A bridge on Highway 50 is closed, affecting travel to Gunnison from the west. Click here for more info.

Crested Butte Versus Breckenridge

There are many options when considering which ski area to visit for your Colorado ski vacation. Two well-known Colorado ski resorts are Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) and Breckenridge Ski Resort. This guide will compare some similarities and differences to consider while planning your Colorado winter vacation. Crested Butte is a unique ski town and famous for steep and extreme terrain. Breckenridge is one of the largest ski mountains in Colorado. Learn about things to do at each destination, where it’s located, how to get there and what the skiing is like.

 

Where is Crested Butte, Colorado?

Crested Butte is nestled in the Rocky Mountains of west-central Colorado. It’s in Gunnison County and is about 30 miles north of Gunnison, Colorado. Mt. Crested Butte is a few miles north of Crested Butte and home to Crested Butte Mountain Resort. CBMR’s location at the literal end of the road makes it less busy than other ski resorts on the Epic Pass. Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s base elevation is 9,375 feet. The elevation of the peak is 12,162 feet. The average annual snowfall is 234 inches.

 

Where is Breckenridge, Colorado?

Breckenridge, Colorado is in Summit County off Interstate 70. Breckenridge Ski Resort is located right above the town of Breckenridge. The base elevation of Breckenridge Ski Resort is 9,600 feet, and the resort tops out at 12,998 feet. The average annual snowfall is 300 inches. It’s located along the Tenmile Range in the Rockies. It is about 80 miles from Denver, Colorado.

A person on a bike rides on a snowy downtown street

How to Get to Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte is about 30 miles north of Gunnison, Colorado on State Highway 135. You can fly or drive to get to Crested Butte. The nearest airport is Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) in Gunnison. From Gunnison you can rent a car, take a shuttle or hop on the free bus to get to Crested Butte. To drive here from Denver, it’s possible to avoid I-70. From Denver, take U.S. Highway 285 S through Buena Vista, then take Highway 50 W over Monarch Pass. In Gunnison, Highway 50 connects to State Highway 135 N, which ends in Crested Butte. In the summer Cottonwood Pass is also an option.

 

How to get to Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge is about a two-hour drive from Denver International Airport (DEN). From the airport, get on Peña Boulevard heading towards I-70 W. Take exit 203 off I-70. Continue on CO-9 S. You could also fly into Eagle County Airport. This is airport is about an hour and a half from Breckenridge. Get on I-70 E and take exit 203 to CO-9 S.

A skier on a steep slope overlooking the valley

Skiing in Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte Mountain Resort is known for its steep and expert terrain. It has some of the steepest in-bounds skiing in the U.S. However, skiers of all abilities will find runs to ski on CBMR’s 1,547 skiable acres. 14% of the terrain is beginner, 24.6% is intermediate, 24.8% is advanced and 36.6% is expert. CBMR opened in 1961, but skiing has been popular in Crested Butte as a form of transportation and entertainment as far back as the 1890s. There are no backcountry or side-country gates at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, but there is plenty of backcountry skiing in the area because of the over two million acres of public lands in the Gunnison Valley. You could also book a guide service for a backcountry ski tour. If you plan to backcountry ski, please be certain that you possess the necessary education, skills and gear to safely navigate through avalanche terrain. Crested Butte Mountain Resort was acquired by Vail Resorts in 2019 and is now on the Epic Pass.

 

Skiing in Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge opened in 1961 and has 2,908 skiable acres. 13% of the terrain is beginner, 23% is intermediate, 36% is advanced and 28% is expert. There are five peaks at the resort that can be skied. When considering Breckenridge versus Crested Butte, Crested Butte has more expert and steep terrain, though Breckenridge is larger. Breckenridge is also on the Epic Pass.

An aerial view of cross-county skiers on a groomed track along a stream

Cross-Country Skiing in Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte is sometimes referred to as “the Nordic ski capital of Colorado.” The Crested Butte Nordic Center grooms a network of 50 kilometers of trails in Crested Butte for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking. A few of the Nordic Center trails are also dog-friendly. Make sure you buy a pass, for you and your pup, before using any trails. The Nordic Center also has equipment rentals and offers lessons. You’re not limited to just the Nordic Center for cross-country skiing though. Some trails in the area available for mountain biking and hiking in the summer can be Nordic skied in the winter. Gunnison Nordic also grooms a few places around Gunnison for cross-country skiing, including Hartman Rocks.

 

Cross-Country Skiing in Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge has two Nordic centers: Breckenridge Nordic Center and Gold Run Nordic Center. Between the two there are about 50 kilometers of groomed trails to ski and snowshoe. One of them also allows fat biking. Both centers offer rentals and lessons.

An aerial view of fat bikers riding on a snowy trail

Fat Biking in Crested Butte, Colorado

Given how popular mountain biking is in Crested Butte, it’s no surprise how much fat biking has taken off in the Gunnison Valley. The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and Gunnison Trails groom trails in Crested Butte and Gunnison for fat biking. If you’re new to the sport, Crested Butte Nordic Center is a good place to try it out because many of the trails are flat. A pass must be purchased to use Nordic center trails. Crested Butte Mountain Resort also allows fat biking before and after the lifts spin with an uphill pass. Roads and trails at Hartman Rocks in Gunnison are also groomed for fat biking.

 

Fat Biking in Breckenridge, Colorado

The Gold Run Nordic Center allows fat biking on its groomed trails. A pass is required to use Nordic center trails. Fat bikers can also ride the Blue River Recreation path.

Three people walk down downtown Crested Butte in the snow

Culture of Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte is a quirky and colorful ski town. With a laid-back feel, many have called it a surf town in the mountains. Crested Butte was once a mining town, and many of the Victorian-era historic buildings are still in use. These colorful store fronts are on display on Elk Avenue, the main drag in town. Check out Crested Butte distilled rum, restaurants that use local ingredients, art galleries and locally owned shops. To really experience the town culture, try to attend a winter event. Just be advised you’ll probably need to come in costume.

 

Culture of Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge is a historic mining town turned ski town. Today it’s known for skiing and its art scene. There are several art festivals held throughout the year. Downtown also has restaurants, shops and museums about the history of the area.

 

Winter trails etiquette

No matter how you decide to recreate outside in winter, make sure you’re following Leave No Trace and winter trails etiquette. Practicing Leave No Trace helps protect the environment and allows trails to be used for years to come. Good trail etiquette keeps you, others and the environment safe and helps everyone have a good time. Plan ahead for winter weather, and be prepared for conditions to change quickly. Always maintain control of your equipment. Know who yields to who on the trails. Be aware of trail closures or trails you need a pass on. Research ahead of time to avoid ending up in the wrong place.

 

Planning your trip

Not sure where to get started with planning your trip to Crested Butte? Check out this winter weekend itinerary for ideas. Explore other things to do in winter in Crested Butte. Find a cozy lodging among options of traditional hotels, ski-in, ski-out resorts, inns or bed and breakfasts. Learn more about getting here in winter. Be aware of road closures, or skip driving altogether and fly into Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport instead.

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