Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley is home to some of the best skiing in the entire Rocky Mountain region, with the majority of it located at Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
The Skiing on Crested Butte Mountain
Advanced and Expert Skiing and Riding
The expert and extreme terrain comprises about half the mountain’s acreage and is the reason skiers move to the valley or visit repeatedly. The US Extreme Championships pioneered here in the early 1990s and have run nearly every year since. Past competitors and winners include the likes of Shane McConkey, Seth Morrison, Wendy Fisher, and Doug Coombs. Powder Magazine’s John Clary Davies called Crested Butte “The High Church of Skiing” after spending 10 days here in 2014. In all seriousness, you have to ski it to believe it.
Two surface lifts—The North Face and the High Lift—access most of this terrain and runs can easily take a half hour or longer. Depending on where you go, there may be some hiking involved. Think narrow chutes (some with mandatory airs), exposure, and North America’s steepest cut run— the aptly-named Rambo. If your idea of a perfect ski day includes getting a tiny bit gripped on top of a line, come see us in Crested Butte. We’ll be in the line-up at one of the t-bars or billy-goating down Angle Gully.
If you want to ski every line up high over the course of a week, that can be done without tagging the same line twice. Coming for just a couple of days? Check out Frank and Brittany Konsella’s 6 Favorite Lines in the Crested Butte Extremes. Frank and Brittany are the 4th and 9th person to ski all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot+ peaks and long-time Crested Butte residents, so you can trust their advice.
Detailed Extreme Limits terrain maps are available in print at the resort and in town.
Beginner Skiing and Riding
The beginner skiing is great and can be accessed with three lifts: Red Lady, Peachtree, and Painter Boy, as well as two magic carpet lifts. More than enough trails to learn to make turns, with the added benefit of isolated and segregated beginner runs that allow skiers to focus on learning rather than not being hit by an out of control hotshot. Crested Butte’s Ski and Ride School offers great lessons for people of all ages. The Adaptive Sports Center also has lessons for people with disabilities all winter long.
Intermediate Skiing and Riding
The intermediate terrain is big enough to keep someone happy for three or four days. Lots of low-angle bumps and corduroy, plus some nice long groomers on the front side of the mountain with great views of town below. Great terrain to sharpen skills. Our high speed lifts get you enough runs to wear most people out in four or five hours. Then it’s time to head for the après.
Crested Butte Mountain was a pioneer in the west with an uphill policy that allows uphill skinning before and after the ski day and then a single uphill route for designated day time usage as well. They even have a special demo center for renting lightweight uphill skinning and skiing equipment. Partially as a result of this commitment to uphill skiing, Crested Butte Mountain is the home to many ski mountaineering events including being host to start of the Grand Traverse race from Crested Butte to Aspen each March.
Crested Butte has also added fat biking to the uphill policy. Fat bikers are only allowed on the uphill route before and after the lifts are running each day. Fat bikers are encouraged to read and understand the fat biking portions of the uphill policy before taking advantage of this great amenity.
Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley are a good basecamp for more than just Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Staying in the valley will put you in the perfect location to hit up a handful of other great skiing options, from catskiing to a local community hill. When you stay in Gunnison, Almont, Mt. Crested Butte, or Crested Butte, you have easy access to the catskiing at Lake Irwin, Cranor Hill, the local backcountry, and Monarch Mountain.
Our big, dramatic mountains are home to some of the best backcountry skiing in the state. However, many of our most technical backcountry lines are accessible only by snowmobile, then foot, out drainages without easy winter access. If you’re hoping to spend a day in the backcountry in the Gunnison Valley, your best bet is to hire a guide and your second best bet is to visit one of the local ski shops and get current intel straight from the folks who play in the mountains every week. Frank and Brittany Konsella also have a sweet website with tons of information on skiing the 14er’s and as well as locally around Crested Butte: 14erskiers.com. Lastly, the Off-Piste Ski Atlas for Crested Butte is a good resource for a large portion of the backcountry zones around Crested Butte.
The Crested Butte Avalanche Center offers a daily snow and avalanche report during the winter ski season. At a bare minimum, your preparations should include tuning into the report in the weeks leading up to your travels to get a sense of the snowpack and current dangers. As always, we advise that you bring the necessary avalanche safety gear with you when exploring the backcountry: avalanche beacon, shovel, probe, your brain, and a backcountry partner.
Avalanche Education Courses
With so much backcountry terrain and industry-leading avalanche professionals, Crested Butte is a great place to learn about safe winter backcountry travel. It doesn’t matter if you ride snowmobiles, splitboards, or just fancy yourself a Nordic skier, avalanche education is imperative to safe travel in the winter. We’ve compiled all our avalanche education courses on our event calendar into one place so you can research your options more easily.
Ski and Snowboard Rentals
The entire Gunnison Valley is full of fantastic outdoor gear shops. Many of them feature both biking and skiing equipment and make the swap seasonally like most residents. Others, like a growing segment of local residents, stay focused on biking gear all year long with the addition of fat bike rentals.
Regardless of their focus, you can expect to find knowledgeable, friendly Gunnison Valley locals working at shops throughout the valley who are stoked to get you fitted with the correct gear to make sure you have an outstanding experience. From beginner gear up to the highest end performance demos, most shops can take care of visitors of any ability.
If you’re flying in from somewhere with less plentiful snowfall, we recommend that you consider packing your boots and helmet and renting some powder boards when you’re here. Glen Plake proves you don’t need fat skis to shred in powder. But we happen to think they make it more fun!
A few of our shops also offer rental backcountry gear. If you’re looking to explore outside of the boundaries of the ski areas (by climbing a different mountain, NOT ducking the ropes), you can get all the equipment you need at a few shops. Just be sure to study up on the avalanche report and make good choices about where you go.
The Apres Scene
Some writer once wrote that Crested Butte “has the vibe of a surf town in the mountains.” Lots of people, young and not so, still live in the town’s 1880s miner shacks and work in the restaurants and shops. It’s a laid-back comfortable place to be, full of good energy and people who love mountain sports and sharing experiences with others.
Food ranges from Tibetan to Prime beef, with the best pizza west of NYC and the best fried chicken anywhere.
Gunnison has that same good energy as Crested Butte. Home of Western Colorado University, it’s a combination of college town meets ranch town. Gunnison offers the same range of food as Crested Butte and a variety of nice lodging, all with the price knocked down. Free buses run up and down the valley each day, so staying in Gunnison and skiing Crested Butte doesn’t require a car.
Where to Stay/What to Stay In
There are cabins and inns dotted around the valley that will make you feel like you’re in a throwback Disney-era movie. We like these ourselves.
The town and mountain are filled with condos and lodges and some beautiful B&B’s. The town is connected to the mountain via a free, five-minute bus ride.
Gunnison offers a fantastic price point for a ski vacation and an uncrowded and unpretentious experience. We’d be happy eating at a different restaurant each night for a week in Gunnison, just as we would up valley.