Visiting Crested Butte in Winter
Crested Butte Ski Resort is a hidden gem in the Colorado’s Elk Mountain Range in the Rocky Mountains. It’s famous for one of America’s highest and hardest ski resorts, so if you’re looking for extreme skiing, it absolutely HAS to go on your USA skiing bucketlist!
This blog post is going to tell you everything you need to know about making the absolute most of your ski vacation to Crested Butte in Colorado in Winter, and why it’s an absolute must if you’re an EPIC pass holder.
Skiing and Snowboarding at Crested Butte
Crested Butte is an extreme skiing paradise
If you’re an extreme skier and you’re comfortable with double black diamond and black diamond terrain, then Crested Butte Ski Resort will absolutely blow your mind. Over 61% of the mountain is rated black diamond or higher, and there is a huge amount of steep extreme double black runs.
With almost 1/3 of the mountain being double black diamond (basically the entire top third of Crested Butte), you are absolutely spoiled for choice!
There are an abundance of amazing chutes, steep tree runs and cliffs to attack, so you will never run out of challenging terrain!
Crested Butte is supposedly in the top 10% of most challenging ski resorts in North America, and it also holds the record for the steepest cleared run in the US. That means the steepest run that has had all the trees cleared (if you’re interested, it’s called “Rambo” and it looks intense).
There are also a ton of amazingly challenging runs that you won’t find on the traditional ski map, but on the secret extreme ski map. There are runs like “body bag” and “disgusting trees” that will absolutely keep you on your toes!
There are also iconic ski runs that run down from the stunning Mt. Crested Butte, and you absolutely have to give those a try if you’re feeling up to it!
Runs like Banana, Peel and Funnel will absolutely blow your mind. They’re also not nearly as tricky as they look from the base. Most of the time, the access to the chutes can be fairly rocky and gnarly, but once you’re actually in them, they’re so much fun!
What’s the best way to ski the extreme terrain?
If you want to attack some of the extreme terrain at Crested Butte, I would 1000% recommend booking a guide if this is your first outing. There are so many extremely sketchy cliffs and wrong turns that you could make, that having an expert to show you the ropes on day one is absolutely worth the money.
I can honestly say that before we arrived, I had read a lot of blog posts about the scary extreme terrain and I was really quite intimidated. I wasn’t sure if it was terrain I would be able to handle, and I really didn’t feel confident enough to explore most of those runs by myself.
Having a guide to show us the best routes to go and advise us on the best ways to enter each double black diamond. There is definitely a lot of scope to go wrong when entering some of the extreme runs, so having a few pointers before we ventured out alone was worth its weight in gold!
Shout out to our guide Jon Smedes, who assessed our ability and took us to the most amazing areas that we would have absolutely never have found ourselves. Absolute pro that will test you but keep you safe, and also just awesome company. If you want to book a lesson with him, you can email him here
Access to the extreme terrain
To access the majority of the extreme terrain, there are two T-bar lifts. If you are not quite ready for double black diamonds, I would probably avoid the T-bars, as once you’re up them, there is literally no way down other than to take the double blacks.
Is there easier terrain at Crested Butte?
Yes, although around 2/3 of terrain at Crested Butte is black diamond or higher, 1/3 of the mountain is still blue or green! There runs are fast, wide and have amazing views. There really is enough terrain for everyone!
The only criticism I’ve heard of Crested Butte is that there isn’t too much intermediate terrain, i.e. there’s either extreme or easy terrain and not much in between. I didn’t really feel like that’s super fair, as some of the steeper groomers will test skiers that aren’t quite ready for the extreme stuff yet.
There is perhaps less intermediate off piste terrain (tree runs etc), but for the most part, there were definitely interesting and intermediate options without having to do anything death defying.
Does the altitude affect you at Crested Butte?
Some of the extreme bowls and runs require a bit of hiking at Crested Butte. Considering the mountains are well above 10,000 feet, the hiking really hit me hard.
I consider myself relatively fit and an experienced hiker, but my body seems to really struggle with higher altitudes. These hikes were relatively short (the hike to High Nowhere and Third bowl took us about 15 minutes), but I found myself needing frequent breaks to gasp for air. I was absolutely drenched with sweat before we finally dropped in.
If you’re better with high altitudes (like Louise is), you should have no problem with these hikes, but just be aware that there is less air at this altitude and physical exertion and dehydration tend to hit harder, and earlier than usual.
Having said that, nothing that is worth having is easy, and the payoff for all your hard work is runs with far better snow and far fewer skiers. Virtually as soon as we left the groomers, it felt like we had the entire mountain to ourselves.
While the runs on Headwall were relatively skied out and chalky, the runs on Third Bowl (solar plexus, for example), still had great turns and fresh powder to be found. There were even a few features to jump off (which I immediately tomahawked off)!
Is Crested Butte Snowboard friendly?
Yes, Crested Butte is totally fine for snowboarders, but there are several traverses that are really challenging for boarders when there’s deep powder.
On our second day at Crested Butte, we decided to go and attack Banana again, but Louise couldn’t make it across and we ended up taking an earlier turn off down Upper Peel instead. We still loved every run we did, but definitely a few flat spots that were absolutely exhausting for snowboarders.
It’s good to note that at the base of Mt. Crested Butte is quite flat after runs like Banana, so make sure you keep some speed to avoid having to walk too much.
Is the snow good at Crested Butte Ski Resort?
Short answer, yes! Because of the location and elevation, Crested Butte has been absolutely dumped on this year. The day we left, we had 19 inches overnight, which turned into a total of 33 inches in 3 days.
The snow is probably a little more dense than what we’re typically used to in the Canadian Rockies, and that powder gets quite sticky once it’s been skied a couple of times, but overall the snow was absolutely fantastic.
I think I only hit one patch of ice the entire time we were there, and for the most part, the snow was chalky and grippy. Perfect, because you’ll need as much grip as possible for the extreme runs!
Ski rentals at Crested Butte
Ski and snowboard rentals are super easy at Crested Butte. You can grab a sweet setup on the Ski Hill from Crested Butte Rental & Demo Center. They’ll set you up with helmets, poles, boots and skis/board for a reasonable price.
Crested Butte is well known for being quite a rocky mountain, so if you’re hammering extreme terrain, it might be a good idea to take out the insurance on your equipment as well. Core shots aren’t unusual…Unless, of course, you have a good set of rock skis at home!
Lessons at Crested Butte
Ski lessons at Crested Butte are absolutely worth the money. If nothing else, they will teach you the lay of the land before you set out on your own.
Lessons are suitable for all abilities and range from level 1 to 8, plus a steep training clinic.
You can book a private clinic or a group class, depending on your budget.
- Adult first time full day group lessons: $195
- Adult advanced full day group lessons: $195
- Adult advanced half day group lessons: $169
- Child full day group lesson: $275
- Child half day group lesson: $194
Epic Pass holders get a full 20% off these rates! Book online for the best prices!
Crested Butte and the EPIC Ski Pass
Crested Butte Ski Resort has been part of Vail Resorts for a number of years now, and as a result, EPIC pass holders are able to take full advantage of this amazing hill.
Epic Pass holders have a season pass to this amazing resort, as well as 20% off all food, accommodation, lessons, rentals and more!
At Crested Butte Ski Resort, pass holders get 20% off on-mountain food at Paradise Warming House (they have great Butter Chicken rice bowls!). Click here to find out more about the EPIC pass
Where is Crested Butte Ski Resort?
Crested Butte is about 4 hours drive from Denver Airport, lodged in the Elk Mountain Range. As the crow flies, you’re actually very close to Aspen, but thanks to a ton of snow blocking the mountain trails in Winter, it’s still about 4 hours drive from most of the ski resorts on the front range of the Rockies.
As a result, Crested Butte tends to be far, far less busy than the ski resorts that are more easily accessed from Denver.
You are also about 3 hours from Grand Junction, if you’re thinking of visiting from that direction.
To get to Crested Butte, you need to drive through the Monachie Pass, which is notorious for getting closed down when there are extreme winter storms. So if you’re planning to visit when there is a large winter storm on the horizon, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get out to wherever you’re heading!
Stay on the mountain or in the town?
Most of the ski accommodation is located on the ski hill at Crested Butte, making skiing in/out so much easier, but you can also stay in the town itself. Staying on the hill makes it one of the best, and most convenient resorts around, but the town is absolutely charming and only minutes from the hill. Both are great options.
The ski hill is a couple of miles from the actual town of Crested Butte, where the majority of great restaurants, bars and gift shops are located. But don’t worry, there are free shuttle buses every 15 minutes that run from the ski hill to the town, so you can still leave the car behind and go for a few drinks in town.
The easiest way to reach Crested Butte is to fly into Denver, rent a car and drive over, but you can also fly into into Grand Junction or the regional airport at Gunnison.
Where to stay at Crested Butte
At Crested Butte, there are a number of different places for you to stay. Ranging from Ski In/Ski Out hotels, to condos to lodges in the town itself.
Elevation Hotel and Spa
For our stay, we stayed in the fantastic Elevation Hotel and Spa, which is located right on the ski hill! We absolutely loved our room, which boasted beautiful mountain views and a small kitchenette for microwaving some late night pizza!
The hotel also has a spa and pools, including two outdoor hot tubs with incredible mountain views.
Elevate Hotel also has a small new Mexican restaurant called Jose, with plenty of great food and drink options. We absolutely loved the shrimp cocktail and the fish ceviche. The cocktails are also delicious. Make sure you try their margaritas!
You can look at nightly rates for Elevate here.
Dining and Après-ski at Crested Butte
The great thing about Crested Butte is that you can eat or Après on the hill, or you can head into town on one of the free shuttle buses that run every 15 minutes! It’s just a short ride into town in one of 4 beautifully painted buses. Save gas and the environment and ride one for free!
Once you’re in town, there are dozens of fantastic dining options. While we were in town, we were able to eat at two fantastic restaurants; the Breadery, and Bonez Tequila bar and Mexican restaurant.
The Breadery, Crested Butte
The Breadery is elevated cuisine focused predominantly around sourdough bread. The pizza options have sourdough crusts (I can recommend the ‘Fun guy’ mushroom pizza), as well as the chunk of bread with black garlic butter.
The Burrata was one of the most beautiful and green dishes I’ve ever seen, and the cocktails were unique and delicious. I noticed a trend that most of the dishes we ordered were quite acidic / sour, so I’d recommend a sweet cocktail to pair with your meal.
The Breadery has elegant decor, but the vibe is very friendly and relaxed.
Bonez Tequila Bar and Grill, Crested Butte
Bonez is an absolutely beautiful restaurant. The vibe inside is totally unexpected, with stunning metal sculptures and decorations that constantly keep your mind occupied throughout the entire meal.
The food is great at Bonez as well. We had a huge bowl of guacamole, which comes in a large stone pestle and mortar, prepared for you to crush up yourself. We also had some tacos each, which were some of the best I’ve had in a while. The crunchy carnitas were delicious. I would definitely recommend checking this one out!
This is, of course, a great place to go for tequila cocktails as well!
Where to eat lunch at Crested Butte
With the EPIC pass, you can load up your card with money so you don’t need to take any cash or cards on the hill. But there are also a few places at the base that you can eat as well.
Butte 66 upstairs at the main base at Crested Butte. It has a large patio with great views of Mt. Crested Butte, as well as plenty of space to sit inside when it’s cold.
The restaurant menu is relatively small but offers a good variety of dishes. I felt like I needed some heavy calories, so I went for the pulled pork burger, which was excellent.
Louise opted for one of the biggest salads I’ve ever seen, which she also loved.
It’s a very relaxed vibe in here, so there’s no need to dress up. In fact, CB in general has a very laid back feel that’s not remotely snobby.
Paradise Warming Hut
On our second day, we grabbed lunch at the Paradise Warming Hut. This is a classic mountain side rest stop with quick bites and drinks. Things like burgers and chicken tenders are the menu classics here, but I was also pleasantly surprised to see a bulgogi beef rice bowl and a butter chicken bowl. We ordered those, and although the portions weren’t huge, they were delicious and a great way to refuel.
Best place to grab breakfast at Crested Butte?
There are a number of places you can grab food for breakfast in Crested Butte Ski Resort, but we opted for a quick breakfast on the go each day. We loved the smoked lox bagels at Coal Breaker Coffee Company. Perfect for a quick snack before you jump in the lift line!
Crested Butte is now cemented as one of my favourite ski resorts in North America. It’s extreme skiing heaven, and it still has that amazing, unpretentious American ski town feel to it. I will 100% be coming back again to shred some of their amazing lines, and hope you’ll enjoy it too!
If you’ve been to Crested Butte before and have any recommendations, feel free to post them below so our readers can benefit!
Thanks to EPIC Pass and Vail resorts for hosting us on this epic adventure!