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By Sam Collentine, Meteorologist Updated 3 months ago November 10, 2023

Insider's Guide to Skiing Crested Butte, Colorado

The following guide was sponsored in partnership with Gunnison Crested Butte


The town of Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort are as authentic as a mountain town and ski resort can be. Situated in central Colorado on the southern edge of the Elk Mountains, Crested Butte is home to some of the steepest and most technical terrain in Colorado.

When you first pull through town and up to the resort, you'll quickly know why it's referred to as "the last great Colorado ski town." You'll find that the town and resort are absent of fast food restaurants and also the extravagant hotels that you would typically find in any other ski town. It's the small details and local development planning that make it a special place not only in Colorado but in the United States.

Before jumping into the details of exploring the ski resort, let's get started with a quick overview of the mountain.


Crested Butte Resort Overview

Crested Butte Mountain Resort offers 1,547 acres of skiable terrain, accessed by 15 lifts and 121 trails. The mountain stretches from a base elevation of 9,375 feet to a summit elevation of 12,162 feet.

Our friends at Zrankings list Crested Butte's True Annual Snowfall at 253 inches.

37% of the mountain is considered expert terrain, 25% advanced, 24% intermediate, and 14% beginner. 45% of the mountain features a west-facing aspect, 35% north-facing, and 10% east-facing.

The lift operating hours run from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm (weather and lift depending).


Getting to Crested Butte

It takes a little longer to get to Crested Butte than many ski destinations, but that’s what has allowed the town to stay small and quirky.

It's about 4 hours from Denver but on the positive side, you avoid the craziness of I-70 by taking the scenic route through the Colorado high country to Crested Butte via Highway 285.

Driving Directions: Crested Butte

There is also an airport conveniently located in Gunnison, less than 30 miles from Crested Butte. There are nonstop flights from Texas and Denver via United, American, and JSX.

Flights: Getting to Crested Butte


Crested Butte Lift Tickets

The resort offers flexible single-day tickets and an unlimited multi-resort option via the Epic Pass. Skip the line and save up to 20% on single-day tickets by ordering online ahead of your trip.

Lift Tickets: Crested Butte


Crested Butte Snow & Weather

There's one ingredient that makes nearly every resort in Colorado special compared to the rest of the United States – elevation. 

As OpenSnow Founding Meteorologist Joel Gratz mentions in this article, "high elevation means colder temperatures. With colder temperatures, mountains can make snow early in the season to ensure terrain is open, and snow can stick around longer into the spring."

Another advantage of having a higher elevation is fluffy snow. In general, colder temperatures help the atmosphere to create fluffier, lighter snowfall. The average of all winter storms in Colorado drops snow at a ratio of 15 inches of snow to 1 inch of liquid (15:1). Crested Butte reaps the benefits with an abundance of fluffy, powder snow.

When moving air hits a mountain and is forced to rise up and over the mountain, it is called orographic lift.

Due to the topography of Colorado and where Crested Butte is situated deep in the Elk Mountains, we typically want air that is rising from the west-southwest (example below) as it funnels into Colorado for Crested Butte.

I discuss the importance of Crested Butte's west-southwest wind direction in Episode 28 of The Flakes Podcast starting at the 25-minute mark.

The next time you're searching for that perfect powder day at Crested Butte, check the 5-day hourly and 10-day forecast on OpenSnow for light winds (<15 mph), cold temperatures (5°F-10°F), and a wind from the west-southwest.


Skiing Crested Butte

Now let's get into the good stuff, skiing and snowboarding!

A typical day on the resort starts with jumping in line just before 9 am to catch first chair up the Silver Queen Express Lift. This high-speed quad offers a grand view of the entire front side of the mountain as you rise toward the peak. 

You then have a few options once you reach the summit of Silver Queen.

The first option is to continue straight and then skier's left to access all of the terrain under Silver Queen. This includes Monument to Upper & Lower International, which is my favorite route on the front side to the base of Silver Queen. 

The second option is to go skier's right and continue down Silver Queen Road and eventually into Paradise Bowl, Upper Forest Queen, and Upper Ruby Chief. This terrain provides access to the North Face Lift, Paradise Express Lift, and the East River Express Lift. Upper to Lower Forest Queen is a great way to start your day if you're looking for crisp, corduroy turns. 

The third option and my personal choice is to once again continue skier's right and jump in line for the High Lift. This T-Bar lift can feature a delayed opening on powder days due to avalanche mitigation but this is where you'll find the steepest turns on the mountain.

Not everyone is a fan of T-Bar lifts but the short ride provides access to the Big Chute, Headwall, Teocalli Bowl, and the Peak / Banana High Entrance (if open).

IMPORTANT: The High Lift should only be accessed if you're an expert skier or rider and feel comfortable negotiating steep and very rocky terrain.

Did I mention the views?

The photo below is taken directly above the Headwall Glades, with the Elk Mountains in all their glory. 

You could lap the High Lift for days and never ski or ride the same line twice. The only downside to accessing the High Lift for multiple laps is that you must get back to the front side and take the Silver Queen Lift back up. This requires an extra run but it's nice to throw in a groomer after working your way down Headwall. 

After the High Lift, we usually take a run or two off of the Paradise Lift before jumping in line for the North Face Lift. This is another T-Bar lift that provides access to steep and technical terrain but it is "slightly" more forgiving than the High Lift.

Besides also being a T-Bar, the North Face Lift can be delayed on powder days due to avalanche mitigation. Keep an eye on lift operations and jump in line as fast as you can because when it comes to finding the best turns on the mountain, this is the place. 

The North Face, Hard Slab, Hawks Nest (photo above), Old Pro, and The Glades are all phenomenal runs. Access this area by turning left off of the lift and entering the trees skier's right. You won't be disappointed on a powder day.

Once we've worked our legs with enough steep terrain, it's either onto the Paradise Lift or down to the East River Lift for grippy groomers, soft bumps, and/or powder-filled trees.

This is where we'll typically spend the last hour or two of the day while continuing to enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. 

After our day on the mountain is complete, we love taking the free bus into downtown Crested Butte for happy hour drinks and food on Elk Ave.

There are plenty of options for restaurants but we always seem to end up at either Secret Stash for pizza and local craft beers or Bonez for margaritas and tacos.


Crested Butte 2023-24 Events

The Alley Loop Nordic Marathon takes place on February 3, 2024. The course takes racers through downtown Crested Butte and on pristine Crested Butte Nordic Center trails in the area. Racers can choose from six courses with a kid-only course also available. It is also an American Birkebeiner Qualifying event. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Alley Loop is that it’s also a costume contest!

The BLISTER Summit is an event not to be missed from February 4-8, 2024. This is an annual consumer-focused gear test and demo event where attendees can test ski and avalanche safety gear in the backcountry and at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. 

The event will also include panels and talks with company founders and athletes. Register here.

The Grand Traverse is the ultimate point-to-point backcountry ski race that begins in Crested Butte and ends in Aspen. The weekend of March 30-31, 2024 will include other events such as a vendor expo, live podcast recording, and an athlete lunch. Compete in the Grand Traverse Mountain Run and Grand Traverse Mountain Bike to complete the triple crown.

Events: Gunnison Crested Butte Winter Guide


Crested Butte Uphill Policy

The rise of uphill (also known as skinning or touring) has brought a new aspect to the ways that we can explore and have fun on the mountain. It is great exercise and in-resort uphill travel offers a safe environment on groomed terrain.

For the 2023-24 season, all uphill traffic may begin at 4:30 PM and cease by 8:45 AM. Headlamps are required to be turned on while on the mountain.

Learn More: Uphill Access Policy


Final Thoughts

Whether you're a family looking for a truly authentic mountain vacation or an expert skier searching for steep turns, Crested Butte checks all of the boxes.

Even though I live in the Roaring Fork Valley on the other side of the Elk Mountains, Crested Butte is always a yearly trip, both for winter and summer, to ski the steeps, ride the hero dirt, and to explore the vast mountain landscape of the Gunnison Valley.


Visit GunnisonCrestedButte.com for all lodging, event, and other ski-related information. 


OpenSnow Resources

Snow Forecast & Report: Crested Butte

Daily Snow Forecast: Colorado

Download: OpenSnow App

Sam Collentine


This guide was sponsored in partnership with Gunnison Crested Butte

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About The Author

Sam Collentine

Meteorologist

Sam Collentine is the Chief Operating Officer of OpenSnow and lives in Basalt, Colorado. Before joining OpenSnow, he studied Atmospheric Science at the University of Colorado, spent time at Channel 7 News in Denver, and at the National Weather Service in Boulder.

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