championships.  That performance, along with three films Morrison made while living in Crested Butte, birthed a reputation now cemented as the greatest “balls to the wall” skier of this generation.  Nobody stomps bigger cliffs than Seth Morrison.  The man has turned the massive beasts of Haines, A-K into his own mini terrain park. The collective heart rate of ski film audiences reaches cardiac levels the moment Seth’s face graces the screen.  And it was CBMR’s Body Bag that injected life into Seth Morrison’s bag of godly skiing skills.

photo: Seth at Crested Butte Mountain Resort   

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[page]We are what we google

Daniel J. Boorstin was a prophet masquerading as a historian and author.  In his read-it-,-trust-me-it’s-brilliant book The Image, Boorstin writes, “The celebrity is a person who is well-known for his well-knownness.”  He wrote that nugget in 1962.  Prophecy.

Four decades later, the zenith of well-known for well-knownness has arrived.  It has been named Speidi, a confluence of the names of Buttian Heidi Montag and Martian Spencer Pratt.

In the “no duh” category, reality shows are scripted.  Reality’s “non-professionals” on-the-job training is learning to work the camera better than any actor.  And work it they better, give everything to the camera.  The appetite of Americans for celebrity news in unquenchable.

Surely Crested Butte’s 1500 citizens know the genuine good in their celebrity home-town daugher, Heidi Montag, while the masses eat up the “reality” side on the front range of culture.

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Earth processes some 30 million years ago (or 30 “Ma” in geological terms) deserve much of the credit for the incredible majesty of the Elk Mountain Range on which Crested Butte sits.

Strict no-growth policies, including limits on house sizes have slowed change at Crested Butte to a geological pace.  While other mountain towns become second-home ghost towns, Buttians have sought to keep things the way they are.  Sorry Starbucks, there ain’t no chain stores in Crested Butte (go for the SledgeHammer brew at Camp 4 Coffee).

Preservation can be great for a town, but not so great for a ski area.  By the early 2000s, Crested Butte Mountain Resort was in need of a bit of a face-lift.  All hail new owners, Tim & Diane Mueller, who have sunk $315 million into CBMR since taking over in 2004.  The adjectives so often used to describe the town and its people (rustic, rugged) are no longer applicable to Crested Butte Mountain Resort.  Changes are afoot on the mountain, but the Muellers know not to mess with what is right about Colorado’s last great ski town.

Our collective goal is to evolve in a responsible manner that answers the needs of our growing community and visitors while respecting our fantastic native environment.  While the experience is being upgraded, we are deeply committed to growing in a way that protects what matters most to those who love this area from the wide-open views, to the colorful small town atmosphere.

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[page]Whatever cool means to you, Crested Butte is that.  For families looking for an authentic, non-Disney ski town experience, Crested Butte is that.  For religious skiing addicts looking for legendary terrain on a world class mountain, Crested Butte is that.  For easy riders looking for manicured groomers and a beer at a chill mid-mountain spot replete with sun deck (= the Ice Bar), Crested Butte is that.

Colorado snow blanketing the Zen peaks of the Elk Mountains buttressing the coolest ski town in the Rockies, there is only one Crested Butte.  When it’s time for a better routine…


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Choose Your Own Adventure: Crested Butte Mountain Resort

$$$ I got cash, and I want to do the Butte right.  –  $$ I’m on a budget, make it work for me.  –  $ Where’s the hostel?

I got cash, and I want to do the Butte right.

Elevation Hotel & Spa
Lodge at Mountaineer Square

Prime (located in the Elevation Hotel)
Ice Bar Restaurant (on-mountain)
Lobar (downtown sushi, great vibe, hip)

Snowcat Driving Experience
Private ski or snowboard lesson
Back-country guided powder hunting

$$ I’m on a budget, make it work for me.

The Grand Lodge

Izzy’s (homemade bakery items, great latkes)
Secret Stash (unique pizza, laid back vibe, floor seating)

Adventure Park
Group ski or snowboard lesson

$ Where’s the hostel?

Crested Butte Hostel
Couch surf (Most any local will gladly give up their couch for a night in exchange for a case of PBR.)
Nordic Inn

Washington Gulch (it’s a trailhead, hunker down in your car with that sub zero gear you bought after watching Into Thin Air)

Teocalli Tamale (downtown, great Mexi food)
Secret Stash (Poor Boy special = slice, shot of Tequila and a PBR for $6)
Clark’s Market Deli (monster sub with Boar’s Head meat and cheese)

Free mountain tour
Sight-seeing and window shopping on Elk Ave.
Nordic center (inexpensive ice-skating and cross country rentals)

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Zeke Piestrup ( More Posts)

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