are we extreme yet?

Crested Butte Travel Blog

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"Are people still using that word?" questioned Tommy when I called him at Heckler magazine.  I needed a credentials letter faxed out to Crested Butte for the US Snowboarding Extremes, one of the longest running contests to employ the term.  I confessed that indeed people were, and it didn't seem to be going away anytime soon.  It was one of the curses of the 90's generation, which was perpetually desperate to claim they invented something new, anything,  rather than admit to recycling punk rock, goth, vert skating, and half a million other things that have now become a part of corporate culture in America.

Hell, I even became such a whore that the word was on my business card.  I hadn't even planned to be within a thousand miles of this event, but my friend Erik finally broke down my resistance by offering to sponsor my trip.  Media is a very powerful thing, and in this case it would get us free slopeside lodging and lift tickets, plus breakfast and lunch for the duration of the contest.  Erik would save so much money from my involvement that he could afford to pay all my other expenses.  I'd been couch surfing Tahoe all winter while writing and shooting photos, and beyond having used up most of the goodwill of everyone I knew, just having a nice bed for a week seemed reason enough to drive all the way to Colorado.

The trip flew by in a bizarre speed blur, and Erik was shocked to wake up in Grand Junction after having handed off to me in Salt Lake City.

  I woke up again as we cruised through the weird, bleak winter landscape around Gunnison, thinking that Colorado was not as pretty as I'd been led to believe.  Erik filled me in on his history in the area, which had involved a season and a half some seven years before.  We went to visit his old shack in Gunnison that he'd lived in his first year, and I was properly impressed.  He'd shared the cramped space with his friend Jed and a big dog, and survived the horrible isolation of "Gunny Rock" by drinking excessively.  After two months he freaked out and moved back to Santa Cruz.

A glutton for punishment, he came back the next year with a girlfriend and lived up at the resort.  It was these memories of regular sex and a walk to the lifts that was fresher in his mind, so he'd remained somewhat wistful about Crested Butte over the years.  Between his desire to come back to his old stomping grounds and my desire to sleep comfortably, we both tried to block from our mind the insanity of leaving a 200" snow base to come to a jagged outcropping blessed with a little more than 50".

  We still had no confirmation that our hotel was set up, and Erik began worrying me by mentioning alternate possibilities if they hadn't set us up.  I suspected that the bastard had lied to me about the whole free situation.

We were a day early, and because our room request had only been received a few days before, the lady in Marketing had nothing ready for us that night.  In addition, it would cost us her press rate of $35 a night rather than being free.  When Erik feebly mentioned he'd been led to believe the lodging would be gratis, she said that the fax from Heckler had only said to help us however she could and that was all the help she could give us. Big period.  Seeing that the rooms were normally $180 we figured that was just fine, especially after she busted her butt on the phone making sure that she could get us into one right away.

The room turned out to be a strange handicapped unit in the Sheraton with one bed, a living area with a roll out, and two televisions.

  The bathroom had a huge handicapped shower with rails but no shelves for soap or shampoo.  The ground floor view was of a construction zone.  We decided the Sheraton had strange ideas of what kinds of needs the handicapped had.  The next day we asked for a room change and got promoted to a regular room on the fourth floor with a view of the peak.  We were living large....extremely large.

After a day of riding icy bumps and groomers, we figured out that pretty much everything was extreme at Crested Butte.  It seemed they couldn't boast enough about how burly they were.  The bus stop was at the No Limits Center, the steepest terrain was called the Outer Limits, and the word "extreme" was featured in about every third word in resort material.  Something like:

 “The extreme terrain of Crested Butte will appeal to the extremely rich Texans with extremely inflated ideas of the importance of their extremely big and extremely boring state who come with extremely big wallets to enjoy our extreme skiing and extreme cuisine and nightlife.

Coming from Tahoe the most overused word of the season was "sick", and I soon discovered at Crested Butte that their most overused word for the season was "bony".  A look of bitterness came into the eyes of locals when Erik blithely mentioned what an incredible winter we were having.  In choked voices they said "yeah, we've heard" with a note of warning that they didn't want to hear any more.

Without a doubt, Crested Butte does have some of the most technical steeps of any resort in the US, but without sufficient coverage many of them become impossibly hairy.  Access to the best terrain is the most interesting part.  To keep barneys out of the places where  they might get hurt (and to avoid spending any more money), the resort has steadfastly maintained T-bar and POMA lifts to all the upper and outer terrain.

  For people who like riding up with an extremely big rod between their legs, the Butte is the place.  What becomes ridiculous is the number of lifts you have to take to get back to the top of an 800' steeps run.  It's usually a minimum of three.

As far as the competition, it was more or less the same story as other extremes contests I've been to.  They tell you not to huck, people huck anyway, flail more often than not, and get rewarded hugely for their efforts.  Technical steeps riding is far more suited to skiing, and that's part of the reason why extreme contests attract most of the world's best skiers but few of snowboarding's elite.  Difficult technical descents in icy steeps on a snowboard rarely look very good, and judges don't comprehend their difficulty.  Judges understand hucking, because that's what snowboarders do best. Erik couldn't help but going off on a rant when asked by a television interviewer what extreme meant to him.

"I'm so sick of that word.  I just wish they could call these things freeriding contests.  Extreme is like in France where if you screw up, you die."

"That's an extreme attitude," said the cameraman, when Erik had finished.

I missed my best opportunity for extreme sex on the way home from dinner one night on the public bus.  A cute yet somewhat vapid local girl was sitting beside me talking with her friends, and she got on my wrong side to start with by telling me I looked like the star of the movie "Powder".  Toward the end of the trip she elbowed me.  I was slow to turn around because I thought there were better ways to get my attention.

"Hey, I elbowed you," she complained.

"So you did," I replied. 

"Well, you didn't respond."

"I turned around, didn't I?"

"Not fast enough.  I demand attention right away or nothing."

I turned back around, indicating nothing would do.  Even girls' pick-up techniques were extreme in Crested Butte.

The event wound up pretty quietly, with the awards night relatively subdued.  The skiers had filled the Sheraton heated pool and hot tub and partied 'til the bitter end, but this snowboarding crowd just didn't have it in them.  Erik went around with one of his prizes, a hideous new Miller Genuine Draft snowboard, asking if he could pay anyone to take it off his hands.  Some genius at Miller had come up with the idea of labeling the topsheet on tip and tail with the inexplicable slogan "IT'S TIME TO KICK YOUR FRIEND'S ASS....AGAIN".

On the way out the next day, the fresh coating of snow made everything a lot more beautiful than it had been before. We saw a few bald eagles near the fish hatchery, and gaped at the awesome backcountry.  With three more feet of snow waiting for us in Tahoe, though, we were in no hurry to hang around.  We drove extremely fast toward home.

walterman9999 says:
Kebler Pass free camping (no services)(summer only)
Buy a map of the Gunnison Nat. Forest. From Crested Butte go west on the Kebler Pass Road. After you enter the forest service any place to pull off the road is your own private free camp. There are a few clearly marked fee camping areas, minimal cost and very nice. Keep going and cross Kebler Pass 10,000 feet then go downhill. This is where the most beautiful areas start. Go into the blue spruce and aspen stands and pick out a nice pulloff in the trees for your own private free camping. Please observe fire restrictions. The next day continue west and the road will take you to CO 133.
Posted on: Dec 14, 2013
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Crested Butte
photo by: walterman9999