Looking for ways to draw people to the mountain while eye is on winter
by Mark Reaman
The juxtaposition of the two primary north valley business districts has been striking in the last few weeks. While a new look Elk Avenue is crowded with diners, shoppers and walkers, the Mt. Crested Butte Base Area remains relatively barren.
Local business owners in Mt. Crested Butte hope this will change as Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) slowly opens this week to some tourism on the mountain (see page 8 for more details).
Stephanie Allen has owned Butte & Company for 25 years. She has never seen the early summer this lean and admits with a scaled-down summer resort presence from CBMR, she is “pretty scared. While Elk Ave. seems to be bustling, we see tumbleweeds.”
CBMR officials announced last week that it would begin spinning the Silver Queen on Friday, June 26. “A limited summer footprint will focus on mountain access and scenic lift rides,” said CBMR spokesperson Will Shoemaker.
That limited summer footprint is a deciding factor in at least one business not opening on the mountain this summer. The Crested Butte Burger Company depends on volume and is concerned that visitor volume will be much lower than last year.
“Our super-affordable prices are based on a high volume business model,” explained the Burger Company’s Ben Breslauer. “The decreased level of recreation opportunities, biking especially, that the resort is offering this summer doesn’t align with our projections. We will hope to get rolling for ski season the week prior to Thanksgiving.”
Todd Barnes of the Avalanche Bar and Grill said it is like going back in time 15 years. “It’s tough,” he said. “Summer has always been a struggle and it will always be a struggle up here but this summer is even tougher.” Barnes will attempt a reduced summer schedule opening July 1 with a “short menu” available Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. He can seat up to 50 people in the restaurant under current coronavirus restrictions.
Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick agrees that the summer tourism season is starting off slow.
“Mt. Crested Butte is normally asleep from the closing of lifts in April until early June. This year the reawakening has been a bit slower,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are very few visitors around. We do not have any restrictions other than Gunnison County’s latest Public Health Order. We do have two major-size banners up supporting the wearing of masks and social distancing and thanking our visitors for helping. And our town tennis courts and exercise trail in the Town Park are open with warning signs about COVID-19. We do not have public space to overflow into for business but we are discussing with CBMR and the businesses and property owners as to what may be possible, given any liquor license challenges and joint use of space.”
Fitzpatrick said some second homeowners have showed up and while he hasn’t heard much about lodging reservations for July he is aware of increasing reservations in August and September.
Allen said restrictions in Mt. Crested Butte are the same as everywhere else in the county. “We have sanitizing stations, free masks, good signage. Last week, I was excited and relieved when Vail announced their summer plans for CBMR. I’ve had a crew of nine people working since mid-May, putting away ‘winter’ at both stores and getting ready for what will be our new-normal type of summer.”
Dave Wilkins of The Divvy restaurant said, like all businesses, he has had to pivot in an effort to keep cooking. “We have converted our table configuration to fit the requirements of the county order. Our indoor seating allows for a maximum of 23 people and our outdoor seating will fit 26,” he explained, noting his restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday starting at 4 p.m. “There is still plenty of space in the courtyard to enjoy the sun. We are currently providing all of our food in a take-away format, no matter if it’s dine-in or pick-up. However, we are also providing plates and silverware when guests are seated to dine-in. We are focused on providing a quick pick-up/take-out service across all dishes and cocktails we offer. Our plan is to execute a new mountain delivery service throughout the base area.
“We are working with the town of Mt. Crested Butte to get creative on how we can drive business to the Base Area,” Wilkins continued. “One of these options is allowing live music in the courtyard, while following COVID guidelines. On our own accord, we are shooting a promotional video to show what activities and services are still available. Let’s hope for a great summer and that everyone respects the regulations of the county when it comes to the COVID situation. These are weird times in the world but I am happy to still be cooking food and serving the mountain enthusiasts.”
For CBMR, hiking will be permitted at the resort, as will scenic chairlift rides on Queen. As for biking, mountain bikes will not be loaded on the lifts. “Guests are free to ride some trails on the mountain this summer and should know that this is entirely at their own risk,” Shoemaker emphasized.
Allen has Butte & Company open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Elevate (the hotel retail and bike rental store) open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. “Every summer, we do our Epic Summer Sale. We work with reps in the ski industry to bring in next year’s samples, overruns, and sell everything at 50 percent off all summer, including tons of summer wear. It’s super fun and hopefully will draw people up to the mountain. Our bike shop has the newest and coolest bikes for rent, as well. I’m optimistic and ready to go. Now we just need people to know that Mt. Crested Butte is open and ready for business,” Allen summarized.
Wilkins from The Divvy is partnering with the Elevation Hotel in another attempt to keep busy. “I started 2020 off with a new agreement with the Elevation Hotel to license the banquet kitchen space and also collaborate with them to execute their banquet and catering events,” he said. “Thanks to the space, I was able to keep my business alive during the town shutdown. I am also operating a catering service for events outside of Elevation Hotel. Small group business is picking up for banquet events at Elevation for the month of July, which is great news.”
Barnes is ready to pivot from his normal business as well and is considering trying more catering gigs with the Avalanche ribs, beans and slaw dinners.
Shoemaker said increased activities could open up as summer moves forward. “Additional activities may open as summer progresses and restrictions ease,” he said. “Luckily, on mountain, our vast outdoor setting provides an environment to experience nature and practice physical distancing.”
The town will have some activity this summer on the development side. “The paving of the parking lot at Treasury and Gothic is moving forward with good progress and the new public toilets should be open by fall,” said Fitzpatrick. “The upgrades to Gothic Road from Marcellina Lane to Prospect Drive are moving forward with detours and delays expected into the fall. This work also includes the extension of the Recreation Path from Winterset to the Snodgrass trailhead. When finished we will have a concrete Recreation Path from Elk Avenue to Snodgrass Trailhead with National Forest access.”
Fitzpatrick has resigned himself to a likely slow summer season for 2020 but is holding his breath for next winter. “My main concern is a second wave of the virus, how big will it be, when will it be and will it impact winter 2020-2021, which we must have,” he concluded. “We are not expecting much out of summer 2020 as far as the economy goes, but again the winter 2020-2021 must open up.”
Shoemaker cannot say what the winter season will hold for the ski resort. “We believe this summer will provide a good opportunity to evaluate our procedures on a smaller scale so we can make any necessary adjustments for winter,” he said. “In everything we do, we want to prioritize the safety of our guests and ensure they are having a good experience.”