Passing Through: Crested Butte

Coal mining town turned ski resort is heavy on charm; light on fur coats and bling

In Crested Butte, your boss will bust you for not skiing enough. One local nonprofit executive director (and there may be more) actually tracks employee skier days and admonishes those who aren’t hitting the pow with regularity. That may seem like an implausible story in a town that seems so laid back. But there are many CB residents who hold down three or more jobs to live a dream, which ironically means that ripping on the mountain sometimes takes a back burner.

For as hard as they work, though, CB folks always appear blissed out, whether tooling past Elk Avenue’s sherbet-colored storefronts on snow-tire outfitted townies or trading stories on the bench outside Mountain Earth Whole Foods. Life is good here. Most days the lift lines are 1) nonexistent or 2) go by so fast there’s no time to ponder the daily trivia question. Town sparkles with holiday cheer six months of the year.

Even Butte pets wear perma-grins. Canines are greeters at many shops, and every year the True Value holds a much-anticipated birthday bash for a cat named Jingles.

It’s a trek to get to remote CB, but a worthwhile one. Throw a costume in your luggage; chances are you will need one in this always-up-for-a-spontaneous-celebration kind of town.

Stashes to ski
Last winter Crested Butte Mountain Resort opened forty new acres on the mountain’s backside, Teo 2. To get there, take the High Lift and hike 15 minutes on a sidestep/traverse track across the top of Teo Bowl. The terrain isn’t wickedly steep or rocky nor does it have the high pucker factor of other extreme areas. But the in-bounds location has an awesome backcountry feel and the views are purdy.

On the front side, Flatiron’s nicely spaced trees and consistent pitch are fun to rip, and the fresh pow doesn’t blow off right away. Take the Silver Queen, enter through the first gate immediately under the top of the lift and drop in after a short traverse.

Chair to lap
Choose East River’s high-speed quad for the best laps on the mountain. Hit the bumps on ‘Reso’ (Resurrection) and Black Eagle, and ski the powdery edges of the trail on lesser-visited Gallowich. For trees, check out Double Top, the recently thinned Gully Glades or the classic Bakery Trees.

Bars to après
Tucked in the second story of a nondescript building in the base area is a local’s favorite spot to unwind with a brew, The Brown Labrador Pub and Bakery. Pull a scuffed chair up to the wood-burning fireplace to thaw your toes, or assume the position at the horseshoe-shaped bar. For a powder day pick-me-up, grub on a gooey cinnamon roll or slice of warmed quiche.

Just one frou-frou beverage will knock your ski socks off at The Dogwood Cocktail Cabin, and in your buzzy state you will decide that ordering a second…and a third… is a great idea. Peppercorns, beets, and other unlikely ingredients appear in the Dogwood’s decadent drinks. The bar is located in a lushly decorated renovated miner’s cabin just a block off the main drag. Light apps and desserts are also served.

Restaurants
Sherpa Café is no bigger than a living room, and is consistently cozy and fragrant with exotic spices. The momo platter is tops, and the house-made mango kulfi (Indian style ice cream) is a refreshing way to end a meal. Nepalise owner Pemba Sherpa is humble and sweet and will happily share yarns about trekking up Everest.

Lil’s Sushi Bar and Grill is a favorite spot for date-nights and special occasions. The sushi flown in six days a week is melt-in-your-mouth. Got pals who don’t dig raw? The menu has plenty of other fare, from filet mignon to curry stew.

Lodging
The vibe at the family run Old Town Inn is homey and casual, and a stop for the free bus up to the mountain is steps away. Warm, fresh-baked cookies appear—then disappear—every afternoon in the lobby. The staff consists of long-time locals who not only are bursting with knowledge about the area but also have cool second (or third) jobs, like avalanche forecaster and backcountry guide. On a rest day, borrow a saucer from the front desk and get silly at the nearby sledding hill.

Got a big work bonus and want blow it wisely? Book a room at The Elevation Hotel & Spa. What at one time used to be a Club Med swarming with singles is now a tastefully remodeled, upscale lodging option at the base area. Without leaving the building, guests have access to a swimming pool and hot tub, hair salon, spa, ski shop and valet, workout facility, and restaurant. Plus, there’s free wine and cheese in the evenings. Ski-in, ski-out, ski CB.

Marquee image: A last minute ticket to Crested Butte, chasing the tail end of their biggest storm in 5 years. PHOTO: Garrett Grove