Crested Butte Worth the Winter Drive

Idon’t know who was more startled, the bighorn sheep or me. I had just finished the white-knuckle stretch of our drive from Basalt to Crested Butte — over an icy McClure Pass, and a high, winding road between Hotchkiss and Highway 50. Now we were cruising past the expansive, frozen Blue Mesa Reservoir, admiring the resolve of several ice fishermen, when the sheep jumped a barrier into the opposite lane. He did have the presence of mind to stay put, and I breathed a sigh of relief as we rushed past him.

Fortunately, the rest of our three-day trip was more about gourmet dining, steaming Jacuzzis and skiing groomers than near highway calamities.

We stayed at the Ruby of Crested Butte, a “luxury” bed and breakfast near downtown, and it couldn’t have been nicer.

 There are two kinds of travelers: those who prefer hotels, and those who prefer B&Bs. After staying at the Ruby, which was rated the No. 1 B&B in the state by Trip Advisor for five straight years, we decided we’re B&B people.

B&Bs provide a more personal experience than hotels. The Ruby featured restored antique furniture, artistically painted walls and freshly baked cookies in the living room every afternoon. The owners, Chris and Andrea Greene, serve a gourmet breakfast every morning at their large, candle-lit dining table where we had a chance to get to know our fellow B&Bers. They’d come from as far as New York and as near as the Front Range, and all were making plans to return.

After breakfast we drove the mile to Mt. Crested Butte for a day of skiing. I had unwittingly left my ski pants back in Basalt, so I rented a pair from a local outfitter. To my chagrin, the snap and zipper were defective, so every time I leaned forward off the lift they threatened to give me a Janet Jackson-level clothing malfunction. I’m not cool enough for the pants-around-the-thighs style like some boarders, so lucky for me they never quite got to that point.

The mountain was amazing though — comparable to any of the four Aspen mountains. The snow was perfect, and the runs on the upper part of the mountain weren’t crowded. More than half the mountain is intermediate and advanced-intermediate terrain, which was right in our wheelhouse, but for those who like more challenging runs, the North Face, Headwall and Peak areas are filled with double-blacks.

We stopped for a mid-afternoon cup of hot cocoa at the new on-mountain Umbrella Bar, and we warmed up at the Roadhouse Bar and Grille in the base area which has a good selection of après-ski drinks.

 One of the best things about staying in town is the variety of great restaurant choices. At the Coal Creek Grill in the Forest Queen Hotel we had hot buttered rum, soft pretzel baked brie and brick-sized filet mignon with asparagus spears and baked potato pie. At the popular Brick Oven Pizzeria we had the spicy Hawaiian pizza and chose from among 30 beers on tap.

Everyone we met was friendly, but some looked at us sideways when we told them where we call home. Why would someone from Aspen vacation in another ski town? But Crested Butte is different from Aspen in more ways than it is similar. For one thing it is more affordable. Two nights at the Ruby cost less than one night at most Aspen hotels. There are no “high-end” retail stores, or restaurants whose menus inspire sticker shock; they’ve kept the downtown historic looking; and, there’s simply more of a local vibe.

As Chris Greene said: “You can judge a community by the quality of its softball league.” Apparently, Crested Butte has a good one.

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