Remote and charming, Crested Butte, Colo., spreads warmth even in the winter months
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
You can imagine that when locals in small towns hear that “the gays” are on their way — for a Pride parade, or a dance party or a protest — some will react with a disdainful shiver. But when Crested Butte, Colo., hosted its first-ever gay ski week earlier this year, the news didn’t even warrant a shrug. Indeed, the entire town seemed to get its Pride on.
The local gays there — and there are a few, a very few — were of course happy to be with family, as were the resorts glad to host a late-season influx; so were the businesses in the very walkable downtown area. But the people were just as excited — stores proudly flew rainbow flags for the first time, and diners at restaurants chirped with delight that the gays were coming. Good for business, of course, but also good for the Butte. (Unfortunately, there are no current plans to hold another gay ski week there.)
Crested Butte, after all, isn’t located along I-70 and the string of famed ski resorts; don’t like Vail? Drive another hour and settle in Beaver Creek. Wanna resort hop? Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone are in the same county 90 minutes from Denver. No, if you wanna go to Crested Butte, you gotta really wanna go.
There are two different kinds of ski-resort towns in Colorado: The rich man’s playgrounds and those with a roughing-it, low-stress country ruggedness, where the Doobie Brothers are still considered pop music. Crested Butte is the latter — unfussy and without the pretensions of a Vail or Aspen, but with just the right amount of sophistication to make it a savvy destination for those who like to stumble off the beaten path but still appreciate a few creature comforts.
That’s certainly the case at the Elevation Hotel and Spa, a large, comfortable resort standing at nearly 9,400 feet above sea-level. (The friendly café at the lift base, 9480 Prime, is named for the elevation.) Clean, warm and well-appointed, with an excellent spa and salon, the hotel provides super-convenient access to the slopes and its 16 lifts. (The summit is at an ear-popping 12,162 feet.)
For skiers or snowboarders, the snow provides a great powder, though even diners can appreciate the mountain: The ski-in, ski-out restaurant Uley’s Cabin is accessible by lift and short slalom to mid-mountain, or if available, a “ski taxi” can take you here like a passenger on the Iditerod. It’s worth a visit, too, with excellent haute cuisine and a cozy, rustic atmosphere.
Indeed, the dining in Crested Butte is remarkably diverse and satisfying. It may seem counter-intuitive, but some of the best seafood dishes I ate this year were in Colorado. (The landlocked types know how to cook a scallop.) But the range of choices for Crested Butte is as good as any 10-block stretch of a major city.
Stay on the mountain to indulge your tastebuds at Django’s. This high-end, intimate resto, draped in sheer curtains and with a wide, open kitchen, serves gourmet tapas just steps from the slopes. “Date with a pig” isn’t as dirty as it sounds — Medjool dates wrapped in Serrano ham — but it is decadently enjoyable, as are the crispy Brussels sprouts and braised spiced boar belly.
Off the mountain, in downtown Crested Butte, the not-to-miss steakhouse is Maxwell’s. Warmed by a beautiful fireplace and welcoming décor, it serves some unmatched dishes. Of course, you have to try the rack of (Colorado) lamb, crusted in pistachios and drizzled with a blueberry demi that makes it both sweet and savory, as well as the smoky wagyu tartare. The wine list offers some bold, interesting choices as well.
Over at the West End Pub, enjoy high-end bar food with a sense of humor. The “ubiquitous fish and chips” may sound tired, but it’s well prepared, as are the oysters on the hall shell and clam chowder. (I told you about the seafood.)
For something even more casual but also extraordinary, The Secret Stash is a must-do. It’s no accident that the name sounds like a head shop — the place, opened in 2002, has the hippie-dippie vibe of a stoner hangout. It also serves some of the most inventive pizzas you’ll ever encounter, like the Mac Daddy, their lettuce-covered take on the Big Mac that will wow you. (Just a slice is huge.)
You can grab a brew at Dogwood, a hole-in-the-wall bar with pool tables and sports on the TVs that’s cool, friendly and hip, and LoBar, which serves sushi. (Fish! Again!)
For an exquisite brunch, East Side Bistro is a sure-bet. Looking out on the mountain, it has the feel of an Old West saloon but the cuisine of a sly master, including the deconstructed doughnuts and coffee, and the chilaquiles, a tortilla-chip-and-egg dish with poblano molé that will spoil you for all Mexican-themed brunches for all time.
Crested Butte may not be the first resort to occur to you when you think of ski destinations, but as most everyone from Colorado will confess to you, it’s one of the best.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.