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Chillin’ in CB

A note from John Norton, executive director of Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association

For 40 years our family has lived within spitting distance of the Maroon Bells, mostly on the Crested Butte side. Weather has always been a topic of local conversation. In the 1980’s, it was winter weather that garnered the most focus. In November we needed it to get cold, we needed it to stay cold, and we needed it to snow. It’s hard to believe now, with our busy summers, but we used to refer to the time when the lifts closed until the following Thanksgiving as “the off season.” Both here and in Aspen.

Now, of course, perhaps due as much to warmer summer temperatures in much of the country as to our fantastic landscape, off season has been reduced to April and most of May, and late October through Thanksgiving. 35 weeks of off season have been reduced to maybe 10 weeks. So it goes.

Brightly painted, snow-covered houses on a street in Crested Butte.

We all have our weather stories. There was the Betty White storm, 99” of snow beginning in mid-December ’21. The time, I think it was ’93 or ’94, when it snowed on the Fourth of July, encouraging snowball fights at parades on both sides of the Bells. Summer weather stories (excepting the odd snow) are either scarce or don’t burn themselves into my brain in a memorable way. The weather is usually great. We always get our monsoons. Our mushroom hunters always seem to come home with the goods.

Like every other geographic tribe, we continue to comment on the weather. It’s never been dryer. It’s never been warmer. It’s never been colder. It’s never been wetter. Happily, a retired geology professor from Western Colorado University, Bruce Bartleson, disabuses us of our claims to the most extreme weather ever. He gently coaches us back to the reality that it’s been colder, drier, wetter, and warmer in the past and that our current weather is not as historically extreme as we imagine.

We live up Cement Creek. I have been noting how cold our summer mornings are. For several years now, the overnight low, typically around 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m., has been in the 40s. We have not had one day with an overnight low in the 50s. Not in July. Not in August. And certainly not in September, the harbinger of the winter to come.

I wondered if that was unusually cold, and, Bruce confirmed, yes, it is. We are a place of cold summer nights. And those cold summer nights make us one of the coldest towns in our contiguous states.

How did Bruce figure? He took the average hourly temperature, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, and over decades of temperature measurements. A lot of work if you ask me, but then again Bruce is a retired professor with a keen interest in weather and some time on his hands.

There are colder places in the Lower 48, but people don’t live in those places. Mt. Washington takes the cake for coldest place. Throw in the winds, and Mt. Washington really becomes an inhospitable phenomenon.  #2 is Climax, CO. Then Wolf Creek, south of here. Then Mt. Evans, east of here, now named Mt. Blue Sky.

Rafting the Gunnison River

In any event, it’s the summer, not the winter, that makes Crested Butte especially chilly. I’m happy for that because once temperatures head north of 75 degrees, it’s too hot for me unless I’m on one of our beautiful rivers where the rushing waters always provide an air-conditioned micro climate.

Are we especially cold in the winter? For the mountains, no. There are plenty of places in California, Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Colorado that are colder than we are in the winter, just not in the summer.

In sum, visitors who have come to Crested Butte in the summer to chill out have come to the right place.

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