By Jesse Wilson
As we descended down the Trout Creek Pass along HWY 285, the collegiate peaks rising against the horizon, I realized this was the first time I hadn’t had to drudge along with plodding traffic on my way up the mountains to ski. This only added to my excitement the visit Crested Butte, which bills itself “the last great Colorado ski town.” The mountain had been receiving incredible snowfalls already in 2017; they even had to shut down the entire mountain resort one day because of TOO MUCH SNOW! How often does that happen? Very, very rarely.
We arrive at our destination, The Grand Lodge, well after dark. The hotel, a modern ski in/ski out facility, is just 300 feet from the main lifts. Rooms go for less than $200/night, compared to $600/night or more at similar ski destinations.
Hungry from our four-hour drive, we explored the restaurant scene, and it didn’t disappoint. Every restaurant in Crested Butte is locally owned and operated, with food that is made passionately by a chef on site. There isn’t a McDonald’s or Starbucks in sight, but don’t worry about how to get your morning Caramel Macchiato; there are plenty of local gourmet coffee shops both in town and at the mountain’s base.
A free hotel-to-town shuttle runs every 15 minutes and drove us down to Crested Butte’s main drag. We walked next to snowbanks taller than me along Crested Butte’s main drag, Elk Avenue, lined by storefronts painted red, blue, green and yellow. The town’s Bohemian vibe is uncommon for modern Colorado ski resorts catering to big money tourists from out of state.
Secret Stash, a popular pizza parlor, had a short wait, so we gave it a try. The interior is lined with décor from Nepal and the Himalayas. The pizza is worthy of its reputation as the “Best Pizza in Crested Butte” 15 years running. But here’s a pro-tip, start with the stuffed mushrooms; you won’t regret it.
We set out early the next day to hit the slopes and burn off last night’s dinner. And despite being a Saturday in January during prime ski season, we didn’t wait more than 90 seconds for a chair lift. That alone could be worth the drive.
Crested Butte is known for its extreme terrain, with two t-bar lifts pulling skiers and snowboarders up to double-black diamond bowls, cliffs, and tree runs, but it also has plenty of intermediate runs. Don’t let that intimidate you. Nearly 60 percent of the terrain is rated blue intermediate, making it a great mountain for skiers/boarders of all skill levels.
After getting our fill of snow, we dropped our skis off at the mountainside ski valet (complimentary to guests staying at Crested Butte Mountain Resort hotels). My wife and I decided to warm up at Tracker’s Bar over a few glasses of whiskey and wine. Located in the Lodge at Mountaineer Square, it makes for a convenient location for those with tired legs.
On our second evening, walking under gently falling snow, we found a southern fried chicken place, Slogar, hidden just off Elk Ave. Built in an old home, Slogar offers one choice of entre—chicken, or steak. Patrons dine to the sounds of flapper music as servers begin by bringing bowls of cottage cheese, corn, tomato chutney, and coleslaw accompanied by biscuits and butter. After that came our choice—southern fried chicken to share. It’s hearty, but you can take the leftovers home. To end the meal, we said yes to a small serving of vanilla ice cream and hot fudge. At around $24/person, it’s pleasantly affordable for such a big meal.
For after dinner drinks, we walked down the street to the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin. This old house-turned-tavern serves custom made cocktails to trendy patrons in its small, dimly lit interior. Drinks don’t come cheap, and you likely won’t have heard of all the ingredients, but it’s definitely worth the splurge for those who are looking for a unique nightcap and fun way to spend an evening.
With only two nights in Crested Butte, there were so many more restaurants and shops that I would have liked to visit, but that just gives us a good excuse to return. The mountain and the skiing are incredible, and it’s always more enjoyable to stay slopeside and have no lift lines, but where Crested Butte really shines is in the character of the town. It’s one of the few ski towns where my favorite moments weren’t on the slopes, but walking the streets under the snowfall at night while trying to pick which funky restaurant to patronize.
DO YOU WANT TO VISIT CRESTED BUTTE? CHECK OUT THESE OFFERS FROM AAA
If you’d like to visit Crested Butte, then you’ll want to check out the AAA Weekend at Crested Butte March 31 – April 2, 2017. We negotiated some amazing deals just for our members, so that two adults can get two nights’ lodging for as little as $258! If you want to add two days of skiing/snowboarding to that, it’s just $434 – that’s nearly 50% off the regular rates. It’s the perfect opportunity to experience Crested Butte, plus we’ll have special discounts just for AAA members at restaurants and activities around town all weekend. To find out more, visit colorado.aaa.com/aaaweekends.