Winter Trails Etiquette in Crested Butte and Gunnison
Gunnison Valley is truly a year-round destination. No matter the season, there are ways to get outside and enjoy the 1200+ miles of trails in Crested Butte and Gunnison. Some of the same trails you would hike, bike, and OHV on in the summer can be used in chilly winter temperatures for fat biking, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, and snowmobiling. Trail etiquette is important for every season and in winter there are a few different things to keep in mind while recreating so you and everyone else can stay safe and have a good time.
Winter usage on some trails may differ from summer usage. Please respect all trail closures and changes. Pay attention to posted signs and abide by them. Many trails go through private property and do not allow walking and biking once winter grooming begins. If a trail requires a pass, make sure you purchase one and display it at all times while using the trail. If you are unsure of winter usage for a specific trail contact the entity that manages the trail. Check out this post from the Crested Butte Nordic Center for more information.
Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is always important regardless of the season and should be used for every type of outdoor recreation. You may already know the principles for summer, but some of them are a little different in winter. Please practice these principles while out on the trails in Gunnison and Crested Butte to ensure they can be used for many years to come.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
This principle is especially important in the winter because of extreme conditions and the risk of avalanches. Pack enough layers to be prepared for potential harsh conditions and emergency situations, check weather reports before going out, leave an itinerary with friends or family, and carry a map, compass, and shovel (and make sure you’re well versed in using them). Always bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen.
If you’re traveling in avalanche terrain be aware of the risks. It would also be a good idea to consider taking an avalanche safety course. The American Institute for Avalanche Rescue and Education (AIARE) offer these certifications. A course with AIARE will teach you how to manage risks involved with avalanches and what to do if you find yourself in one. To take a course locally check with Irwin Guides. Otherwise, AIARE offers courses in a few different states. For more information check out this blog post about backcountry skiing from the 2020-2021 season.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Stay on trails or in deep snow. If conditions are muddy stay on the snow as much as possible or walk in the middle of the trail to avoid damage.
- Dispose of Waste Properly
As always, if you pack it in, pack it out! If you need to relieve yourself go 200 feet away from camp, trails, and water for liquid waste and be prepared to pack out solid waste with a WAG bag if the ground is too frozen or the snow too deep to dig a hole.
- Leave What You Find
Removing anything from a natural area alters the way the ecosystem functions. Leave behind rocks, sticks, animals, leaves, feathers, etc.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
If you’re looking to cook, do it on a camp stove. Use a lantern or headlamp for light. If fires are permitted, only make small ones in a designated fire ring and put them out completely.
- Respect Wildlife
Winter is a difficult time for animals. Extra caution should be exercised by observing them from a distance, never feeding or approaching them, and ensuring trash and food are secured.
- Be Considerate of Others
This one should go without saying. Avoid playing loud music that may disrupt the peace and quiet. Make sure you yield properly; many of these trails are multiuse so you’ll see a variety of activities on them. Fat bikers yield to snowshoers and Nordic skiers, downhill traffic yields to uphill traffic, and snowmobiles should be cautious and signal when passing. Let’s be kind to each other so everyone can have a fun time on the trails in Crested Butte and Gunnison this winter!
Downhill Skiing Etiquette
Crested Butte, called Colorado’s last great ski town, is known for world-class downhill skiing at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR). CBMR offers lessons and rentals for those new to skiing or people who don’t want to travel with their gear. There is terrain suitable for beginners all the way to experts and everyone in between. With a variety of runs for every skill level, your whole group can get out and enjoy the slopes.
When downhill skiing, remember:
- Always stay in control and be able to stop or avoid hitting other people or objects.
- People ahead of you have the right of way; you are responsible for avoiding them.
- Don’t stop where you aren’t visible from above or would obstruct the trail.
- Look uphill and yield to others when merging onto the trail.
- Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
- Abide by all posted signs and trail closures.
- Make sure you can load, ride, and unload safely on the lift before using it.
Fat Biking Etiquette
Fat biking is a newer snowsport that has taken off in Gunnison and Crested Butte. Mountain biking is huge in Crested Butte and Gunnison so naturally when a sport that allowed biking in the snow was discovered folks in the valley took it on. If you want to fat bike on your trip to Crested Butte and Gunnison check out a local bike shop for a rental. Hartman Rocks in Gunnison and the Crested Butte Nordic Center and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) are all excellent places to get you started with fat biking in Crested Butte and Gunnison. If you plan on traveling through or under steep slopes, be certain that you possess the education, skills, and gear necessary to safely navigate through avalanche terrain.
When fat biking, remember this:
- Respect trail closures and pay for a pass where one is needed.
- If there’s a Nordic track groomed where you’re riding stay out of the classic tracks (two parallel lines on the side of the trail).
- Make sure your bike has a minimum tire width of 3.5″ and a maximum PSI of 10.
- If your tires are muddy or dirty clean them off before riding in snow.
- If you’re sinking and leaving a rut more than one inch deep, turn around. Try to ride when the track is firm to avoid this; early morning is usually a good time to ride.
- Yield to snowshoers and Nordic skiers. Be courteous when passing snowmobiles.
- Ride single file, especially if you’re riding on a groomed trail.
Nordic Skiing Etiquette
Crested Butte is the Nordic Ski Capital of Colorado, and for good reason! The Crested Butte Nordic Center offers ski lessons and grooms 50 kilometers of trails every winter and Gunnison Nordic grooms a network at Hartman Rocks along with some other trails in Gunnison. Mill Creek is another good spot with stunning views of the Anthracites and lots of trails to explore, though it is ungroomed. Mill Creek can be accessed a few miles north of Gunnison by taking a left on Ohio Creek Road, then a left on County Road 730, and another left on County Road 727. Other places to ski in Crested Butte include Cement Creek Road, Washington Gulch Road, and Brush Creek Road. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is closed to vehicle traffic in the winter, opening up South Rim Road to skiers. If you want to check out Nordic skiing while in Crested Butte and Gunnison rent some skis or hire a guide and get out there!
When Nordic skiing, remember this:
- If you’re skiing in an area with a groomed track, know which part of the trail is appropriate for the kind of skis you’re using. A parallel track is for classic skiing and the corduroy-like snow is for skate skiing.
- Respect trail closures and pay for a pass where one is needed.
- If you need to stop, step off the trail to not block other skiers.
- Yield to downhill skiers since they will have a harder time stopping because of their speed.
- If you fall fix your divot by filling in the hole with the lose snow from your fall. If you damaged the classic track use your skis to reform the track walls.
- If you’re approaching another skier in the track use common sense and communicate about who is getting out of the track to let the other pass. Past convention says the slower skier should yield, but many faster and more skilled skiers are happy to be the one that moves.
Snowshoeing is a great activity for those who love hiking or running in the summer. It’s accessible with inexpensive rentals and can be done by just about anyone. You can snowshoe almost anywhere you can hike, but some notable areas in Crested Butte are the Snodgrass trail, Cement Creek Road, and the Crested Butte Nordic Center and in Gunnison, Mill Creek and Hartman Rocks. You can snowshoe the South Rim Road at The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park as well. Always check trail conditions and the weather before heading out.
When snowshoeing, remember this:
- If you’re in an area that is groomed for Nordic skiing or has a skin track, make sure not to walk in it and ruin it.
- Like with hiking, uphill walkers have the right-of-way.
- If you need to take a break, step off the trail.
- Listen for snowmobilers and give them space to pass.
- Avoid post-holing, which happens when you step in snow without snowshoes and sink, creating a large divot. Trails full of postholes are unsafe for all users and can result in injury.
- Respect trail closures. Not every trail that can be hiked on in summer can be walked on in winter. Pay attention to posted signs and abide by them.
Snowmobiles allow you to go farther and explore for longer. They can take you to places that would take hours or days to get to on foot. There are several guide services in Crested Butte, Almont, and Gunnison that can offer their expertise on the area and take you out safely. There are groomed roads going out to Kebler Pass and Lake Irwin that can be accessed five minutes from downtown Crested Butte. Taylor Park is a good area for riding off-piste. There are miles of backroads in the valley that aren’t maintained for regular vehicle use during the winter. Your options are boundless! Always check trail conditions and closures before you go. Gunnison County Sno Trackers is an excellent resource for trail conditions and maps.
When snowmobiling, remember this:
- Be aware of wilderness boundaries. It is illegal to take snowmobiles into wilderness areas. They can be hard to determine in the winter but are still enforced.
- Many trails you’ll snowmobile on are also used by Nordic skiers, fat bikers, and snowshoers. Be courteous and pass slowly.
- Pass on the left if you’ve been waved on.
- Ride single file.
- Don’t ride if there’s not enough snow and trails and vegetation are exposed.
- Use hand signals to indicate turning and to let other trail users know if you’re the last sled in your group (a raised fist).
Getting to Gunnison and Crested Butte
Getting to Crested Butte and Gunnison is easier than ever! United Airlines and American Airlines offer a variety of flights to Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC). This winter American Airlines is offering a new non-stop flight from Dallas and added capacity from Denver. Flying into GUC will take you right to Gunnison and is only about half an hour away from Crested Butte. There are several shuttle options or you can take the bus if you don’t want to rent a car.
Visiting Crested Butte and Gunnison
Whatever activity you enjoy this winter, we hope you stay safe and have a blast on the trails in Gunnison and Crested Butte! While you’re here, be sure to check out our towns, find some tasty food to eat, and cozy up in one of our many lodging options. Whether you’re looking for an inn, a traditional hotel, or even a hostel, we’ve got you covered this winter!