Skis, Dogs, Bikes. It Must Be Crested Butte.

Crested Butte Nordic has rentals for $20 a day. Credit: CB Nordic

It sometimes feels like not much of the American West remains unspoiled, but the town of Crested Butte, CO, comes mighty close. It’s a ski town that used to be a mining community (gold and silver, then coal). Somehow it’s kept the serenity (population is pretty steady at around 1,700) and retained its Victorian architectural integrity.

Meanwhile, the mountains around town haven’t changed at all. They’re beautiful; inspiring; stunning! So is the Nordic skiing, from groomed trails all around town to famous telemarking at nearby Crested Butte Mountain Resort. (Now there you’ll see a lot of change—it’s morphed from a mid-sized area to a significant alpine ski destination. Still, it’s a great complement to XC for folks who like to split their time downhilling or snowboarding.)


Crested Butte is located in southwestern Colorado, about 30 miles north of the jet airport at Gunnison. It’s a genuine contender for the “Best Kept XC Secret and Remote from Everywhere” award. (Denver is about a four-hour drive, including a sometimes character-building trip over 11,312’ Monarch Pass, especially interesting in snow and wind.)

It’s a place you visit because you want to be there, not because you’re wandering the neighborhood. And you should want to visit, because it’s gorgeous (the Elk Mountains are spectacular), friendly, and kinda charmingly quirky.

The Skiing

The Crested Butte Nordic Council ( grooms 50 km of trail, usually starting in mid-November and running into early April. Winters can see up to 25 feet of genuine powder.

Trails are rated about 40% Easier, 40% More Difficult, and the rest Most Difficult. That beginner-intermediate emphasis is especially welcome to visitors, since elevation (up to 9,500’) is literally breathtaking. Give yourself a couple of days to get used to the altitude, and then stay a week (or two).

The skiing is very convenient, since you can hop on the trails at several points on the edge of town, plus there’s a free shuttle. Along with skiing, there’s snowshoeing and 10 km of groomed fat bike trails.

First place to visit is the Nordic Center. It’s your primary source for rentals, instruction, and information, with a pleasant lounge upstairs and ice skating next door. You can ski from the Center to The Bench (there’s some uphill) and tootle around on mostly intermediate trails, with good forest protection.

My favorite trails are around Magic Meadows, combining wonderful terrain and mind-boggling views. There’s also a ski-in yurt where you can book dinner or Sunday brunch.

For variety, the Nordic Center also offers guided trips. Another intriguing option is touring up to the old mining town of Gothic and overnighting (heat, electricity, and running water – BYOB, food, and bedding).

XC Idiosyncrasies

CB’s Alley Loop marathon starts in the middle of time. Credit: Xavier Fane/CB Nordic

Did I mention quirky? There’s the 42 km Alley Loop marathon (“best costume party of the year”) each February, which winds its way through town (a bunch of streets are closed to traffic during the event) – lots of fun, but serious enough to be an American Birkebeiner qualifying race.

A Taste of Town

One of the things I like best about Crested Butte is that everything is walking distance from everywhere else, and virtually any place you go is architecturally and historically captivating. Along the way, you’re going to see dogs and fat-tire bikes, whatever the weather.

There are a lot of dining options, but a local favorite is Sherpa’s Café (, with Nepalese, Indian, and Tibetan cuisine, also serving beer and wine. Prices are surprisingly low for a resort town.

I’d recommend staying at Elk Mountain Lodge ( An easy walk from the Nordic Center, it’s run by skiers for skiers and has pleasant rooms, fine breakfasts, and great staff. Rooms for two run from around $170/night.

Elk Mountain Lodge in Winter.


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