Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gunnison and Crested Butte

This weekend Chad and I are headed to one of my favorite destinations in Colorado - Gunnison and Crested Butte. N&M live in CB and Chad's brother Tyler lives in Gunnison (the cities are about half an hour or so apart) so not only will we be able to see everyone on our visit, N&M and I will also be able to check another 14er, Wetterhorn, off our list. Chad isn't too keen on hiking so it works out perfect that he can visit with Tyler all day in our absence. Since Chad went to college at Western State, which is in Gunnison, he is very familiar with the area and it is of course, a trip down memory lane for him. While we could fly directly from Denver, our dog Bebe is making the trip with us so we are opting to drive. In the pre-winter months the trek isn't too horrible from Denver and usually takes us about 4 hours.

I was first introduced to Gunnison and Crested Butte last February when Chad and I went for his Alumni Weekend. Every year, usually the second or third weekend of February, alumni's are offered discount lift tickets to Crested Butte and Monarch mtn. and given a chance to socialize at a BBQ. We stayed with his brother and his girlfriend Brandi in Gunnison where they live, then drove over to Crested Butte to ski that Saturday. I was instantly charmed with both towns. While Gunnison tends to get less snow on average, the streets of CB were lined with snow packs taller than me. I marveled at how, even in winter, people choose to bike everywhere over driving. Crested Butte is definitely a ski town but it's not hokey like Vail or Keystone where the main streets are lined with condo's and t-shirt shops. It snowed all day when we skied, and the terrain was challenging with the flat light (compounded by the fact I didn't know the mountain at all). However, most of the runs were practically empty and I was impressed by how short the lift lines were. Unique to CB was also the fact that they had an Ice Bar situated on the mountain where you could sit and drink and watch the snow fall.

Talking with the bartender at the ice bar I got a sense that mostly locals ski and board this mountain and they didn't have to deal with as many tourists as the other areas in Colorado. Crested Butte also didn't seem as wrapped up in the corporate world money making business that skiing has become. Just visit this mountain after visiting Vail, Keystone or Breckenridge and you will see what I mean.

(just look at those empty runs! On a SATURDAY!)

Crested Butte is also home to many other new favorite places of mine which can only be found in this tiny paradise of Colorado. One of those places is the Secret Stash. It's a gourmet pizza place with a Buddhist theme where Om symbols and Ganesh's line the walls and certain tables have you seated on pillows at floor level. The wait is extremely long in the tourist season (aka winter) but they are so nice they'll jot your cell phone number down and call you when your table is ready. The drinks are amazing and so is the pizza which makes it worth the wait (which you can spend at the Eldo bar next door which has even cheaper beer prices).

After dining at the Secret Stash walked over to an old miner's shack which had been converted into the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin. Since we were only visiting for apres dinner drinks we were seated in the back of the restaurant in a comfortable open booth where we had the whole area to ourselves. The walls were painted pink and had dogwoods painted all over them and there was nothing but dim candlelight illuminating the restaurant. While the cocktail cabin has everything from ice cream sandwiches (almond butter cookies, vanilla bean and sea salt ice cream and lavender caramel sauce) to a Tijuana speedball (tequil, kahula, baileys and espresso) on the menu we opted for the Absineth.

If you have never ordered Absinthe before it's quite the production. The waitress brings out the reservoir glasses filled with the spirit with absinthe spoons resting on top of them and a sugar cube on top of that. As you'll notice in the picture above there's also a large water container with four spigots. You place the glass underneath the spigot and turn on the water so it is at a constant drip over the sugar cube to dissolve it into the absinthe. The reason for this is that absinthe is not bottled with added sugar (therefor not classified as a liqueur) and though it is a high proof it is normally diluted with water in this way. Once the sugar has melted you remove the spoon and drink. The taste is almost that of black liquorish. While I didn't taste any of the food here last time, I am sure to return this visit even if it's just for signature cocktails and fondue.

My favorite breakfast eatery is at an unlikely spot - a gas station. Whenever I had heard Chad or his friends talk about "the gasser" or the Gas cafe I just thought that's what it was called. I didn't actually think the food source would be inside a gas station. Of course this is no ordinary gas station. They have tables and booths set up inside and stickers and magazine clippings all over the walls. A sign warns you not to stare at the cook unless you want to tip more (hey I wouldn't want to be treated like a circus animal either). The breakfast sandwiches are a favorite, and the place is almost always busy being a one stop shop (eat food, get gas is their moto) so it's best to call in your order ahead of time for pickup. After all they only have one cook running the show. I was turned on to the Burley by Chad which is Bacon, egg, cheese, and a hashbrown sandwiched between an english muffin. A surley is the same thing only instead of bacon it's sausage and a Hurley has ham instead. Get it? While it's certainly not healthy for you, it's great to eat before a day of skiing as it is the cheapest thing you'll find to buy and eat in town (there's no fast food joints anywhere to be seen).

If you like good coffee you won't find any place better than Camp4 which is a small license plate covered building in town. Like most of the establishments here, it tends to draw the crowds but I attribute this also to the fact that they hand press and grind their own beans prior to every order so each coffee is like a work of art. No rushing you in and out like Starbucks here. They also sell their coffee (buy the whole bean in a brown bag if you want the freshest stuff) and my personal favorite is the Sledgehammer. For a coffee that will keep you awake all day, this one delivers. My friend Malia just brought me back some Art of Darkness coffee from there and I have to say it's amazing as well. Just as good as sledgehammer but not as strong (which is a blessing because sometimes the sledgehammer is too much for me). On the cover of the bags you'll see Al, the guy who owns the place and who you might just see in the store running around as well.

I am beyond excited to spend the weekend there and feel so fortunate to have friends and family that live in such an amazing spot. We usually only make it to Gunnison/CB about once or twice a year but I hope to spend many more days there this winter. Besides skiing there is plenty to do there from snow shoeing to snowmobiling not to mention all the boutique shopping and the restaurants. I only hope that the snow hasn't come too soon and we will be able to summit Wetterhorn without any issues!

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