A photo making the social media rounds the last week of December brought some pride to those who ski Crested Butte. Over in Telluride, the ski patrol opened some extreme terrain. One of the warning signs made it clear that it wasn’t for everyone.
“Warning!” it read. “It is Extremely Rocky out there…Rocks are absolutely unavoidable…Unless you live in Telluride, Crested Butte, Squaw or Alta, this terrain is not recommended…PS—If you are wearing your new Christmas skis, turn around now.”
That sums it up. And I love it. Not everyone has what it takes to ski this mountain and that is acknowledged by our brothers and sisters in like-minded resorts. Hey, as someone in the office comments regularly, “Anyone can ski powder. Just sit back and wiggle.” And it is certainly easier to ski mellow groomers in more “cultured” resorts than a rocky Headwall at home. And maybe that’s why Vail and Deer Valley have a lot more people flocking there. But…it’s not always about it being easy or safe or mellow.
Skiing into Phoenix Bowl last weekend was a treat. Not a treat for the bottom of anyone’s skis unless you own stock in a P-tex factory but it was great in that the terrain Crested Butte is known for is open and as always, it leads to special places. Stepping my skis over a pile of rocks on Million Dollar Highway led to a pretty incredible run at the top of Phoenix and then to some “interesting” turns in Staircase. But like life sometimes, it’s not the turns you expect that count the most but rather it’s the challenge and the feel of a situation that matters in the end.
So thanks to the Crested Butte Professional Ski Patrol for getting the Headwall and Phoenix Bowl areas open in December. The skiing was certainly not over-the-hood powder and that was okay. While those areas provide great skiing when there is several feet of snow back there, they are still a good place to visit and take turns when there are less than ideal conditions. It provides a taste of something a tad more wild within the industrial ski area permit and that is something not every ski resort can offer. That specialness comes at a price. My trip to Phoenix worked me. And those heading over there know that it will take a chunk or two out of the bottom of the boards. So be it.
Look, it’s not always just about the skiing in a ski resort. It is also about the vibe and Crested Butte’s vibe is a tick higher for everyone when the Extremes are open.
Any skiing is good skiing. But skiing a resort with the vibe of a Crested Butte or Squaw or T’ride is a notch above the rest. Twenty-some years ago, pioneer ski filmmaker Warren Miller was in Crested Butte and gave a keynote speech during the old Media Cup event. One of the things he said has stuck with me for decades. He pointed out that one of the beauties of skiing is that there is always a challenge available for every person at any level. While I might feel an adrenaline burst in Angle Gully, my kids might have to follow the Blunck or Evans boys into the Staircase cliffs to feel that adrenaline. Miller pointed out that the never-ever would find a similar feeling on Peachtree. That’s the beauty of the sport. Challenge and adrenaline are there for those who seek it through skiing.
Skiing can be peaceful and tranquil. It can be fast. It better be fun. You need to pay attention. It can take you to places you will remember with a smile when the cubicle feels a little confining. It clears the mind. I can’t count the number of people I’ve ridden with on a chairlift who tell me they wish they could quit their job in Dallas or Tulsa or Baton Rouge and move out here…to ski and experience the mountain life.
Skiing is simply good for the soul. Riding the flanks of a mountain is a feeling that makes one feel alive. And it is out there…on every piece of this mountain…with every person who has the desire and courage to strap a pair of boards to their feet and experience a mountain in Colorado in the winter. It can be found off the Red Lady Lift and Painter Boy as well as the High Lift.
Of course in Crested Butte, we are smack dab in the middle of the Rocky Mountains (not the Green Grassy Mountains)…and that is where that sign comes back in to play.
So take some time in this first month of the New Year to feel a little adrenaline and find a bit bigger challenge on (or off) the hill. Doing so will make your year better.
And then buy some stock in a P-tex factory.
Have a wonderful 2014, everyone.