Adventure Guide 2013: Crested Butte


Crested Butte
features incredible backcountry and extreme opportunities in a remote and captivating package. It’s also got more lift-accessed extreme terrain than anywhere else in the nation. You may need to purchase a ski-pass, but it’s all avalanche-controlled (what’s known as sidecountry, rather than backcountry). Few are the powder hounds who miss the constant threat of imminent burial under several tons of snow.

If you’re experienced at off-piste skiing, take the lift up, and hightail it into the sidecountry. If you’re experienced at backcountry, the Crested Butte region has no shortage of terrain; for an overnight, try booking one of the two huts in the neighboring historic mining town of Gothic through the Crested Butte Nordic Center. And if you want to get hardcore, hire the very excellent Crested Butte Mountain Guides to take you off the grid (they offer two-day backcountry clinics, avalanche classes, ice-climbing clinics, and mountaineering, as well as personalized and private half- and full-day trips).

Need more reasons? Crested Butte is one of the few surviving authentic ski towns left in the West. If funky former mining shacks-turned-pizzerias, snow tire-outfitted cruiser bikes and lopsided saloons (all in a three-block radius) are your thing, CB is sure to steal your heart.
Looking for something less extreme? Explore the 55-kilometer trail system put in by the Nordic Center. It has varied terrain and accommodates both cross-country skiers and snowshoers. You’ll need to purchase a pass from the center (an adult one-day pass, $15).

Competitive types will also love CB’s wacked-out winter festivals such as the Alley Loop, a 21k costumed Nordic race through the town’s back-alleys and trails, and the Grand Traverse, which takes competitors over the Elk Mountains from CB to Aspen (also a great option for backcountry enthusiasts).

In your recovery time, there are seasonal moonlight Yurt Dinners (ski or snowshoe in), as well as horseback riding, dogsledding and Snowcat driving lessons (seriously!).

Hotels

Crested Butte refers to the small, historic former mining town; Mt. Crested Butte, where the resort is located, is three miles away. There are amenities in both places; where you stay depends upon your needs. If you want ski-in access, luxury accommodations, or don’t care about nightlife, stay on the mountain. If you’re on a budget, looking to tear it up both on the slopes and in the bar, or want a more “local” experience, opt for town lodging. There’s a free Town Shuttle (look for the groovy, multi-colored, hand-painted blue and white buses) that runs until around midnight. After that, you’ll need to call Alpine Express shuttle service. Whatever you choose accommodation-wise, CB has lodging for every price point and taste.

Crested Butte International Hostel: Clean and quiet, but lacking in personality as hostels go, this is nevertheless a safe, inexpensive place for solo travelers, couples and families to stay. It’s right in town, and offers plenty of free parking. From $39.
visitcrestedbutte.com 615 Teocalli Avenue

Nordic Inn: This remodeled chalet-style property just reopened on December 15, under new ownership. The longest-operating lodge in Gunnison County, the 50-year-old Inn is just 500 yards from the slopes, and has a mellow, welcoming atmosphere, thanks to the friendly staff and roaring fire in the lobby. Half of the 28 rooms have been renovated, and come with plush down pillows and comforters, high-thread count sheets, boot dryers and rustic, Colorado beetle-killed pine ceilings. The remaining rooms, also slated for refurbishment, are an ode to ’80s grooviness, but are comfortable, bright and spacious. There’s also free shuttle service, continental breakfast, and Wi-Fi; pet-friendly and handicapped-accessible rooms also available. From $169. nordicinncb.com 14 Treasury Road

The Ruby of Crested Butte: Located in town, this six-room “luxury bed-and-breakfast” is one of two small accommodations in Crested Butte proper. If homey rooms with both vintage and modern touches and lots of sunlight are to your liking, you’ll love this sweet little inn. Legendary hot, organic breakfasts, free afternoon wine, pet-friendly rooms, and great packages add to its list of attributes. From $129.
therubyofcrestedbutte.com 624 Gothic Avenue

Pioneer Guest Cabins: If you’ve got AWD (ideally) and like your lodging off the beaten path, stay in one of eight adorable, fully-decked-out cabins 8 miles south of town. Located in the Gunnison National Forest along Cement Creek, the only neighbors you’re likely to see are fox, deer or elk. Cabins have either two or three beds. From $119.
pioneerguestcabins.com 2094 Cement Creek Road

Eat and Drink

The word is starting to get out that CB trumps even Aspen for the quality and diversity of its restaurants. From fine dining to sandwiches, there’s a lot to choose from. As unoriginal as some of the below listings may be, they’re here for a reason. You can’t argue with success – especially when people are willing to wait up to an hour for a pizza; it really is that good.

Izzy’s: If you’ve got time on your hands – because there’s always a line, and never enough seats at this micro-breakfast/brunch spot – this is the local’s favorite. When you see the golden latkes spilling over the edges of their plates, and tricked up breakfast bagels, egg dishes and sandwiches passing by, you’ll understand why.
facebook.com/pages/Izzys/149179161784362 218 Maroon Avenue

Lil’s Sushi Bar and Grill: Super-fresh (never frozen; fish is Fed-Ex’d in six days a week), seriously amazing sushi, and shrimp tempura that will leave you licking the plate (it’s all in the sauce, baby). There’s also plenty of goodness from the robata grill, but do yourself a favor: sit at the bar, and ask chef/owner Matthew Smith for whatever’s looking good that day. Happy hour yields some insane deals, including nigiri starting at $2.50 and rolls at $3.00, plus $3 well drinks, and $6 specialty cocktails and wine. Family-friendly, casual fine dining, with a diehard local following.
lilssushibarandgrill.com 321 Elk Avenue

The Secret Stash: Girl backpacks around world, and learns about food from her restaurant-owning Sicilian relatives. Girl meets boy who works in pizzeria, and moves to Crested Butte. Girl and boy open pizzeria in old, crazy-funky-boho ski house with crooked doorways and slanted ceilings, and upstairs seating floor cushions. A line forms out the door, and nearly 13 years later, nothing’s changed. This pizza will change your life. Hurry, because The Stash is moving to a new location this summer, so they can add another pizza oven and eliminate the wait. Personally, we’re sad to see it go. Never has patience felt like such a virtue.
stashpizza.com 21 Elk Avenue

Dogwood Cocktail Cabin: If a liquid dinner with some light snackage is your plan of action, this literal cabin on a side street is a goldmine in disguise. Wash down small bites such as tostadas, soft pretzels, or the more substantial blue cheese fondue with something from the extensive cocktail menu. Be patient, because mixing these babies takes time, but the rewards are sweet (or hot, bubbly, beery, or martini, as the case may be). Sip a Rosebud (vodka, rose water, cranberry, and sparkling wine) or the Juan Connery (Scotch, Pimm’s, chipotle bitters), in a candlelit atmosphere that’s rustic, yet seductive. Love.
thedogwoodcocktailcabin.com 309 Third Street

Getting Around

Crested Butte is approximately four-hour drive southwest of Denver, depending upon weather. While it’s more spread out and isolated than most ski areas, you can still get by without a car. If you fly into Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport, you can take the Alpine Express shuttle up-valley, and there’s a free Town Shuttle that runs every 15 minutes. To get around points south of town, there’s the free, Gunnison Valley RTA bus.

Adventure Tip

The sheer volume of backcountry in this remote region means you should take avalanche safety extra seriously (then again, when should you not?). Avoid heading out on your own, always let someone know where you’re going, and equip yourself with a beacon, probe and shovel. Avalanches are common here, so be sure you check in with ski patrol before embarking on any backcountry pursuits. Don’t try to be superhuman. Just be safe.

[Photo credit: WarzauWynn]

Off The Beaten Winter Path In Colorado: Backcountry Dining At The Tennessee Pass Cookhouse

“We’re going to ski in to this place where you get lunch served in a yurt.”

My Colorado friends know what it takes to get me excited about life; combine an outdoor pursuit with eating and I am almost always game. I didn’t even need to know the details of where we were going. The fact that I was going to a restaurant in a backcountry setting was good enough.

Near Leadville, Colorado, which at an elevation of 10,152 feet is the highest incorporated city in the United States, the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center is the kind of place for outdoor enthusiasts looking to get off the beaten path and away from more common places like Aspen and Vail. From here you can snowshoe and Nordic ski on over 25 kilometers of set track trails (hike them in the summer of course) and if you want an experience with a little more speed, spend the day on the downhill slopes of Ski Cooper.

We arrived at the Nordic Center mid-morning, kicking things off with a thermos of coffee as we rented skis and boots.

“The trail is a little bare in spots, but you’ll be fine,” instructed one of the owners.

Apparently she assumed our nordic skiing skills were a little more fine tuned than we knew they were; nordic skiing on flat, green routes is one thing, slogging uphill on icy trails is quite another, even for those used to skiing downhill. But the sun was out, the sky was blue, and we had nowhere to be except for at a yurt at 1:30 for our lunch reservations.

In the winter, the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse, which really is a full-scale restaurant in a yurt, is open for lunch and dinner, reservations required. As they put it, it’s “fine dining… backcountry style.” Is there anything better for the outdoor enthusiast?

The cookhouse is well equipped with a long list of wines and a few local beers. In the evenings, they serve up a four-course dinner for $80, and if you want to extend your backcountry experience, you can stay in one of the nearby sleeping yurts. Lunch is a little more low key, with entrees ranging from $10-17.

We skied the mile-long trail to the yurt, cresting over a hill and ending up with an overlook of the valley and the mountains behind. There are certainly worse places to eat lunch in the world.

“Who wants a beer?”

That seemed to be the appropriate choice, and with the help of a few extra layers that we had packed in, we took a seat on the yurt porch, outfitted with hefty picnic tables and torches made out of upcycled wine bottles. There are worse places to eat lunch.

A Cutthroat Porter (brewed by local Fort Collins Odell Brewing Company) was the perfect pairing for a cold day. And what goes best with a porter? A buffalo burger stuffed with feta cheese of course. I pulled out a dark chocolate bar for dessert (for outdoor adventures, it’s important to always have one on hand). After an hour of sitting outside, we warmed up by the stove inside the yurt, mentally prepping ourselves for what we knew would be an icy downhill for our return.

After looking at the map, we opted for Willa’s Way, which would take us on a loop trail, as opposed to skiing back on the trail we came in on. The main access trail to the cookhouse is frequented by staff driving back and forth on snowmobiles, meaning harder packed snow, and in the recent cold spell, very icy. We made a concerted effort to avoid Griz, marked in black as the most difficult course. Even those of us that like a challenge have our limits.

Willa’s Way meant a winding path downhill – challenging even for my expert downhill skier friends who are used to wider, more stable skis. But there is entertainment in challenge, and a few spills were merely cause for laughter. It’s hard not to feel good when you’re in the woods on a clear day. But that Willa … she’s a wily one.

Back at the Nordic Center, more coffee and one of Roxanne’s Cookies – a local favorite of the Tennessee Pass crew – for good measure. Lesson of the day: say yes to backcountry eating experiences, bring an extra layer, avoid Griz and always get the porter.

The West’s Best Hostels For Winter Sports Enthusiasts

backcountry skiContrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be young, broke, or drunk to stay at a youth hostel. I’ll be the first to admit not all hostels are created equal, but as a perpetually cash-strapped journalist in her 40s, they’re often my only option for indulging in the snowy outdoor pursuits I love. Fortunately, there are clean, efficient, well-run hostels throughout the West that make a stay pleasurable, rather than painful.

There are other good reasons to bunk down at a hostel, whether it’s a dorm, private, or shared room. If you’re planning to play all day (and possibly night), who needs an expensive room? Hostels are also great places to meet like-minded people to hit the backcountry or slopes with – a huge advantage if you’re traveling solo.

Most hostels also possess a decidedly low-key, “local” atmosphere where you’ll get the inside scoop on where to cut loose (on the mountain or off). In many instances, hostels also offer tours or activities, or partner up with local outfitters, which make life easier if you don’t have a car or require rental equipment. Also…free coffee.

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Western hostels, based upon their proximity to snowy adventure:

St. Moritz Lodge
, Aspen, CO

I’ve been a regular at this place for a decade now, and I’m still smitten. Its groovy, ’70s-meets-Switzerland ambience; friendly, helpful staff; clean, well-lit rooms, and free mega-breakfast kick ass…what’s not to love? It’s just a few minutes walk from the slopes, and free parking is plentiful. A dorm bed is $44, and a private room/shared bath $95, high season.

The Abominable Snowmansion, Arroyo Seco, NM
Just outside of Taos is this classic, rambling old hostel with a communal feel. Arroyo Seco is an adorable mountain hamlet (all you need to know is that Abe’s Cantina gives great green chile). A private room/bath at this hostel is $59 in winter, and the region abounds with backcountry opps and natural hot springs.banff national park HI-Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park, Alberta
The photo at right shows the sauna at this off-the-grid cabin near stunning Lake Louise. If you’re good with no shower and using an outhouse, this 20-bed spot will keep you cozy after a day ice-climbing, snow-shoeing, or skiing the backcountry.

Grand Canyon International Hostel
, Flagstaff, AZ

Owned by the same people who have the janky Du Beau hostel in town; I recommend this place instead, which is located in a historic, multi-story building minutes from downtown. “Flag” has loads of opportunities for outdoor buffs, from backcountry, to downhill skiing at Arizona Snowbowl, 20 minutes away. The hostel also offers year-round tours to the Grand Canyon, 80 minutes away. Flagstaff itself is a happening little college town; before heading out for the day fuel up on caffeine and divine, house-baked goods at Macy’s European Coffeehouse (I accept bribes in this form).

Alyeska Hostel, Girdwood, AK
Girdwood is pure Alaska-weird. Moose wander the main street, and quirky locals are just as likely to invite you to an all-night kegger in the snow as they are to take you cross-country skiing (the bonus of being female in Alaska, I discovered). This tidy hostel will set you back $20 for a bunk bed, making it the best deal in (a very, very small) town.

Hostel Tahoe, King’s Beach, CA
I’ll be honest; I’ve never bothered to stay in a hostel in Lake Tahoe for two reasons: dirt-cheap motels abound, and my brother lives there. But I came across this place researching this story, and it looks great. You’ll need to self-drive or shuttle to ski (it’s mid-way between South and North Shore, but right by a bus stop servicing Northstar, Squaw, and Alpine Meadows), and it looks infinitely more pleasant than some of the budget lodging I’ve enjoyed in Tahoe in the past. King’s Beach is old-school Tahoe at its best: funky, boozy, and a bit down-at-the-heels.

Crested Butte International Hostel, CO

Cheap lodging is tough to come by in Colorado ski towns, which is what makes this place such a find. Eighty dollars for a private queen with shared bath in downtown CB is a hell of a deal, and a $39 dorm bed can’t fail to make cash-strapped skiers and snowboarders happy. This is also the place to induct hostel-phobic friends or partners. I find it rather sterile, but it’s spotless, quiet, and kid-friendly. With two apartments for families ($184/night) and off-site condo rentals also available, CBIH makes family vacay do-able. Bonus: loads of free parking, and just 100 yards from the free mountain shuttle (Mt. Crested Butte is 3 miles away).

Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast and Hostel
, Breckenridge, CO

This sprawling, historic old home converted into a warren of rooms is a treasure if you’re a lover of hostels. Friendly and walking distance to downtown (you can shuttle to the Breck Connect Gondola, Peak 7 and 8, and the Nordic Center), it’s got the patina of years on it, but it’s cozy, homey, and a great place to meet like-minded travelers. Love.

The Hostel, Jackson Hole, WY
In this spendy little ski town, affordable accommodations are rare as a ski bum with a Platinum card. Located at the base of Teton Village, The Hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms. Backcountry fans will love being just one mile away from the glory of Grand Teton National Park (be sure to check park website for information on restrictions or necessary permits)

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user Andre Charland; hostel, Flickr user Mark Hill Photography]

Nordic Skiing Basics

Ski Town Holidays: Not Just For Skiers

dogsleddingIt sounds crazy, but not all ski-town tourists are there to downhill ski. In fact, many don’t even know how. I’ll also let you in on a local’s secret: not all permanent residents of ski towns know how to ski, and of those who do, many can’t even afford a season pass.

The fact is, there are now more options than ever for non-skiers and those on a tight budget to engage in other winter sports, if they’re not willing or able to hit the slopes. I know many couples that have differing ideas of a ski vacation: one loves alpine skiing, while the other is happier sitting by a fire drinking hot toddies or shopping. They make it work.

Regardless of your mutual or differing snow-centric passions, ski town holidays can work for everyone. Most resorts now have Nordic centers and outfitters that offer at least some combination of the below list, so there’s no excuse not to get out there this winter.

Nordic/cross-country skiing (free/cheap rentals!)
Snowshoeing (ditto)
Dog sledding (please do your research beforehand, to make sure the business has no animal welfare citings)
Cultural tours
Adaptive sports
Spas
Skjioring (when a skier is pulled by a dog or horse0
Ice-climbing
Hot springs
Sleigh rides
Horseback riding

[Photo credit: Flickr user US Embassy Sweden]

Winter riding at The Home Ranch, in Clark, Colorado (near Steamboat Springs)

Avoiding Altitude Woes: What To Bring On Your Next Ski Trip

skierThere are few things that bum out a ski trip more than altitude issues. Even if your symptoms are just in the form of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia or nausea – it’s often enough to make you wish you’d stayed at home.

I live in Colorado, and have resided in a couple of high-altitude ski towns in the past. Since our ski season just kicked off, for the purposes of this post I’m only focusing on AMS, rather than more serious forms of altitude sickness.

Predisposition to AMS is subjective. Age, physiology, genetics, and physical fitness may or may not play a role. If, however, you’ve got congestive heart failure, a nice alpine getaway may not be the best thing. Conversely, if you’re not in the habit of drinking lots of water at elevation, you’re going to feel like hell, regardless of how fit you are.

The higher the elevation, the harder your body has to work, because air pressure is lower (i.e. there’s less oxygen, which is also why it’s dehydrating). The body responds by producing more red blood cells to increase circulation. The short answer is, high elevations stress the body.

To ensure your next visit to the mountains is free of altitude-related woes, follow these tips:

  • Hydrate – with water, not soda or other sugary beverages – then hydrate some more. Amounts vary depending upon your gender, activity level and weight; 2.5 liters a day is considered a rough daily estimate necessary for good health at sea level. If you’re seriously shredding the pow, then a sports drink with electrolytes at day’s end is also a good idea.
  • If you have health concerns, acclimate slowly, if possible. Try to spend a night at a lower elevation before heading to your destination. Example: Fly into Denver (5,280 feet), before heading to Aspen (7,890 feet).
  • Go easy the first 48 hours, as you acclimatize.
  • Since you’re burning and expending more calories, be sure to eat small, regular meals or snacks when you’re out there tearing it up on the slopes.
  • Reduce (I know better than to say “avoid”) consumption of alcohol. At altitude, one drink has double the impact. This makes for a cheap date, but it can do a number on your head and body. Pace yourself, and drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage. You’re welcome.
  • Take Diamox, ibuprofen, or aspirin, which will eliminate many of your symptoms such as headache, sluggishness, or dizziness. When I attended culinary school in Vail, one of our classrooms was located at 11,000 feet. Our first week of school, most of us were nodding off due to the altitude, and aspirin was far more effective than caffeine.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping, you can try an OTC, or avail yourself of the local hot tub or a warm bath before bed (remember to hydrate afterward!). If you already have insomnia issues, be sure to bring your prescription or regular OTC with you.
  • Slather on the sunscreen. Not only is the sun far stronger at elevation, but its reflection off the snow can reduce your skin and eyes to cinders. Know what else a potent sunburn does? Speeds dehydration. As well as photoaging and skin cancer, but that’s a topic for another article.
  • Don’t get cocky. I live at 5360 feet, and sometimes, even I forget to follow my own advice – a certain crushing hangover in Vail two weeks ago comes to mind. Just because you live at altitude doesn’t mean you’re used to higher altitude. You’ll be better conditioned, yes. But you still need to hydrate regularly, and for the love of god, go easy on the bourbon rocks.

For more detailed information on altitude sickness, including extreme elevations, click here.

Wishing you a safe, happy snow season!

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user laszlo-photo; tea, Flickr user Kitty Terwolbeck]