Jayson Simons-Jones, owner and lead guide of Crested Butte Mountain Guides, sent us this description of a favorite local stash: the Red Lady Bowl. “You can see tracks on it from anywhere in town, so it’s no secret,” Simons-Jones said. However, he added, “There are a half-dozen other, lesser-known routes up there that I won’t divulge unless I’m hired as a guide.”
If you visit Crested Butte and only have time for one backcountry ski tour, this is the one to do. A locals’ favorite for decades now, 12,392-foot Mt. Emmons, with its broad, flat summit and eye-catching, southeast-facing bowl, towers above this tiny ski town. A fiercely special peak in the hearts of this small local mountain community, Red Lady has been the target of one of the longest-running mining vs. preservation battles in the country.
A five-minute drive west of town on a paved 2WD road deposits you at the trailhead by the winter closure of the road to Kebler Pass. From here it is a 3,200-foot skin (approximately two hours) up either ridge flanking the large avalanche path below the bowl, following mellow, lower-angle aspen glades and open alpine meadows to the summit. The views from the skin track are incredible—once you break treeline you are staring straight at the bowl’s upper 700-foot pitch, at an average angle of 38°—alluring skiing, to say the least.
If avalanche conditions allow, it is a stunning straight shot off the summit down the gut of the mountain right back to your car, and five minutes from there to the heart of town for an après beverage of your choice. If avalanche conditions are a tad sketchy, dozens of lower-angle, open-glade runs are available on either side of the main bowl, taking you to various landing zones out on the Kebler Pass Road, where the car is a quick skate away on the frozen road.
The main bowl is usually skiable from December to early May, but the bottom fills in late and melts out early. For local avalanche conditions, visit the Crested Butte Avalanche Center. For backcountry ski conditions, check out Crested Butte Mountain Guides’ conditions page.