It’s not an easy place. It’s cold and remote and the snow can be deep and impassable. And the mountain itself—a jagged geological exclamation point that juts from the valley floor, all steeps and rocks and exposed faces—isn’t warm and fuzzy. It demands respect, talent, and the ability to hold an edge in places that if you slip, it’s a long, long way down, tumbling helplessly over cliffs and through trees and God only knows when you’ll reach the bottom.
Unlike other Colorado ski towns, Crested Butte hasn’t sold its soul trying to recreate Euro-style ski villages. The town’s mining history is still present in modernized, historic buildings that host bars, restaurants, and apartments. Crested Butte has an honest main street, a friendly vibe, and locals who can crush the hardest lines—but don’t need to boast when bellied up at the bar.
It’s precisely the fact that it’s not an easy place that makes Colorado’s Crested Butte a must-hit destination for serious skiers. Because at the end of a drive that can be both dangerous and inspirational, with empty valleys whipped by whiteouts and sudden unexpected vistas of lonely snow-covered peaks, you’ll find a mountain that makes no apologies for its rough reputation. It’s a haven of steep and deep and a place that rewards committed skiers with harrowing lines down unique terrain.
The gateway to Crested Butte is the Silver Queen quad. It rips up the mountain in a blistering eleven-minute ride, fast, but not so fast that you won’t be able to scope out the lay of the land. To your right as you head to the top will be the Banana Funnel, Peel and the Forest zones. Pay attention, this area provides some of the longest—and steepest—vertical on the mountain. Also scope the glades under the lift, in the Forest and Hot Rocks areas, the latter named after insidious rocks hidden under sucker snow. Make a mental note of the lines you can see, because on powder days, this terrain provides quick and easy face shots with a quick ride back to the top to do it all over again, courtesy of the Queen.
At the top of the Silver Queen, you’ll have choices. Good choices. Drop into the steep trees and chutes in the Monument area that sits fall-line straight below you or jump on the High Lift, serving the highest point on the mountain, to explore the Headwall area. The Headwall itself is open and seductive, but savvy powder hounds will follow a tricky traverse through the trees skier’s left to the Big Chute and Paradise Cliff zones for adrenaline pulsing steeps that often get overlooked by visitors and locals alike.
At the bottom of the Headwall stay skier’s right to the North Face Lift. Don’t be fooled by the crowds on powder mornings, as the wait is always worth it and the lift is the key to Crested Butte’s magic kingdom. The North Face terrain put the ski area on the map. At the top, you’ll be facing multiple aspects and pitches, from Spellbound Bowl to Third Bowl, and countless unnamed chutes, glades, and cliffs that comprise some of the most challenging terrain in North America.
While it’s tempting to just take the plunge into the first powder-choked glade you see, there are some lines that deserve your attention. These include Sock It To Me Ridge, Staircase, and Spellbound Bowl. All three zones are classics that have an honored place in skiing’s history, and which have also served as competition venues that have hosted some of skiing’s best from Shane McConkey to Seth Morrison during the annual Crested Butte Extremes. This event is a Freeride World Qualifying (FWQ) event that launched an era of big lines, cliff drops, and a whole new way of looking at skiing over 20 years ago.
Spend your afternoon exploring this area, recirculating back to the North Face lift by way of the East River and Paradise Express high-speed quads. When your legs are jelly and it’s time to call it quits, check to see if International or Keystone have been groomed. If so, these steep, rolling avenues are ideal for ripping high-speed turns all the way to the bottom at the end of your day before bellying up at the Avalanche Bar for a cold and frosty one. Don’t be afraid to order a second round: you’ll have earned it.
Author Tom Winter for RootsRated in partnership with Crested Butte & the Gunnison Valley. Featured image provided by Michelle Rousell.