News from the snow
Crested Butte Mountain Resort USA
One of the world's classic ski resorts, Crested Butte has managed to maintain a long history and a genuine feeling of community combined with some of the world's best skiing, served by a state-of-the-art lift system. Few visitors to the place, be they veterans of dozens, even hundreds of ski centres around the world, will fail to be struck by the feeling that here they've found somewhere unique - as at Chamonix, Zermatt or Wengen. Located at the head of a valley (rather than along the side of a big dual-carriageway road running across the state as many other Colorado resorts seem to be), it is a world away from, well, most of the rest of the world! The surrounding scenery of spectacular mountain peaks and the peaceful location add to Crested Butte's magic. The resort has hit the skiing headlines in the '90s thanks to its wonderful 'Extreme Limits' ski terrain. This is an excellent idea whereby a large chunk (550 acres) of 'fairly extreme' to 'very extreme' off-piste terrain is set aside for the enjoyment of all skiers competent enough to ride the button tow lift that accesses it. But, unlike most off-piste experiences, there is, eventually, a fence to stop you venturing in to areas of certain death and also patrollers making sweeps of the area. The result is a very successful compromise between the dangers of venturing off-piste in unpatrolled areas and the normal restrictions of staying on the piste. Fortunately Crested Butte's 'special status' doesn't end on the mountain. Although the accommodation, shops and restaurant complex at the bottom of the slopes are your run-of-the-mill, comfortable, efficient, everything-you-need-to-hand type US base buildings, the old town of Crested Butte, five minutes drive away, is again a unique attraction. This old mining town, that never quite died between the end of mining and the start of skiing as others did, is Colorado's largest National Historic District and looks much as it did a century ago. It even has antique lamplight in the evenings to help add to the ambience of the place. Miners working in the gold mines above the town used to ski back down in the evenings and today the resort's marketing department is keen to point out that people have skied at Crested Butte longer than they have driven cars, flicked on light switches or even flushed toilets! You can really feel that love of winter sports in the air as soon as you arrive at the place. The 2001/2002 ski season marks the resort's 40th anniversary. The Callaway and Walton families have owned the resort for 30 of these years, so the celebrations will have a suitably family orientated bias.
One of the few US resorts with a reputation for expert standard descents including the steepest lift-served off-piste terrain in the US. Crested Butte is a wonderful and truly unspoilt Colorado mountain town. Annually hosts the US Extreme Ski & Snowboarding Championships. Crested Butte also hosted the 1998 and 1999 ESPN Winter X Games. It also boasts the the US's largest powdercat fleet nearby.
More advanced intermediates can tackle the easiest sections of the Extreme Limits terrain, although they're best to go in with someone who knows it in order to make sure they stick to sections within their ability level. Otherwise there are miles of varied trail terrain to suit the most avid piste basher. Skiers of all standards above intermediate may also consider taking a snowcat over to Irwin Lodge, the legendary powder skiing centre located 12 miles from Crested Butte and has North America's, and probably the world's, largest powder cat fleet. Here skiers have more than 2400 acres and over 700 vertical metres (2000 feet) of vertical off-piste powder terrain to delight in.
Back on the pistes of Crested Butte beginners have the big area above the resort base to enjoy - a vast terrain of wide, tree-lined slopes with gentle gradients. The Keystone trail is especially well suited to them. The ski school offers a 'Beginners Shortcut' course which includes a 3hr lesson with a lift ticket and specially designed Elan skis. The inclusive price is low and successfully learning the basics is guaranteed. If you don't reach an agreed standard you can either keep taking lessons for free until you do or get a full refund.
Of course there are numerous other tuition programs for existing skiers, included those led by Kim Reichhelm, who has held pretty well every extreme skiing title available, starred in ski movies and so on. She hosts women's ski adventures (for all ability levels) whilst race camps, extreme skiing clinics and 'adventures on the edge' - such as ski mountaineering - are all available.
An unusual but clever idea on ticket pricing for kids here is that children 5-16 'pays their age' in dollars per day. So, for example, an 8 year old pays 8 dollars for a day ticket or 56 dollars for a 7 day ticket.
Teenagers have more just for them than most resorts offer, including a specially tailored tuition program (skiing or 'boarding). In town there's a Teen Centre with billiards, football, table tennis and sponsored activities like dances and movie nights. Also new to the resort is the Club Med Crested Butte, the only family ski village in North America. The village offers inclusive, hassle free ski vacations as well as a mini Club Med for kids which is open 12 hours a day.
to be enjoyed at neighbouring establishments, including Bacchanale and, of course, plenty of big American specialities.
On the mountain, dining options include an open sleigh ride, pulled by snow cat, up to Bubba's Restaurant where four course meal is laid on - available several evenings a week - and breakfast at the Paradise Warming House. The Wood Stone Grille serves home made food, and at Twister they prepare a special three course fondu dinner every evening, allowing diners to ski down after they finish.
Kochevar's is usually lots of fun - a wild west saloon where Butch Cassidy left a gun whilst he and The Sundance Kid were being chased. There's also nightlife on offer at the Eido and Talk Of The Town. Ski area apres ski is available at The Rafters, located, conveniently, at the Base Area.
Beginners will enjoy the easy terrain around the base with long fast Keystone chairlift access and lots of little terrain features to gain confidence on.
The fun-park has been improved gradually and now includes 3 rails and 3 jumps, in addition to a well groomed half-pipe. There are several good 'boarder stores at the base and downtown.