‘Butte’ back after slump

Shannon Armstrong

Crested Butte, nestled about 150 miles southwest of Vail in the Elk Mountain Range of Gunnison County, is one of Colorado’s original mining towns, first settled in the mid-1880s as a supply camp.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort is also one of the older ski areas in the state, opening the same year as Vail, 1961. Since the early 1970s Crested Butte Mountain Resort has been owned and operated by the Callaway and Walton families from Atlanta, Ga., and is famed for having some of the most extreme skiing in North America.

The first X-Games were held in Crested Butte and it’s home to the annual Extreme Freeskiing and U.S. Extreme Boarderfest championships. The Mountain Biking Hall of Fame is in the town of Crested Butte and any mountain biker knows the mountain has some of the best terrain in the world.

But over the last several years, due to low snowfall and minimal real estate development, Crested Butte has continued to lose skiers, particularly those staying overnight in local hotels.

This, compounded by years of contention between the town of Crested Butte and the Crested Butte Mountain Resort – often due to rancorous debate as to how and when real estate development should proceed – Crested Butte slowly slipped into a quiet depression. As much as the Callaways and Waltons wanted to improve the ski mountain, they were hamstrung by lack of revenue.

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Local environmental groups in the area have been very vocal, participating aggressively in the discussions over how and when development should proceed in the valley. Their views have often conflicted with the resort’s vision.

These factors have hindered the growth of Crested Butte. But after several years of financial struggle and the closing of many shops and restaurants, most locals are now in agreement that some development is necessary for survival.

Over a year ago, the resort was on track to sell but negotiations fell through, much to the disappointment of many residents. So on March 1, when Crested Butte Mountain Resort sold to Tim and Diane Mueller of Ludlow, Vt., they were welcomed into the community with open arms.

The Muellers own Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont – one of the largest and most successful ski and golf resorts in the East – as well as Mount Sunapee Resort in Newberry, N.H. They have a strong track record of reinvigorating struggling ski resorts.

“The Muellers have done a first-class job elsewhere, and they’ll do it here, too,” says Tom Filchner, a former councilman in Mt. Crested Butte, which is just up the mountain from the town of Crested Butte.

“They are business people, but they’re sensitive to the environmental issues of the area and they want to see reasonable development,” he says.

One of the Mueller’s first plans is to expand the intermediate skiing on Crested Butte, he says.

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