In a state famous for its ski destinations, Crested Butte is truly a Colorado hidden gem. Why you'll get more bang for your family's buck at this mountain. Our fantastic experience with ski school, and how to potentially score a private lesson. Located at the bast area, why you can't miss the Adventure Park and it's additional thrills. Plus the tastiest Crested Butte eats, and the best way to get downtown.
Their recent marketing slogan says it all: “Don’t wait in big lines. Ski big lines.” Crested Butte has a lot going for it, and is a hidden gem in a state with a huge ski tourism industry. With the Rocky Mountains stretching right down its center, Colorado boasts some of the best skiing in the country. Crested Butte Mountain is no exception. With a summit of 12,162 feet, this resort offers 15 lifts, a sizable ski area with 121 trails, terrain parks, plenty of vertical drop, and lots and lots of snow (300 inches per year).
Crested Butte Mountain / Photo credit Tami Mittan, Outdoorsy TravelingMom
And all of this comes with both a more affordable price tag on lift tickets and lodging than many of Colorado’s ski destinations, plus a bonus of lower crowds. Read on to see why Crested Butte is worth checking out, and is so perfect for families.
Big Resort Quality Experience
Crested Butte is a four hour drive from Denver (*not* by way of I-70, which at the end of a busy ski weekend is a huge plus), or a gorgeous 30 minute drive after flying into Gunnison. Arriving at this scenic mountain town, nestled in a valley surrounded by snow covered peaks, is well worth the journey.
We stayed right in the base area at The Grand Lodge, a short walking distance from the slopes. This lodge proves to be an excellent home base for families, offering spacious rooms, small kitchenettes, a well designed outdoor hot tub, and free cookies next to a wood-burning fireplace welcoming you in the lobby.
After skiing their slopes for two days, my seasoned Colorado skier husband declared, “I think this mountain is just as nice as Vail. And a lot more pleasant to ski with a family.”
Every interaction we had with Crested Butte Mountain staff was excellent. This crew is down to earth, friendly, and eager to help you have some safe fun on the slopes. From the jovial ski rental guys that outfitted my family with gear; to the helpful lift operators, who’d slow the chair down for my kids to get off; to the genial guy at the courtesy water, tissues, and sunscreen station in the Red Lady base area. They love living and working in Crested Butte, and they want you to love it, too.
Low Crowds, Lots of Vertical Time
Long lift lines can be a drag. And as a mom, it scares me to have my just-learning-to-ski kids on a packed bunny hill with a high ratio of potentially out of control skiers and boarders. We didn’t see any of that at Crested Butte.
Most days you’ll ski right to the bottom of your run… and immediately hop onto the chairlift. No lines. Uncrowded slopes. And talk about beautiful! Surrounded in all directions by mountain peaks, many times throughout my day I stopped just to gawk at our breathtaking surroundings.
So how are the trails? We visited in mid-January, and the snow conditions were excellent. They’ve got black diamond runs for the thrill seekers, including “Rambo”. At a 52-54% grade slope, it’s the steepest cut run (where trees have been cleared by men) in North America.
But my comfort zone is as a mid-level skier, and it’s because of this that I’ve found my true home at Crested Butte. The trails are long and varied, with 67% of the mountain being Blue (intermediate level).
Multiple quad lifts are available for a speedy and comfortable return to the top of the mountain. When I rode with my daughter and we pulled down the safety bar, we discovered a plastic mountain map of all the ski runs. While you enjoy your life ride, you can plot out your next adventure. Nice touch.
(Nearly Private) Ski School
My kids were signed up for their first ever ski school group lesson. It would be my 5 year old son’s first time on skis, and he’s always up for just about anything. Although my 10 year old has skied before, and loves it… not unlike her mom, she gets a little nervous beforehand. Getting off the chairlift was her biggest concern, and I had to promise to discuss this with her teacher.
At the base area, we easily located the “Camp CB” signs. We gathered near one of the magic carpets, a flat conveyor belt that littles can ride. Less daunting than a chair lift, a magic carpet is used to tote them back up the top of a gentle incline, and allow them to ski down.
Promptly at 9:30, the ski school coaches all showed up. There were a bunch of them, all clad in the Crested Butte royal blue jackets. My kids had been assigned to a general group based on their age, but their level was as yet unknown. This is a very casual scene, and it just took chatting with a couple of instructors to get them each placed in the right spot for their ability.
And here’s another amazing feather in Crested Butte’s cap. You just may find yourself the only kid in your ski school group… and end up with a full day private lesson. That’s right. Both of my kids had their own teacher, all to themselves, for the entire day. My daughter’s teacher, Ali, declared it a “Girls Day”, and they hit the slopes together. Her fears quickly dissipated, and she later declared it to be the best skiing day she’s ever had.
TMOM Tip: To potentially score this exclusive private-lesson-for-the-price-of-group-ski-school scene, January is an excellent, low crowd time to visit.
The patience, kindness, and skill of these instructors was so impressive. Lunch and snack breaks with hot coco are included. You return to pick your kids up at 3:30.
The kids both learned so much, I honestly had no idea how advantageous ski school could be. It was a wonderful experience for all of us, and I definitely plan to enroll them again when we return to Crested Butte.
And the best part? After 13 years of marriage, my husband and I got to ski together for the very first time. Best date ever! I felt like I was a teenager skiing with a cute boy. (I think he likes me.)
Amazing Local Eats
Population 2,000, the town of Crested Butte hosts visitors graciously. In this tiny mountain burb you’ll find 50 non-franchise, “we make everything from scratch”, scrumptious restaurants. Talented chefs abound, and you can dine on anything from steaks to homemade pasta.
My top restaurant recommendation would have to be Slogar’s. Served family style, they bring out a number of delicious side dishes made from scratch. Homemade cottage cheese, homemade cole slaw, homemade tomato chutney, a relish tray, and baking powder biscuits will threaten to fill you up before the main course.
You choose your entrée: either fried chicken (their specialty), or a filet mignon steak. We had one good steak, and one mediocre. Between that and the difference in cost (the chicken dinner costs $22, the steak $45), my advice is to go with the chicken. Everything here was delicious, and you finish off with an ice cream sundae and coffee. We left full and happy.
Free shuttle buses, colorfully painted by local artists, run every 15 minutes from the ski mountain to the town. A short 5 minute drive away, this is an excellent way to go. We never waited long for a bus, and it was easier than trying to find parking on the snowy streets of the small downtown area.
Adventure Park Fun at the Base
When I first read about Crested Butte’s Adventure Park, I’ll admit I was puzzled. The Adventure Park is located outdoors, at the base of their main slope. You can either purchase individual tickets, or get one Adventure Park pass which gives you unlimited access for the day to:
- Mini Golf
- Tubing Hill
- Bungee Trampoline
- Climbing Wall
I questioned whether we’d take the time to enjoy it, since our main purpose was to ski. Well, aside from the tubing hill (which we honestly didn’t see anyone partaking of)… my kids did it all!
By our second day, we were all taking an easier skiing pace. My son was growing tired, and the grownups legs were growing a little sore. By mid afternoon we shifted gears to the Adventure Park, and both of my kids had an absolute blast. With only one other boy engaging in park activities at the time, they had what felt like an endless session on the bungee trampoline. Which is pretty much the stuff dreams are made of, at that age.
Next up was an initiation to the climbing wall. With an auto-belay at the top, once the staff has you harnessed in, you can pretty much have at it. The holds were a little far apart for my 5 year old, but my 10 year old rocked it. She even made her route to the top twice, and rung the bell! She does not get that skill set from me. But I was definitely proud of her.
Neither of my children wanted to leave, but eventually we had to head home. If the crowds are low, I’d highly recommend adding a Crested Butte Adventure Park pass to your day. If mom and dad prefer to just watch, you won’t need a ticket.
Watch for Deals
Throughout the winter season you’ll find great ski deals and vacation packages available at Crested Butte. From the opening weekend in November until the Christmas season starts, kids ages 12 and under ski free. Sign up for emails on their website, and be kept in the loop on any specials they are running.
If you are looking for a Colorado family ski destination, you should seriously consider Crested Butte. You’ll get more bang for your buck than other big name mountains, along with lots of great skiing and scenery during your stay.