Peter Hines

by Peter Hines

Skiing in Southern Colorado

Part 2

Skiing the Powder at Crested Butte


Photos and videos by the author

From Part 1 - Mike, Phil and I traveled to southern Colorado to ski Crested Butte and Purgatory

It snowed all night.  I didn’t sleep well.  I never do before a ski day.  Knowing it was going to be a powder day at Crested Butte only made my tossing and turning it worse.  My room was too dry; I needed to drink more water.

Snowplows circled the condo all night moving the mounds of powdery snow from one place to another, their backup alarms droning as they got ready for the crowds that were bound to come.

Since I couldn’t sleep I got up, dressed, made some coffee and waited for the others. Looking out the window it was apparent that it was still dumping.

The others rose. After some coffee we dressed and headed to the lodge carrying our ski boots. The altitude was apparent as I huffed and puffed up a flight of stairs.  I was breathing heavily but I felt OK.  The mega hydration that I have taken part in probably helped.

The clouds were still puking snow.  There was over 14 inches on the ground.

The night before we were told that the Bakery/Brown Labrador Pub had a best breakfast deal on the mountain base. We trudged up the stairs and grabbed some cinnamon roles from owner Steve Mikeska and carbed up for the day ahead.

Steve, a native a native Texan, has been serving up the goods at Crested Butte for over 20 years

We finished our cinnamon rolls and grabbed our skies and poles from the valet.  It was around 8:45 and we could see the march to the lift beginning as those staying in the condos throughout the area headed to the lifts.

We donned our skis and headed to the Red Lady quad lift where we met Erica Mueller who was kind enough to take us around for the day. Getting on the lift it was easy to see that there was untracked snow everywhere. Exiting the lift I cranked down my boots and took stock of the “fat” skis I had attached to my boots.

Being from the east I had never been in snow so deep and so fluffy.  It took some getting used to.  It was hard to get started and we continually had to find trails or parts of the trails with enough pitch to keep our speed up.

As we headed down the first run a dog bounded across the trail in front of us.  My original thought is that is was an avalanche dog but it did look like the retrievers that I had seen before.  It’s snout was too pointed; its tail too bushy.  Erica yelled to us that is was a coyote as it jumped into the trees never to be seen again.

After a couple of runs on the Red Lady we headed over to the Paradise lift and up into the Paradise Bowl for some wide open skiing.  It was tough going for me as the snow was deeper.  It was still dumping and the visibility was not the best but the snow was soft and the pitch was greater so we began to get the hang of it, getting a rhythm of back and forth.

Over to the right I could see a line for the North Face lift.  The T-bar was not open yet.  We could hear the random reports of explosions as the patrollers made the north face bowls safe skiers and riders even though the snow had come pretty much straight down all evening and there were minimal winds.

It pretty much snowed on and off all day with visibility sometimes going to zero.

We skied over to the Umbrella Bar, which is between the tops of the Prospect and Gold Link lifts for some water. Western resorts are very good about having water available to keep guest hydrated.  I continually remind myself to drink water in an effort to stave off the effects of drier air and the higher altitude.

For lunch we dined at Uley's Cabin which is located at the base of the Twister Lift. Uley’s takes its name from Uley Scheer who was a local historical figure and bootlegger. Uley’s reputation as a provider of food and moonshine are the inspiration for the dining and entertainment. I had the Rocky Mountain Elk Bourguignon, with Yukon potato puree and baby carrots.  The Elk was fork tender and not at all gamey. It was a great lunch.

It continued to snow all day.  Several more runs on the lower mountain rounded out the day as the altitude and deep snow took its toll on us.  The day was complete with a little under 10,000 feet of vertical.

Day two was almost a repeat of day one as the snow continued.  The groomers had toiled through the night and worked their magic.  However, another eight inches of powder had accumulated on top of what was groomed which made working our way easier.  We were still getting used to the powder.  The center of the Paradise Bowl had been groomed but the sides were bumped up with soft moguls.

The snow continued all day with the visibility was constantly changing.  At one point Phil and Mike reported suffering from ski sickness or Häusler's disease which is a form of motion sickness which is suffered by some skiers when weather conditions, especially visibility, are bad.  They found that this was especially pronounced in the wide open trails which had few reference points.  Phil reported that the effect diminished on narrower trails and skiing closer to trees, which acted as a reference point, helped.

After a light lunch at the Bar I headed over to the Silver Queen Express.  This quad lift goes almost all the way to the top and services the entire front of the mountain.

The locals had come out, as the powder was deep.  They banged through the trees and the steeps. At times they seemingly popped out of nowhere covered with the white stuff, smiles of their faces, pumping their fists in the air.

Day two was completed with a little over 16,000 feet of vertical and 15 miles of distance. The deep powder continued to hold back on the vertical and distance.  This was OK though.

We received tip to check out Slogar Bar & Restaurant down in Crested Butte for dinner.  After making a reservation (highly recommended) we headed down the hill. The snow continued and the streets were not well plowed.  We found a parking stop right in front.    The menu at Slogar consists of two items, skillet fried chicken and grilled steak.  Both are served family style.  We ordered the chicken and chowed down on the relishes and biscuits while we waited for the main course.  The fried chicken was good.  The creamed corn and mashed potatoes rounded out the main course.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce for desert and we were done and stuffed.  We even had chicken to take with us.

We drove back to the condo and crashed.  It was still snowing.

On day three the clouds began to lift.  We hear that our friend Bernie Weichel was in town.  Bernie is a bit of a legend in the ski industry.  He owns a condo at the foot of the mountain.

More trails were groomed overnight and the skiing was great.  We met up with Bernie and he took us around, as he knew his way around better than we did. 

We had some great runs on East River Express.  The snow was great on Treasury and Black Eagle. There was still untracked snow of the edges of the trails.

Skiers and riders were dropping in from skier’s right on Black Eagle.  Bernie explained that most of these were coming down off of the double black Spellbound, Phoenix, Third bowls.  It is a long way back up to these bowls from the based of the East River Express since the had to take this lift to the top and then ski to the Paradise Lift and ski down to the North Face (T-bar) lift.

After a quick lunch at the Umbrella Bar Bernie and I took a few runs on the Silver Queen and took some great bump runs on Monument and International.  We even took The High Lift T-bar up over 11,000 feet to ski down Eflin’s Way.

The day ended with over 19,000 feet of vertical and brilliant sun.  The view of the Peak of Crested Butte, which had eluded us for the past few days was clearly visible.

Tired from pounding the powder for three days took the shuttle into Crested Butte and dined at the Elk Prime Steak House.  We did not have reservations and although it is a bit pricey it offers a good selection of locally wet and dry aged beef and seafood.  Not being anywhere near and ocean we ordered steaks, that came in large portions, enough so that we could order three entrees for four hungry skiers.

We hopped the shuttle back up the hill and retired for the evening.  It had been a snow packed three days.

In hindsight we never made it up into the double black bowls.  We didn’t need too! Crested Butte, once known for it’s extreme skiing and riding, has more than enough beginner and intermediate trails to satisfy the average person and family.  Sure, the extreme terrain is available for those who want to tackle it. Keep in mind however, that one needs to be in top physical condition and know what they are doing in order to ensure their safety and the safety of others.


Skiing in Southern Colorado - Part 1 - Getting Crested Butte

Skiing in Southern Colorado - Part 3 - No Place Is More Pretty Than Purgatory Resort

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