by Brent Rose
December 13, 2017
The laid-back town in the Rocky Mountains is having a moment.
It's just 24 miles from Aspen as the crow flies, but Crested Butte feels a world away. You won’t see any furs or fake tans, for one thing—and that’s how the locals like it. With a distinctly small-town feel, Crested Butte’s historic downtown looks like it was stolen out of a snow globe, but it’s also home to world-class skiing and mountain biking, and some memorable restaurants and watering holes. In other words: all the beauty and nightlife, none of the pretense. You might want to hurry, as the secret is starting to get out.
Where to Stay
Before you arrive, ask yourself whether you want to stay in town or on the mountain. They’re only about 10 minutes apart and there’s a free shuttle between the two every 15 minutes, so it's really a question of whether easy access to downtown is worth schlepping your ski gear back and forth. On the mountain, check out the Lodge at Mountaineer Square. It has everything from smaller studios to four-bedroom suites (plus hot tubs), and it's steps from the lifts. If you want to stay in town, the rustic Elk Mountain Lodge has a warm B&B feel and is only a few blocks from restaurants and shops. If you want to go a little more high-end, check out the Taylor River Lodge, a Condé Nast Traveler Hot List hotel just 20 minutes from town.
Skiers and snowboarders won't get bored at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which, with 121 trails, caters to all skill levels. Eighty percent of the terrain is perfect for beginners and intermediates. The other 20 percent… tighten your helmet. As the former home of the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships, there are plenty of bowls, chutes, and cliffs to keep even the most hardcore athletes on their toes with nearly 3,000 feet vertical drop. There are also plenty of cat-skiing operations (where you’re taken into the backcountry in a cushy snow machine to tame some fresh powder—it’s basically a lift on tank treads) and backcountry guides in town. You can also rent a fat bike, so called because of gigantic tires that provide traction in the snow, and explore some of the region’s legendary trails. Mountain biking was first developed in Crested Butte at the same time it was emerging in Northern California, and it has one of the largest, best-maintained singletrack systems in the county.
Where to Après, Eat, and Drink
You are right to have low expectations of pizza in small mountain towns, but Secret Stash forever raises that bar. With a perfectly thick, flavorful crust and toppings like fig, prosciutto, and truffle oil (on a pizza called The Notorious F.I.G.), you’ll be excited to eat your leftovers for breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, you can’t go wrong at McGill’s. It looks like your standard mom n’ pop diner, with the quality turned up a notch. Order the French toast or corned beef hash—or both.
Thanks to its communal kitchen, The Sunflower has different chefs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so it’s like three restaurants in one—and they’re all good. (The farm-to-table dinner is worth booking.) There’s also Elk Ave Prime, which has a stellar prime beef, seasonal specials like the elk tenderloin, and some of the best cocktails in town. Order the Rob Roy.
For a casual drink, head to local’s joint Kochevar’s Saloon. It’s been around since 1886 and still has a roulette wheel and slot machine from that era. But if you’re craving a cocktail, check out Montanya Distillers: The small-batch rum is made on premises and it forms the backbone of an excellent cocktail program. Other spots worth mentioning include the inviting Wooden Nickel, the brand new brew-pub Public House, and the Brick Oven Pizzeria for its range of IPAs, sour beers, barleywines, and more on tap.
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