Travel feature: Adventures in Crested Butte, the ‘Last Great American Ski Town’ | AspenTimes.com

Travel feature: Adventures in Crested Butte, the ‘Last Great American Ski Town’

Caramie Petrowsky
Special to The Aspen Times

Whereas some people eschew offseason in resort towns, those who have taken advantage of the shoulder season know firsthand the beauty. The pace is low-key, the locals are relaxed and cheerful, and hotel rates are reasonable. Plus, there's no waiting for tables at restaurants (a godsend when you have young kids), and the trails are nearly empty and sublimely peaceful. And so it went during a recent mid-October visit to Crested Butte.

A just under 3 1/2-hour drive from Frisco, this charming location hits that sweet spot of being far enough away that you feel like you actually "got away" but not so far that the littles (or your spouse) go stir crazy on the trek there.

Upon arriving in Crested Butte, it's clear the moniker the "Last Great American Ski Town" fits. This is not a fancy resort town. Instead, its mining roots give it an authentic vibe. Think fleece over fur; Patagonia instead of Prada. A sign in front of The Eldo, the brewery on Elk Avenue, says it all: "A Sunny Place for Shady People." Visitors and locals alike are mellow, friendly and genuinely glad to see you — my kind of people.

Foodie heaven

We arrived late afternoon on a Friday, and after getting settled into our hotel room at The Grand Lodge, located near the base of the mountain, we headed for town. Elk Avenue, the town's main street, is chock full of gem-colored, Gold Rush-era buildings home to organic eateries, caffeine shops, clothing and accessory stores. For a town of only 2,500 folks, the Butte has a bevy of awesome eateries. With nary a chain in sight, it's heaven for a foodie. The hardest part of your trip might be deciding where to eat. Multiple locals steered us toward Ryce Asian Bistro, a contemporary restaurant with authentic Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese offerings. Our group of five and a half opted for drunken noodles, two styles of curry and the tropical rice, studded with shrimp, chicken, cashews, raisins and chunks of pineapple. Beware: The portions are so big you'll be hard-pressed to leave without the requisite folded-over brown paper bag. The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast sammys, burritos and cold-brew coffee (on nitro, even) at The Guild Café, an organic bakery and coffee roaster. If you have kids, then snag a seat on the couch upstairs next to a play area stocked with puzzles and more. The Sunflower is another good breakfast or lunch spot, serving dishes featuring Colorado-sourced meats and produce.

Hike and drive

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After some shopping along Elk Avenue, we headed back toward the mountain base for a kids-free hike (thanks to grandma). From the base area, we hiked east along Warming House Hill and then flanked the Painter Boy Lift up to the new Umbrella Bar at Ten Peaks. The views are striking no matter which direction you look: Mount Crested Butte to the south and the Southern Wall of the Elk Mountains to the north. With a retractable roof and a slew of Adirondack chairs, it's sure to be the spot to lounge with beer or bloody in hand this season.

Post hike, we headed back to town and ducked into A Daily Dose, a cheerful spot next to Clark's Market. Armed with smoothies and green drinks (try the Fresh, a yummy combo of apple, cucumber, lemon, greens and sea salt), we drove north, past the resort a few miles to Gothic Townsite, an area established in 1879 following a silver strike in what is now the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area.

The historical buildings are home to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, a leading terrestrial field station where scientists and students conduct research and classes each summer. For a month or two in the summer, serious four-wheel-drive enthusiasts can continue over Schofield Pass, a narrow, rocky passage that takes you to Marble. While we saw more hunter orange than elk, deer or fox brown, it was a beautiful drive.

happy hour

Next up: Happy hour. While family-friendly distillery sounds oxymoronic, Montanya Distillers is a great spot to grab a pre-dinner drink with kids in tow. An upstairs play area entertains the littles while you choose from one of nearly two-dozen cocktails (you can't go wrong with the spicy Caldera martini). Three varieties of rum are made on-site, and you can taste them all for free. Named best white rum at the 2015 World Rum Awards in 2015, the Platino was my favorite.

Our family voted unanimously on pizza for dinner, so we struck out for Secret Stash, a funky spot notorious for its inventive pizza topping combinations. Located in the old company store, the décor is as eclectic as the waitstaff is friendly (our waiter went so far as to bring our 2-year-old daughter a Matchbox car to keep her entertained). Start with the Stuffed Mushies — mushrooms stuffed with whole roasted garlic cloves and goat cheese. Vegheads will dig the Where's The Beef pizza — an olive oil base topped with light mozzarella, minced garlic, red onions, mushrooms, black figs, asiago cheese, fresh basil and drizzles of balsamic reduction and truffle oil.

After dinner, we continued the dairy-bonanza, climbing the stairs to the Third Bowl, a homemade ice cream and doughnut shop. Thanks to its cult following, the honey lavender is always ready to scoop. The icy treat was as satisfying as the trip itself.

Caramie Petrowsky is a freelance writer and public relations professional based in Denver. Email her at caramiepetrowsky@gmail.com.

Where to stay

The Grand Lodge (6 Emmons Road) is located near the base of the mountain. Kids will love the heated indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub; mom and dad will love the free Wi-Fi, coffee in the lobby and room and the kitchenettes (in the suites). Call (877) 547-5143 or book online at skicb.com/lodging/grand-lodge.

Deals: Book by Tuesday, Nov. 15, and save 20 percent on winter lodging. There’s also an early season buy-one-get-one deal. Stay between Nov. 21 and Dec. 16 and get one night free for every night you book at The Grand Lodge.

Suggestions for families

• There are a few great parks in town for kids, including Rainbow Park on Eighth Street between Gothic and Maroon. Grab a chai from Camp 4 Coffee downtown to sip while you watch the kiddos climb, run and shriek with delight.

• While not open when we visited, the Trailhead Children’s Museum at the base of the mountain offers hands-on educational exhibits. Visit trailheadkids.org.

• For a short, family-friendly hike, check out the Woods Walk, an easy, 2.8-mile round-trip walk with beautiful wildflowers in the summer and yellow aspens in the fall. From town, drive up Kebler Pass for a quarter mile and look for cars parked along the left side of the road. Find more info at travelcrestedbutte.com/crested-butte-hikes-woods-walk.

• During the winter season, Crested Butte Mountain Resort has plenty of options to keep the younger set entertained. Kids ages 3 and younger can take part in Camp CB — the resort’s signature kids’ nursery located right in the base area. Kids ages 4 to 7 have their own cool Camp CB programs, as well as Kids Night Out and the Adventure Park. The ages 8 to 12 set will love the Crested Butte Zipline Tour in addition to the Adventure Park. Learn more at skicb.com.

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