7 reasons to fall in love with Crested Butte this winter


Crested Butte Mountain Resort might be the birthplace of inbounds extreme skiing but there are plenty more incredible ways to enjoy winter’s wonder in the Elk Mountains and Gunnison Valley. Plus, the valley is chock-full of record-setting instructors and guides to help you stay safe and have fun along the way. It’s likely that someone in your group will head to the Butte for the slopes, but here are seven other ways travelers and locals alike enjoy the snowy season in this corner of southwest Colorado.

Fly fishing with guide Erica Nelson, host of the Awkward Angler podcast, in winter near Crested Butte. (Courtesy of Erica Nelson)
Guide Erica Nelson, host of the Awkward Angler podcast, shows off a fish from a winter fly-fishing trip near Crested Butte. (Courtesy of Erica Nelson)

Winter fly fishing

Perhaps counterintuitive, winter can be one of the most serene times to cast a line. The metabolism of fish slows down and they don’t move as aggressively, plus there are fewer anglers on the water than in the peak of summer. Not every section of river freezes and some locations are open for fishing year-round including along the Gunnison Valley’s Taylor River, a world-renowned trophy fishery in the ancestral lands of the Ute, where local Diné fly-fishing guide Erica Nelson first taught me to fly fish — donned in down jackets beneath our waders.

“Toss it like you mean it! But not too fast,” Nelson reminded me — right before the two flies caught the tippet and my semi-fluid overhead cast whiplashed through the air, forging a giant ball of knots. “Now you’re fishing!” Nelson laughed, helping me feel at ease with my clumsy technique, which is part of the process. Nelson helps celebrate the less lustrous parts of being on the water through her Awkward Angler Instagram (@awkwardangler) platform and podcast, a hilarious, insightful, and unapologetically authentic storytelling platform. She also elevates important, often challenging and stigmatized, human stories on the water.

An Orvis-endorsed guide, Nelson is an ambassador for Brown Folks Fishing, a national organization of anglers led by Black, Indigenous and people of color to lower barriers of access to the sport. Nelson also cofounded REAL (Reconcile, Evolve, Advance, Lead) Consulting to address the racial equity and inclusion needs of organizations and has many clients in the outdoor industry, from Orvis to the Bowdoin College Outing Club. When Crested Butte received nearly 100 inches of snow over the course of a week last winter, Nelson was still fly fishing despite post-holing up to her waist to reach river water.
Reach out to her for a guided adventure through Willowfly Anglers;, 970-641-1303, email@3riversresort.com

Laysha Gutierrez, 9, of Longmont, enjoys sledding at Scott Carpenter Park in Boulder, Colorado on Dec. 30, 2015. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
Sledding is one of winter’s simplest pleasures. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)


If you and the kiddos or your closest pals want to head out for a simple day of sledding, one of the locals’ favorite hills is a hikeable, safe slope (meaning, it’s not in an avalanche danger zone) on the north end of town. It’s on the south side of Pyramid Avenue between Eighth Street and County Road 317. Another spot to go sledding is off Snodgrass Trailhead, but avoid driving there because the trailhead is crowded. Starting Nov. 24, the free Snodgrass Trailhead Shuttle operates throughout the ski season running every 60 minutes Monday through Thursday and every 30 minutes from Friday to Sunday. Catch the shuttle at Mountaineer Square, which is at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which you can reach from the town of Crested Butte via the Town Shuttle.
The Mountain Express.

Scenic flights with West Elk Air

Despite growing up in the region, I’d never done a scenic flight above the mountains I’ve been navigating by foot and bike for years. Thanks to a newly launched helicopter company, that fact changed last fall and was incredibly worthwhile. Raised and still based in Gunnison Valley, Peter Smith secured his pilot’s license 12 years ago at Bristow Academy, a commercial helicopter training school in Concord, Calif. Smith was introduced to the field through his uncle, a former Vietnam helicopter pilot.

During his two-year period at the academy, Smith earned private and commercial certificates as well as an instrument rating, which is essential for flying over mountainous areas and in variable weather. Over the past decade, all of Smith’s flight experience has been racked up over the peaks and valleys of the West. He has two fixed-wing planes, a Cessna 185 Skywagon and Cessna 180 Skywagon, and an Airbus As350 B3, the most powerful medium-sized helicopter that exists. The metal bird is built to operate at high altitude and performs heavy-duty work in the world’s highest mountains.


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