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America's Last Ski Town?

America's Last Ski Town?

Many Crested Butte locals are banding together against an impending expansion. But can skiing’s last shangri-la survive without it?
By Philip Higgs, Contributor, SKI Magazine
posted: 11/04/2009

Snodgrass’s mellow terrain.

One day last April, at dusk, a wide pink cloud began billowing over the town of Crested Butte, Colo. Red desert sands were blowing in from Utah’s eastern edge, and the sky had turned almost sepia, as if the Wicked Witch herself were about to broom in at any moment.

At The Secret Stash, a niche pizza place at the far end of Elk Avenue festooned with Buddhist prayer flags and floor pillows from Egypt, a few diners and waitresses poked out onto its second-floor back balcony for a look. The dust was turning to hail, then to light snowflakes, then back to dust. Was it a good omen, or a bad one? It was Friday, the first day of the last weekend of the ski season, and the Stash was having an Easter egg hunt the next day in its small back yard, with 311 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon hidden in the snow instead of eggs—one for every inch of snow that had fallen on the Butte that season. Enough of it had piled up to block the back door that led to the yard, but whatever crew had been tasked to clear the stairs had instead built a giant snow slide from the balcony into the yard. If you wanted your PBRs, you were going to have to slide for them.

Jeff Graceffa, who owns The Secret Stash along with his wife, Kyleena—he has a pizza pie tattooed on his right bicep—sounded unimpressed by the stormy skyline: “You see that all the time up here.” As if to say, it’s just part of the routine beauty that comes with living tucked up against a hundred thousand acres of stark wilderness and, contained therein, one of the sickest, sweetest, steepest, meanest mountains in ski country: Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

Jeff, who took the fine-dining track at culinary school but worked at Pazzo’s Pizza in Vail, and Kyleena, who worked ski town restaurants in winter and the Hamptons bar scene during summer
(“it was all just models and real estate agents and stars”), opened the Stash in the spring of 2002. “We went to Aspen, Carbondale, Basalt, everywhere in Colorado,” Jeff says. “Eagle, Edwards, Avon, Vail, Minturn, Leadville, Buena Vista, Salida, Gunnison.” But Jeff, who was “almost” a pro freeskier—“the top 10 percent make it; I was maybe 15 percent”—wanted to be near a mountain he could respect. “I’m humbled every day I go out there,” he says of CBMR. “I mean, if this mountain doesn’t scare you on a daily basis, you’re not pushing yourself. If you want to go for it, on any given day the mountain will hand it out to you.”

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