One of my favorite aspects about Crested Butte is the history that surrounds it- after all it’s a national historic district. For me, knowing the history of this amazing place I call home gives me a deeper connection to it. And of course I love skiing, so what better way to look forward to the upcoming ski season than by looking back at the history of skiing in this valley.
The history of skiing in Crested Butte and Gunnison is long and extensive. Like many mountain towns, the first skiers were local miners who brought skiing with them from their home countries in Europe. Crested Butte’s most famous skier from this era was Al Johnson, a local mail carrier who now has an annual uphill-downhill event named after him.
As the mines faded away, residents began skiing for recreation, rather than simply as a mode of transportation. The first ski area in the area was Cupola Hill near Western State Colorado University, which ran from the 20’s through the 50’s. East of Gunnison, near the tiny town of Whitepine, the local mining company ran a ski area from 1946 to 1952. The Works Progress Administration opened Sagebrush Hill, west of Gunnison in 1936, but that was just a preamble to the most famous local ski area other than Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
Pioneer Ski Area opened in 1939, a couple of miles up Cement Creek from present day Crested Butte South. Up until this time, skiers used rope tows to get back up the hill. The Pioneer ski area reclaimed an old mining tram from Cumberland Pass, so when Pioneer opened in 1939, it boasted Colorado’s first chairlift, known as “the Comet”. (Sun Valley, Idaho had the nation’s first chairlift in 1937). Pioneer operated until 1953, and the runs are still visible from the Cement Creek area, as well as on Google Earth:
Other areas of note include Pershing, which operated from 1950-1952, and Rozman Hill, just south of Crested Butte. Rozman Hill operated from 1949-1963, only closing after Crested Butte Mountain Resort opened during the 1961-62 season. Today, Crested Butte has grown to include 15 lifts covering over 1500 acres, and a vertical drop of over 3,000 feet. The town of Mount Crested Butte has grown around the modern day ski area, and condos surrounding the ski area are more affordable than many other ski areas: Use this link to view real estate in Mount Crested Butte.