September 16th, 2011

Local telemarker Max Mancini through the trees

If you haven’t already booked your northern hemisphere snow-sliding adventure for this coming winter, time to get cracking. Having trouble choosing a destination? The Mountainwatch archives are an inspirational goldmine. These next few weeks we’ll be reaching in and plucking out some of the best of our previous travel adventures…

Here, we revisit Crested Butte with the Chillfactor Ski Magazine crew, who stopped in there at the beginning of their 2010 cross-‘merica storm chasin’ trip.

Skiing Crested Butte | Tessa Cook

Crested Butte manages to be both a big mountain mecca and a family-friendly resort town. This quaint Colorado snow-spot is everything almost any snow traveller could ask for. We visited in February 2010, smack in the middle of a bumper season, and spent a week waist deep in side-country powder with some of the industry’s super stars.

Big, BIG Mountain

Veteran snow photographer Tony Harrington has seen most everything the snow-world has to offer and he calls Crested Butte’s terrain some of the knarliest in the world. He told me this on day three, when I’d – almost – found my ski legs and could point ’em with confidence in the resort’s infamous back bowls. “if you can ski this you can ski anything,” he assured me, “it’s much harder than Alaska.”

I’m not going to lie, Crested Butte’s bowls sport some crazy terrain. The resort makes the most of the craggy San Juan Mountain Range in which it sits and the backside of the resort is an unrelenting collection of cliffs and chutes; there’s no easy way down here, just tight trees, sharp drop-offs and steep, steep faces. Fail to handle it and this mountain will judge you harshly but rise to the challenge and you’ll experience some of the most exhilarating, satisfying skiing on offer.

Harro in the ‘office’

Seeing as how were were there for the steeps and the powder we spent pretty much all of our week in those back bowls. Local legends Max Mancini – of extreme telemark fame, Wendy Fisher – former extreme skiing world champion, Jay Prentiss and ski patroller H-Bomb played guides and ensured we found the steepest and the deepest, especially on the powder mornings when, equipped with avalanche gear, we were given an early pass into the bowls to play in the powder – before access was grated to the general public.

While our legitimised rope-jumping guaranteed us some amazing first tracks you don’t need a patroller escort to enjoy some epic powder days at Crested Butte. As with any big mountain resort the locals and regulars are back country aficionados and powder mornings are competitive, but with a series of increasingly challenging bowls and some amazing skiing right under the chairlifts there’s plenty of terrain to go around.

Not a one trick pony

It wasn’t until we spent a day in Crested Butte’s terrain park that I realised just how extensive the resort’s intermediate and beginner terrain is. Complimenting the extreme backside, the frontside of the resort is all perfectly manicured slopes and wide, rolling groomers – as friendly and forgiving as the backside is unrelenting. It’s an impressive balance and one that means the resort can suit pretty much anyone; neither the good rider nor the beginner in any family or group needs to compromise on the kind of terrain they need.

Brilliant atmosphere

The welcome we were given at Crested Butte is indicative of the ethos of the place, it’s perhaps the friendliest, least pretentious resort I’ve encountered. The resort welcomed us with open arms, as indeed it welcomes everyone. Ken Stone, the resort’s CEO, told me a lovely story about new visitors popping into his office to tell him how much they’d enjoyed their stay and would certainly be coming back. It’s not so much the testimonials of the guests that shows how friendly this resort is, but that they were able to just ‘pop in’ to see the CEO. The friendly ethos is helped by the compact size of the resort base, which is small enough to be easily navigable. The town of Crested Butte, a five minute drive down the hill, is authentically American West with an excellent collection of bars and restaurants in which we enjoyed food that in Sydney would probably be winning awards.

Five reasons to visit

  • The ideal balance between big mountain and beginner friendly. The resort will throw up constant challenges to any expert rider and has enough terrain to keep the intermediate skier more than entertained.
  • The friendly, small resort vibe. It’s conveniently compact and delightfully welcoming and because it’s a lesser known destination the crowd is more locals and regulars than posers and pretenders.
  • The creature comforts. The Elevation ski-in-ski-out hotel is about as deluxe a residence as you could ask for, the afternoon cookies and hot chocolates in the lobby are just the icing on a very delicious cake that includes and amazing fitness facility, spas, bars and the largest hotel beds in existence. Downtown, Maxwell’s restaurant-slash-bar provides truly delectable dinners and the local ice cream parlour has an irresistible selection of sweets.
  • The destination factor. Yes it’s a little off the beaten track, especially for international travellers, but that just makes it all the more worth it when you arrive.
  • The new Dallas Fort Worth flights. QANTAS now flies direct to Dallas, which is an airline hub for the snow-resort air routes – No dealing with LAX and smooth transit straight to Crested Butte airport.

For further inspiration, here’s a selection of shots from our week there…

Crested Butte’s Chris Segal caught a powder day adventure on video

Boen, day two, Gothic Peak in the background

First lift day two, unexpected sunshine

The Elevation Hotel, Crested Butte

SUPER BOWL SUNDAY. The Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers

This is what we call work… Behind behind the camera

Waiting for the rest of the crew in our hotel lobby

Looking out over the resort base

People like to ride bikes in Crested Butte

Charlie & Boen

Behind the lens, the long range lens

The briefing in the ski patrol hut, making sure we’re ready to handle ourselves in the closed zones

Boen, Charlie, Wendy, Chris & Max with Harro ready to head into the closed zones

Hiking out, first thing in the morning we were straight into the back bowls

Max, wish I’d waited a few more seconds to press the shutter cause Max in the air was pretty spectacular

The morning photo shoot, we were half way down this mighty steep face, which seemed fine, until Boen dislodged a waterfall of debris and I suddenly had visions of the whole slope sliding on top of us

Ski patroller H-bomb showing us how it’s done. ‘H’, as he’s called, was our guide for the day, taking us into the closed zones. Can’t thank him enough!

Chris the filmer, looking so all alone on his little hill

Boen, Charlie, Max – mittens aren’t that dexterous when you’re trying to make a hand symbol (not sure what symbol they were going for though)

Boen checking out a nice little patch of fresh


Wendy can claim naming rights to this new drop, not bad for a mum of two

Charlie, getting it done


Max in the long range lens

Wendy in the long range lens


Boen, contemplating his line down The Edge. The Edge is one of the crazier runs in a resort of extreme terrain


Boen again

Local telemarker Max Mancini enjoying the pow