Crested Butte Mountain Resort may have 80 family-friendly blue and green runs, but the resort is truly renowned for “The Extreme Limits” or “ The Extremes.” This famously steep, tight, technical terrain, located in the upper reaches of the resort and accessed by t-bars, is on par with North America’s most challenging, including Jackson Hole, Whistler Blackcomb, Revelstoke, Alta and Snowbird. In fact, Crested Butte is one of the birthplaces of extreme or big-mountain skiing, hosting competitions as early as 1991.
Throughout our 40-plus years in the ski biz, the Ski.com Staff and our Mountain Travel Experts have made the five-hour winter trek from Aspen to Crested Butte many times. Over the years, we’ve been able to conquer a good portion of the Extremes. Most of the Extremes runs are not marked on the trail map, so we combined our knowledge with that of some local skiers to provide the inside scoop what to expect, how to conquer the terrain and where to go to get the best of Crested Butte’s Extremes.
Everything you’ve heard about the Extremes is true. There are a lot of rocky, 39- to 47-degree pitches with technical features throughout, like tight trees, pillows and a range of small to massive cliff drops. If you’re willing to play ball with this kind of terrain, the rewards are boundless. Ticking the Extremes from your list, which is nearly impossible in one trip, puts you in a class that most skiers or snowboarders will never touch. However, be sure you’re a strong enough skier or rider to stay in control in this uber-steep environment. Your vacation can go from hero to zero if you take a big tumble.
There’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to ski the steeps, according to PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America). Here’s the right way:
- Be aggressive. Move your weight to the front of the ski by pulling your feet back and under.
- Have a good grip on the snow. Tip your toes in concert with moving the body forward.
- Strong leg steering. This helps keep speed under control and maintained for the next turn.
- Good pole planting. This will stabilize the body for the new turn initiation.
Pick out the right gear
Unless it’s a powder day, stick with all-mountain skis when heading into the Extremes. The variety and technical nature demands that you have a versatile ski or snowboard. Your Mountain Travel Expert can help you get all-mountain performance rentals or demos set up, so you don’t have to spend the extra time. All-mountain skis feature:
- An 85-105mm waist width: 85-95mm is better for harder conditions, while 95-105mm is best for softer snow or variable conditions.
- A medium radius or multi-radius sidecut, so it’s easier to carve a variety of turn sizes.
- Traditional camber and some form of rocker, which provides better handling and turn initiation in variable conditions.
Get to the goods
The Extremes includes four main zones, accessed by two t-bars. The North Face area, Spellbound Bowl and Third Bowl are all accessed via North Face Lift, while Headwall, Teocalli Bowl and Teo 2 and the Peak are accessed via The High Lift.
Editor’s Note: We did our best to provide you with an accurate picture of The Extremes, but don’t hesitate to ask a local or a liftie if you’re still unsure of how to access specific terrain. They’re some of the friendliest ski-town locals around and are happy to help you have the best and safest experience possible.
Here’s a breakdown, by zone, of some of the best runs in The Extremes:
One of the most iconic views in all of Crested Butte is the jutting peak that rises from the resort. What’s even cooler is that the terrain off the Peak, closest to the Silver Queen chairlift, is skiable. Often closed for avalanche safety, Banana requires some advanced traversing, but the views and the 2,000-foot descent are worth the effort.
Headwall area is one of the most reachable of The Extremes. Located above Paradise Express and accessed by The High Lift, Headwall features a variety of options, including long, chalky gullies and technical, rock-peppered chutes, which lead into a wide, open powder field (or mogul field depending on conditions).
To get to the most challenging area, head to Angle Gully, the large rocky zone in the middle of the face. From the top of The High Lift t-bar, follow signs to Headwall and then cruise along the ridgeline to skier’s right. After a couple hundred yards of turns, you’ll be on top of the action. Drop in over the wind lip to get into the chute or snake around the right side for an easier entrance. Here, you’ll find plenty of rocks to circumnavigate or jump over.
Powder 8 Gully
From the t-bar, follow signs to Headwall and drop down into the halfpipe-like terrain on the left, making your way to Triangle Alley (aka Headwall proper), cut right onto the traverse and drop into the gully below. You’ll know you’re in Powder 8 because you’ll see rocks on your right and trees on your left.
Teocalli Bowl + Teo 2
In Teocalli Bowl, you can enjoy whatever stripe of steep skiing calls your name. Skier’s left offers straight, fall-line shots, like Teo Tongue, and some steep glades. Down the middle provides a host of cliffs and rocks to jump off of and the opportunity to hit up some technical tree skiing at the bottom. Head skier’s right to test out CB’s newest terrain, Teo 2, which features 40 acres of open powder fields and trees, and funnels skiers to a bench above the Wolf’s Lair, an open powder field that provides some seriously big (non-mandatory) cliff drops at the top. If you take Teo 2, you’ll have a 20- to 30-minute hike from the bottom back to the lifts.
A steep-and-deep paradise, the North Face zone is a great area to warm up on or lap all day, progressively increasing the challenge.
North Face Cliffs
From the North Face t-bar, follow the signs to the North Face and cut right on a traverse through the trees. Without a good base depth, North Face Cliffs is not recommend, but when snowfall has been plentiful, it’s possible to send up to 50-foot cliffs. If going big isn’t your thing, High Notch and Hard Slab offer smaller 10-foot drops or a 300-foot, cliff-free powder descent. High Notch is skier’s left of the big cliffs and Hard Slab is left of High Notch.
Take Hawk’s Nest to Sock-It-To-Me Ridge. If you’ve had enough, here’s your opportunity to bail. Ski far left down Last Steep and hop on the traverse back to Paradise Express. If you’re roaring and ready to go, head skier’s left for Cesspool, right for Sock-It-To-Me and stay straight for Little Hour Glass, which is the hairiest of all with five- to 15-foot mandatory airs and narrow 49-degree chutes.
Spellbound + Third Bowl
Requiring a traverse through the woods from the top of North Face t-bar and a 10-plus-minute hike, Spellbound and Third Bowl are not the easiest areas to get to, but the lack of skier traffic and unrivaled terrain make up for it. It’s also possible to access the lower Spellbound terrain via a gate on the North Face side.
Note: Depending on snowfall, this zone, particularly Third Bowl, typically opens up later in the season or, sometimes, not at all. In the event of a snow storm, these areas open to public access last.
Staircase | Spellbound
Featuring a mixed bag of features, the Staircase runs all have one thing in common: they’re all steep, and a tree, cliff or rock is usually nearby, so skiers or riders venturing into this area must be calculated and under control. For some technical pillow drops head skier’s left into Slot Rocks. Be sure to stay on the left side along the trees. If you drift right, you’ll be faced with a mandatory air ranging from five to 15 feet. For some steeps, speckled with trees, head to Body Bag on skier’s right. The most direct route is down the actual Staircase run, which is a 47-degree and 575-vertical-foot gully.
East L.A. | Third Bowl
Located just beneath the Third Bowl entrance, East L.A. is a great spot for a range of moderate to challenging pillow drops and it’s home to the resort’s most famous cliff, Space Rock, a 30-foot drop into an open powder field. There are a lot of ways to ski down East L.A. After your first descent, look back up at the terrain and pick out a new route for the next lap.
Toilet Bowl | Third Bowl
Starting out decently wide, Toilet Bowl narrows to a choke. Keep your speed under control, as a traverse sits below the exit. To get into Toilet Bowl, side step left towards the cliff sign after you’ve come out of the woods. Right will take you into Spellbound.
Now that you’re armed with some insight on how to experience Crested Butte’s Extremes, book your trip to make it a reality. Our 65+ Mountain Travel Experts can help you customize and book your flights, rental cars, lodging and more. They’re standing by at 800-610-8911. You can also get started by filling out a form for a free custom quote.
Director of SEO + Content
Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now living in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com as Director of SEO + Content, I've been able to combine a litany of skills, passions and interests. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.