Nov 06, 2008
Mary Jane—named for a mining-era lady of the night—and its sister area, Winter Park, offer plenty of prospects for good skiing, including bumps and powder-filled bowls. Forming one of the closest major resorts to Denver, the two areas spread across five mountains and 3,078 acres. Add 3,060 feet of vertical, 30 feet of snowfall, and a direct train from Denver and it’s no wonder why the Front Range packs the place on Saturdays.
The experience is more heli-skiing than resort skiing, but instead of dropping $800, you ride an old double chairlift all day for $99.
Keystone’s 2,870 acres and three peaks offer everything from the tame to the teeth-rattling.
Crested Butte is no slut. If you want the goods, you’ll have to work for them. And it won’t be easy. CB’s granite-streaked steeps are unforgiving, lack bailout options, and often require a serious hike out. But after making laps in Teocalli Bowl and pointing it down no-fall chutes in Paradise Cliffs, you’ll know this mountain is a keeper. The Extremes will appear silhouetted in your dreams and your heart will hurt every time Elk Avenue fades in the rearview. That burn in your chest and shake in the knees when you stand on top of the Headwall? That’s what love feels like.
MUST HIT: The North Face is a classic CB test piece. Pick your way to the top from the North Face lift and ready yourself for an exposed, 40-degree fall line. The view, when not interrupted by 15-foot cliffs, looks over the entire valley.
THE SNEAK: Third Bowl and Lower Third Bowl (both a short traverse from the North Face lift) drop at a sustained 40 degrees and are so remote that you can slay the bowls first and then mine the sparse trees for pow several days after a storm.
POWDER DAY: Blow through Headwall’s wide-open, 45-degree bowl, then trend skier’s left on subsequent laps to harvest pow from the Headwall Glades.
THREE DAYS LATER: Ride the Silver Queen chair to the High lift to reach Teocalli Bowl. A range of 30- to 40-degree lines drops 685 vertical feet through open terrain, tree chutes, and cliffs.
PARK AND PIPE: CB isn’t known for its park scene, though the easily accessed BC Superpipe, right under the Paradise chair, gets a loving cutting every few days.
BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS: There are no gates, but nearby touring can be hiked to, skied, and left in shreds in several hours. Ask a local for directions, and check conditions at cbavalanchecenter.org.
WEATHER: Crested Butte’s light, dry snow accumulates gradually but preserves well—book your trip for February or later. The Butte averages 243 inches a year, which is low for an area this steep. On the upside, when it’s not snowing, the sun’s shining.
APRÈS: Nachos stacked with fresh (not from a can) beans, cheese, guac, sour cream, and jalapeños ($9.25) arrive on enormous dinner plates at Avalanche, located at the base of the Red Lady Express. Order the Avalanche Warning ($6), a signature cocktail with Jim Beam, Southern Comfort, Yukon Jack, Jose Cuervo, sweet and sour, and just enough pineapple juice to color it.
FUEL: If you’re staying slopeside, hit Camp 4 Coffee in Mountaineer Square, then trudge to the Avalanche for a monster breakfast burrito ($6.95). Staying in town? Mob the Gas Café at the Amoco station for the kind of breakfast sandwich that colorectal surgeons dread and skiers crave: sausage patty, hash browns, egg, and cheese.
UP ALL NIGHT: If it’s cold as hell (and it probably will be), set up advance base camp in the Lobar for the trifecta of drinks, dinner, and more drinks. Equal parts sushi restaurant and club, Lobar has rotating tables for big (read: wasted) groups. By the time you pound your ninth sake bomb you’ll notice the DJ—only he’s been spinning for hours and it’s 1:45 a.m.
DIGS: The recently revamped Elevation Hotel, previously Club Med, is as close as you can get to the lifts, and rates start at $230 per night. In town, park it at the Crested Butte International Lodge and Hostel for a $25 to $36 dorm bunk.