I drove northwest out of Taos, taking Hwy 64 across the Rio Grande, and cutting north at Tres Piedras on 285. This drive takes the low road through the valley created by mountain ranges on both sides running north/south. Had I realized how close I was to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, I might have detoured to see them again after 40 years, but perhaps the sand hasn’t changed as much as I have.
The herds of deer and antelope were a sight to see, but made me even more cautious than ever driving. But, I figured they didn’t want to be road kill any more than I wanted to kill, so I let fate take the steering wheel, and I was just lucky I guess.
In Alamosa I stopped at an Arby’s and got a mint shake. The staff were so warm and treated making my shake like creating a piece of artwork. I was impressed! Driving to the next destination, navigating the windy canyon roads and seeing the deep snow were all becoming second nature. It was hard to remember that a year ago these same snow buried towns, the same snow smothered mountains had virtually NO snow to speak of. Just lucky I guess.
My AirBNB home for the next four days was at Becky’s home just south of the town of Crested Butte. They had a toy poodle named David, and my room was large with an ensuite bathroom. There was so much snow I had to back into their driveway and park close up to the snowbank so they could get out, too.
Crested Butte has been on my radar screen forever—when I lived in Denver I skied with a woman whose home mountain was Crested Butte. She was a fabulously beautiful skier. I remember following her around Breckenridge as she flowed down the run, staying close to the edges of the run, right next to the trees. I have, throughout my ski life, thought about this woman and what a fine skier she was. She grew up skiing almost every day at Crested Butte, and if any of us skied that much, we’d look pretty good, too. How is it I can’t remember her name?
Crested Butte is a few miles away from the resort itself, and it’s clear that the town recognizes that its success relies on the ski area. They have these funky buses that are hand painted in a variety of themes that run from town to ski resort every 15 minutes or so. Of course they are free. The downtown is classic Rocky Mountain ski town, with shops and restaurants lining the one main drag. But Crested Butte has a tinge of hippy still hanging in the air.
I drove up to the ski area to get my bearings and realized right away why the buses ran so frequently. Parking was limited, and the main area was crammed in the valley. The typical condos and mega homes lined the canyon.
The next morning as I waited at the transit station, shades of Driggs, Idaho flashed through my mind. Transit station, clean, with restrooms, strategically placed in town. Free parking in a lot behind. Friendly folks. Free shuttle.
I began chatting with a woman waiting in the transit station. Her name was Char, and she was volunteering at the adaptive center at the resort. We rode together up the mountain, and she took me under her wing. Crested Butte is home to a world-class adaptive ski training center. The Kelsey Wright Building, which will be the adaptive center home, is still under construction, but it is a multi-level glass, wood, brick and cement stand-alone structure. Char took me into the adaptive offices currently housed in the lower level of the Treasury Center, a large building that also hosts the rental shop, eating establishments, Route 66 and coffee shop. Their adaptive program is one of the largest in the country and the donors for the program read like a who’s who in America.
Char was also a great advisor on where to ski on the mountain. I felt a bittersweet swelling in my heart as I set out to ski. This was my last resort on my Sojourn. I couldn’t help but feel sad.
I took the Red Lady Chair up, riding up with a family who had just arrived, and clearly excited to be there. It was another beautiful bluebird day, promising to heat up to the 30s. I found out that guest services offered a mountain tour, and I decided to take advantage of it. Our guide was a warm and friendly woman who lived in town. She was due for knee surgery in a few weeks. She took us all over the mountain, avoiding blacks but giving us great recommendations. She was another inspirational skier who wasn’t going to let a little knee surgery stop her from skiing her heart out.
I took every run that was open, and had great fun. The upper mountain is packed with double blacks, and only a couple of them are accessible from the chairs. The rest are serviced by two T-Bars and lots of hiking. I felt great–strong, happy, challenged.I was acclimated to the high altitude—had been since Summit County—so packing my skis around, walking from shuttle to lifts, finding the restrooms and coffee shops felt like a walk down Mainstreet Hopkins.
Paradise chair services the back of the mountain, and has plenty of challenging runs, mostly blues. There’s a frontside that’s accessible taking the Painter Boy Lift. It’s a blue area, but the best part is the Umbrella Bar, so named because the outdoor bar can open like an umbrella. The view from Umbrella is a gorgeous shot of Crested Butte’s peak. I took Silver Queen and skied International, a long black run down the frontside. The big challenge was taking the North face T-bar and skiing Rachel and the High Chair T-bar and skiing Ellin.
I had lunch at Butte 66 and I swear they had the BEST chili—a pork white chili that was to die for. I was focused on hitting my 300,000 vertical feet, so I didn’t have my glass of wine at lunch just to be on the safe side. And true to form, I skied over 16,000 vertical that day and passed 300K total for the trip!
To celebrate and to close out my Sojourn, I treated myself to a piece of red meat at the Wooden Nickel in town. The nicest couple sat next to me. We chatted and they bought me a drink! I enjoyed the drink through my prime rib dinner.
As I drove out of town, the full moon was rising over the hip of Crested Butte. I had experienced three full moons on this Ski Sojourn. Each one was important for different reasons. In January, the full moon was on Scot’s birthday. In February I was driving out of the Sierras into an ocean of blooming almond trees. And March I had hit 300,000 vertical feet at my last ski resort.
I posted my 300K victory, and my brother asked if that was feet or calorie intake. I laughed out loud, as I was eating out of a Haagen-Dazs pint when I got his comment. And I wondered why I hadn’t lost any weight on this trip!!
The next day was a bonus day—I had hit my vertical goal, so any vertical feet I got my last day was icing. But I needed a purpose: so I began a “BEST BLOODY MARY” taste test. I was sitting at the Paradise lodge when I came up with the idea after talking to the bartender. She was telling me I had to go to Uley’s Ice Bar, and the Umbrella Bar. So began the official/unofficial taste test. The results:
Paradise Bloody: Served with a slice of bacon, spicy, not sweet. The perfect blend of drink and conversation.
Uley’s Ice Bar: No longer an ice bar (the outdoor bar used to be covered in ice), but serves up their Bloody in a canning jar. Outdoor bar is very cool (like nice, not cold). Maybe it was the green chili infused vodka they used, but their Bloody had a funny bite to it.
Umbrella Bar: Served in plastic, with a stick of celery, green pepper, two olives, summer sausage cube. The drink was just ok, but I drank it in a lounge chair facing Crested Butte peak. The view was the BEST.
The Last Steep (not on the mountain, but I was on a roll): Local restaurant downtown Crested Butte. Bloody had a pickled green bean, lime, pepper, celery and olive. Almost a meal. But the burger was better, and the company at the bar was the best. Met Tuck and the Third Scoop owner’s husband at the bar.
Bloody Mary winner? Paradise bar. Why? Probably because it was the first one I drank, and I was still sober.
I wandered around town—had a scoop of ice cream at Third Scoop, a place that a family had told me about originally riding the first lift the first day on the mountain. Then as I was wandering around main street, I ran into Tuck again. He was sitting alone in front of The Secret Stash pizza restaurant. I sat down next to him. We visited in between people greeting him as they walked by. Tuck was an African American tall drink of water who had moved to Crested Butte in the early 70s, part of an influx of youth who were in search of themselves. Some were hippies, some were cowboys. I’m not sure which camp Tuck was in back in the day. They all lived together in the Crested Butte melting pot. Tuck moved in and never moved out.
He’s an institution in the community. He had suffered from PTSD from his time in Vietnam. Part of his recovery was the martial arts studio he ran for years. That was one way he knew every kid and parent that walked by. He also drove the free mountain buses for years. And he had a booth at the summer festivals, although we didn’t get into just what his booth was about. He was turning 80 later this year and as far as I could see, he and I were the only people of color in town. He took me down to the town museum on main street. Tuck just walked in and told me to follow him. I did. He ignored the “Pay Here” sign. He showed me the old mining pictures, talked about the early years he lived in Crested Butte, and posed by the enormous elk head that hangs on the wall. I slipped a $20 into the donation box as I followed him out of the museum.
Tuck walked me to my truck, a gentleman to the end. As I pulled into the street turning to head out of town, I saw his tall, solitary silhouette walking west down a narrow alley.