Plans in place to double skier days in five years
If you’ve visited the Crested Butte Nordic website this fall, you might have noticed a sleek new logo for the valley’s homegrown Nordic program. It’s part of a rebranding effort and a master development plan that seek to put Crested Butte Nordic on the map as one of the top five Nordic ski resorts in the country.
The Crested Butte Nordic board of directors has approved a management plan that sets some ambitious goals, including doubling skier days to 50,000 in the next five years; uniting the three existing trail systems (the East and West side trails, and Ruthie’s Run on the bench) with an over- or underpass on Highway 135 and a bridge across Coal Creek; and adding onto the existing Nordic Center or building a new one altogether.
Keith Bauer, executive director of Crested Butte Nordic, acknowledges that the plan is ambitious but also says the time is right. “It’s important to know that these ideas have been in the hopper for a while now,” he said. The time had simply come to formalize them in a master plan.
“Crested Butte is on the map now, and we’re right along there with that. When people get here, they like what they see in the town of Crested Butte and with Crested Butte Nordic, too. I think the word is getting out,” Bauer said.
Last year, day pass sales were up 59 percent over the year before, and guiding services were up 110 percent. According to the Master Development Plan, one of Crested Butte Nordic’s lodging partners reported that Nordic guests generated $30,756 in taxes alone last year.
Bauer admits that last year, Crested Butte Nordic benefited from a long season with great snow, but the long-term trend also shows consistent growth. Crested Butte Nordic has averaged more than 11 percent growth every year since 2005.
And in many ways, the planned growth would capitalize on some significant improvements in recent years. In the last decade, the trail system has more than doubled and user days have tripled. Crested Butte Nordic added a new snow cat and a cat barn to maintain both snow cats. They’ve built an International Federation of Skiing–sanctioned racecourse, and constructed a yurt that continues to be a draw for fine dining and events.
“I think a big part [of that growth] is because we’ve created some really good skiing, and so people show up for it and they like it and tell their friends, and they come back,” Bauer said, adding that the appeal of Crested Butte in general helps. “They get to experience the community and that of course sells itself.”
Among the tasks before Crested Butte Nordic now are the creation of a cohesive brand—hence the new logo—so it can help the local community understand its role and economic potential, and market more aggressively outside of the Gunnison Valley. Drew Holbrook, director of marketing and events, explained that part of the new look is intended to help the community understand the structure of the organization.
“We’re Crested Butte Nordic, and the Crested Butte Nordic Center refers to the building we’re in. But the overall organization—the umbrella for the center, the council, and the team—is Crested Butte Nordic,” Holbrook explained.
Bauer believes that the most immediate priority, however, is to solve the dilemma of Crested Butte Nordic’s physical home—the Crested Butte Nordic Center. The current building is town-owned and also supports hockey programs at the Big Mine Ice Arena.
“I remember saying [a couple of years ago] that if hockey suddenly disappeared, we could probably utilize this entire building,” Bauer said. “Now, just a couple of years later, if hockey suddenly disappeared we’d have to add on.”
Of course, Bauer isn’t suggesting that hockey would or should disappear. He is simply acknowledging that with 80 kids in the youth Nordic program alone and two new full-time, year-round staff, Crested Butte Nordic doesn’t have the space to support the current scope of the organization or its vision for the future.
As the ski season kicks off and the Crested Butte Nordic staff and board begin to implement the master development plan, those questions will certainly be tackled. Bauer hopes that it will be part of a community discussion: How do the town and the community want to support activities such as hockey and Nordic skiing?
For his part, Bauer sees Crested Butte Nordic as the continuation of a tradition of human-powered recreation and skiing. “This place has been a ski town for 130 years and we’re trying to continue that and pass it on to the next generation,” he said.
To view the full Master Development Plan and learn more about Crested Butte Nordic’s plans for the future, visit cbnordic.org.