Tucked away from the traffic jams of I-70 and the fur-coats of Vail is one of the last great ski towns of North America: welcome to the Butte! This former coal-mining town is an open secret to Coloradoans looking to catch a few turns without dodging gumbies. The skiing is world-class, but there’s so much more to discover off the slopes in CB. You can catch salmon on the Taylor River, scare yourself on a big wall in the Black Canyon, or get freaky with some Pagans at the annual “Burning of the Grump” (more on this later). We caught up with Crested Butte Field Agents Mitch Warnick and Ian Havlick to get the local’s lowdown on this quaint slice of the Rockies.
Where to Eat
Despite the best efforts of CB residents, you still cannot survive on a diet of powder alone. Luckily, the main drag on Elk Ave offers tons of options for the hungry adventurer.
For Field Agent Ian Havlick, the Sunflower is the best place to start the day. “It’s a farm-to-table, smaller restaurant with that family-owned vibe.” This place serves up delicious meals at any time of day, from classic breakfast burritos to homemade carrot ginger soup that touches the soul after a day on the mountain. The wait can get pretty long on weekends, so if you’re in a rush and don’t mind a little grease, pickup a breakfast sandwich from The Gas Café instead. “Order a Hurley with sausage and you’re set for the day.”
There’s no shortage of java stops in CB. Camp 4 is super popular, and rightfully so! Fresh roasts and light fare. For a more laid-back spot try First Ascent at the top of Elk Ave. It’s the perfect spot to relax and get some work done on a rest day (free wifi).
There are a few places to grab a slice in CB, but for Field Agent Mitch Warnick, it’s all about the Secret Stash. With an alternative “stashmosphere” and equally odd pizza creations (try the Mac Daddy: thousand island dressing, three cheeses, shaved rib-eye, onions, lettuce, pickles on a sesame seed crust) this pizza place dishes out both tasty ‘za and a truly unique eating experience.
Looking for somewhere to take your ski partner post-shred? Dawn your Thermal Henley and make a reservation at Elk Ave Prime. Mitch says, “this place is fancy, maybe a little too fancy for the average ski bum. But, if you happen to get a surprise inheritance from a great uncle you never knew about, go get yourself a steak.”
For an authentic CB experience, crack open a cold one at The Eldo – “A Sunny Place for Shady People.” This spot has a balcony overlooking Elk Ave for late-season après, live music most nights in the back, and plenty of like-minded #RIMBY folk to mingle with. For the hard stuff, dip across the street to Montanya Distillery. It’s a little pricier than the Eldo, but the rum (distilled in house) is more than worth it.
Where to Sleep
According to our field agents, there’s a ton of National Forest and BLM land surrounding Crested Butte, but in recent years these dispersed car camping spots have been heavily used and unfortunately abused by non-caring and disrespectful fools. Don’t be one of these fools. Always practice proper Leave No Trace etiquette. If solitude isn’t a necessity, Oh Be Joyful campsite along the Slate River is super popular, free, and full of colorful CB folk always down to party. Need a roof? The Crested Butte Hostel is cheap and quiet. There’s even a laundromat next door to extend your stay with a few clean(er) shirts.
Where to Gear Up
The Alpineer is the only shop in town. While lacking a huge selection of climbing gear, this is the place to go for skiing, mountain biking, fly fishing, camping, backpacking, and pretty much anything else. The best part? They have a fleet of MTB rentals for relatively cheap ($4/hour or $20/day). You can also rent ski and avalanche gear.
Stuff to Do
Crested Butte sees some of the most snow in Colorado. Skiing the gorgeous Mt. Crested Butte is amazing, both inbounds and backcountry. Before dawning your skins be sure to check www.cbavalanchecenter.org for snow conditions. Yay, safety! Outdoor fun in CB doesn’t stop when the snow melts. There are hikes of all difficulties ascending Mt. CB with incredible views of the town and surrounding mountains. As Mitch puts it, “go hike. Anywhere. It’s all beautiful.”
Trying to get vertical? Many a hardman has cut their teeth in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. There you’ll find world-class big wall climbing that is sometimes sandbagged, often adventurous, and almost always scary. Fly fishing your thing? “The Gunnison and Taylor Rivers hold plenty of rainbow, brown, and even a few cutthroat trout if you’re lucky. In the fall, the Kokanee salmon run introduces another species of fish to cast for,” says Ian.
For a truly unique Crested Butte experience, attend one of the many Pagan celebrations occurring periodically throughout the year. Ian says, “CB is filled with a bunch of hedonistic, Pagan loving yahoos who celebrate the changing of seasons by wearing weird costumes and burning various items.” Sounds like our kind of party. The largest celebration, Vinotok, occurs every Fall when the aspens turn. The multi-day festival (said to be the inspiration for Burning Man) culminates in the “Burning of the Grump”—a crazy celebration in which a huge wicker man is set ablaze to make peace with the past year’s misgivings.