Closing Week at Telluride and Crested Butte, April 2019
by Jim Kenney
l'm a long-time denizen of the Mid-Atlantic, but I've spent the second half of the winter of 2019 living and skiing in the Rockies. This winter has been very snowy almost everywhere in US ski country and I've enjoyed good conditions in Colorado, Montana, and Utah. After spending most of March in Utah I took a trip with my wife and son during the first week of April to two fine resorts in southwestern Colorado, Telluride and Crested Butte.
To say the ski conditions were good for the month of April at both resorts would be an extreme understatement. There was a deep snowpack on the slopes, in the towns of Telluride and Crested Butte, and all around the surrounding region. April of 2019 was still seriously WHITE in the mountains of southwestern Colorado and it was hard to believe it was closing week at both resorts. They could have easily stayed open another month.
When we made the seven hour drive from Salt Lake City to Telluride it was through rural areas, very rural. The only sign of life was passing through Moab, UT where cyclists, RVers, ATVers, hikers, and sightseers were out in force to enjoy activities in temperate spring weather. But as we continued to Telluride on a Tuesday night in early April the road was so quiet I had second thoughts about the wisdom of leaving excellent ski conditions in Utah to travel to a mountain I had never skied before in my life?
We arrived in Telluride in the dark, but the next morning when we awoke there was three inches of new snow and it continued to snow on and off during the day, totalling perhaps seven new inches. It skied twice that deep on some of the upper aspects of the mountain. I don't think the temperature ever broke 30 degrees. It was like a February storm day, but there were no people. The crowds in the morning were nada/zip/zero. It was possibly the quietest I'd ever seen a major ski area.
Scoping out Crystal slope on Black Iron Ridge, photo by Jim Kenney
My son and I rode the two chairs out of town including the very long Plunge lift, then bounced from chair to chair trying to find the best snow and visibility. It was the first day ever for either of us at Telluride. We rode the Prospect chair and took a short hike to ski a black diamond slope called Crystal in Black Iron Bowl. We soon discovered the excellent advanced terrain off the Gold Hill chair and found a very fluffy cornice in Chute 1. We also did a few runs in Revelation Bowl in mixed visibility before stopping for a calzone lunch at Elk Pizza in the Mountain Village.
Heading into Gold Hill Chute 1, photo by Jim Kenney
After lunch the visibility cleared for a while and we returned to the Revelation chair for a bunch of runs in what felt like more than a foot of powder. Some locals joined us, but the competition for first tracks was still pleasantly light. At 3PM dense clouds set-in and I actually had a moment of vertigo trying to return to the lower mountain. I joked to myself that See Forever trail should be renamed See Four Feet. But I no longer had any misgivings about the trip. It had been awesome to experience a major resort on a nice snow day with so few others!
Revelation Bowl, photo by Jim Kenney
Thursday, April 4th at Telluride was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures around 30 degrees. I returned to Revelation Bowl and it was even better than the day before because of the improved visibility. I hiked to Gold Hill Chute 6, which took me about 20-25 minutes. I'm sure locals do it much faster, in fact there were many folks continuing higher to a wicked looking set of steps toward Palmyra Peak, elevation 13,320'. Chute 6 was excellent and while hiking there I really enjoyed the scenery including a good look at legendary San Juan Chute, which was being skied by numerous backcountry skiers during the day.
Climbing Gold Hill, photo by Jim Kenney
Looking back at Chute 6, left-center, photo by Jim Kenney
Later in the day my son and wife joined me for a great lunch in the Mountain Village at Altezza Restaurant in The Peaks hotel. The food was good and the view from their dining room was superb. There was a Nordic trail layout below the hotel and my wife and I took advantage of it for a short snowshoe trek after lunch. Later I skied some groomers off the Village and Polar Queen chairs. There was a live bluegrass band entertaining a small crowd outside the mid-mountain Gorrono Ranch Restaurant. It was a nice finish to a spectacularly beautiful spring ski day.
View from Altezza, photo by Jim Kenney
We had exactly one night to gain an impression of the town of Telluride. We ate a simple meal at Baked in Telluride, a bakery/sandwich shop that was quite affordable. We walked the streets a bit before dusk and the steep canyon scenery boxing in the town is as pretty as a picture. Telluride reminded me of Aspen from a few decades ago, except the hippies now had snow white hair and there was a new category of retail establishments called dispensaries.
Strolling in Telluride, by Jim Kenney
It takes about 3.5 hours to drive from Telluride to Crested Butte and it is not a particularly difficult route. Our first day at Crested Butte was Friday, April 5. It was a sunny day, although the off-piste terrain was firm in the morning so I stuck to various groomed runs off the Paradise and East River chairs. I connected with my son Vince around 11 AM when things were softening and we did back-to-back black diamond runs off the two T-Bars at Crested Butte, skiing the Headwall off the High T-Bar and the North Face off the North Face T-Bar.
View of the Headwall at Crested Butte, photo by Jim Kenney
Around 1:45 PM we took the High T-Bar again and when we saw other hikers, we spontaneously decided to climb the peak of Crested Butte at 12,162'. A younger, fitter person can do it in 10 minutes, but it's rather steep and took me closer to 20. It was worth it. The 360 degree views were gorgeous and we shared the 20' by 20' pinnacle with about ten other folks including some children.
Selfie from the Summit of Crested Butte, photo by Jim Kenney
Dropping in from the summit, photo by Jim Kenney
After a few selfies we made a challenging run of almost 3000 vertical feet to the main base area by curving around the side of the mountain and taking a long, steep chute called Funnel with a big cliff on one edge of it.
Funnel was fun, photo by Jim Kenney
Saturday was another mild day and was highlighted by the annual closing weekend Pond Skim. Dozens of skiers and boarders took the dare. My wife and I had a great time observing the afternoon festivities for more than an hour with a high spirited crowd. Two time World Extreme Skiing Champion Wendy Fisher was one of the judges. It was a fun event enjoyed by youngsters, old-timers, locals, and visitors.
Pond Skim festivities, photo by Jim Kenney
Sunday, April 7th was closing day at Crested Butte and ironically, probably the first true spring ski day of the trip with the entire mountain in soft and friendly snow conditions for most of the day. Vince and I skied all over. The vast majority of Crested Butte's black diamond terrain was open for the final day and skiing wonderfully in all its sun-drenched glory.
View of Crested Butte peak from Silver Queen chair, photo by Jim Kenney
Many skiers/boarders were dressed in elaborate costumes from every imaginable animal, to Uncle Sam, to numerous evil-looking bearded pixies in tutus. There were so many party animals on the hill that it looked like someone opened the gates of the local zoo. I really enjoyed the friendly locals at Crested Butte and it was obvious a big contingent of students from nearby Western Colorado University were out to enjoy closing weekend.
CB locals know how to unwind, photo by Jim Kenney
We had time to check out the town of Crested Butte and liked it. We got a great breakfast at the Paradise Cafe. The town has a certain quaintness, but folks seemed quite friendly. I liked the youthful vibe the resort exhibited due to the many nearby college students on the hill.
Everybody has a good time at Crested Butte, photo by Jim Kenney
Both Telluride and Crested Butte are well-run resorts. Both were in unbeliveably good shape for April. I felt fortunate that I was able to visit them and really enjoyed the light crowds and friendly atmosphere. If Telluride is the drop-dead gorgeous movie star, then Crested Butte is the attractive and eager-to-please prom queen.
Telluride, San Juan Chute to left, Palmyra Peak (elev 13,320') to right, photo by Jim Kenney
On the drive back from Crested Butte to Salt Lake City we made a 40 mile detour to visit Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah. There we were surrounded by hikers in shorts and t-shirts in 70 degree temperatures. It was surreal, but beautiful. The climate in this part of the US is amazing.
Dead Horse Point State Park, photo by Jim Kenney
I guess it's hard to tout the unequivocal benefits of a late spring ski trip to this corner of Colorado. There is no doubt that closing week 2019 at Telluride and Crested Butte featured ski conditions that were far better than average. But I think the light crowds, good affordability, and the opportunity to share the joy of skiing/boarding with locals getting in their last licks would be an annual attraction for the season finale. And if there's another snow year like 2019 - visiting here in April is a no brainer!
Featured Colorado Closing Week at Telluride and Crested Butte, April 2019
- closing week
- crested butte mountain resort
- crested butte ski area
- crystal slope on black iron ridge
- gorrono ranch restaurant
- headwall at crested butte
- jim kenney
- silver queen chair
- ski areas closing week
- ski colorado
- skiing southwestern colorado
- spring skiing
- telluride mountain village
- telluride ski area
Nice TR. I only have skied CB and that was in a lean year. Maybe those areas will join the 'late closing' areas soon. Lack of visitors is generally the reason for closing. A mixed blessing. No crowds mean no lifts running.
Dead Horse is a popular jumping off point for the White Rim Trail that circumnavigates the mesa that forms the heart of Canyonlands Nat Park. Did you notice the Shafer Canyon Road that goes from the top of the mesa to the White Rim? It is a real gut-wrenching descent on bikes.
I coulda told ya about Crested Butte, but you'dve thought I was bragging. G and I lived there winters and skied it for 19 years, through thick and thin, and as you saw it's a fine ski area and a great town. Telluride should be skied by everyone who enjoys snow and scenery, it's another great ski town. We chose CB over Telluride 20 years ago as we had family there, but either place would have been about as perfect for us as any ski area could have been.
Even in lean years, the snowpack in Colorado tends to be at, or close to its maximum at normal closing. Few folk are there, you may have surprise, and deep, powder experiences, and the warmer temperatures and higher sun angles make for some great corn skiing. It's a shame so many people ski when the conditions are marginal in November/early December yet abandon the sport when they are at, or close to, the best of the season.
MikeKneale Brownson likes this.
I'm late to the reading party but great trip report Jim! I never noticed how much of a mini me Vince was to you until I see that photo of you both with the helmets on there. Love that you manage to get away with Vince like that on trips. With my kids both married and having kids young it's not been possible for me. I did manage to get a weekend in Whistler over my birthday with my youngest son last year, nothing like a few days with my son as an adult.