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An Epic Pairing: Crested Butte And Telluride

Epic-Mount-CB Remote in the Colorado Rockies, Crested Butte and Telluride tempt Epic Pass holder to travel a bit farther for outstanding skiing and riding. (Crested Butte/Facebook)

While Epic Pass holders tend toward destinations along Interstate 70, there's much to be had at a couple of Colorado resorts that are a bit off the beaten track.

Tucked in snow-pocket valleys of western Colorado, Crested Butte and Telluride may be a bit difficult to get to, but the effort in travel is paid back handsomely as both boast tons of terrain, classic Rocky Mountain town vibes, and eye-popping scenics.

Opened in 1961 and now owned by Vail Resorts, Crested Butte sits smack dab in the middle of the Colorado Rockies, a half-hour drive from Gunnison where daily winter flights come in from major western airports. Aside from franchise motels in Gunnison, condos, and VRBOs crowd the base, and the funky Town of Crested Butte has niche lodging.

With 1,500 acres in-bounds and 2,775 vertical drop of lift-served terain, "The Butte" splits out nicely for beginners (18%), intermediates (29%), and advanced-experts -- with lots left over for cliff jumpers. Mount Crested Butte rises alone out of the valley floor to 12,100-foot elevation, so dress warmly.

The resort fits families with varying skill levels. Novices can safely make wide turns on the entire lower left side. Farther around and up on the east side in Paradise Bowl, two high-speeds serve up a blue bonanza, with dozens of quad-burning groomers off Paradise Express.

It's up above that gives Crested Butte its gnarly reputation. Epic Pass holders get unlimited access to the double-blacks of Banana High, Teocalli Bowl, and cliffy Extreme Limits -- the latter host to world-class extreme competitions. On a powder day, local 'hounds show up big-time, including a raft of top-tier telemarkers.

In the state's southwest corner, Epic seven-day partner Telluride is also a task to get to. This quaint, now-glitzy town is a day's drive from Denver but has its own smallish airport and regional service from Montrose an hour and a half drive away. Short-term rentals abound in the picturesque box-canyon town and over the ridge -- served by a free "commuter" gondola -- tons of condos await.

Opened in 1972, the trail map began off the town-side ridge with the legendary free-fall "plunges." Expansion moved over the ridge in the palatial Village Center. More like five ski areas in one, Telluride has a dozen lifts that serve 2,000-plus acres and a whopping 3,800-foot drop. Plenty of greens tilt into a plethora of mid-mountain blue groomers.

But it's the hike-to terrain -- both short and long jaunts -- that separates Telluride from the pack. Two high-speeds bracket the in-bounds chutes, bowls and glades below the 13,150-foot Palmyra peak. Black Iron and Revelation bowls will challenge anyone. If that's not enough, experienced backcountry folks can head through the ridge-top gates and into the East Fork basin. Heli-tours are available.

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