Lodge at Moujntaineer Square in Crested Butte CO

Like any conscientious young Mom, Diane Mueller carefully dressed her toddler to go out in the snow — snowsuit, hat, mittens. But as soon as they got out the door, the little girl started complaining that her feet were cold.

Mueller couldn’t understand why — until she looked down at Heidi’s feet. “I forgot to put on her boots,” she laughed, more than 20 years later. That little girl, by the way, is now a member of the US Snowboarding team.

Mueller and her husband Tim are the owners of Crested Butte Mountain Resort as well as Okemo in Vermont and Sunapee in New Hampshire. Unlike the corporations that own so many ski resorts, the Muellers know better than most how much work a ski vacation can be for families. They’re also new grandparents. This resort is very much a family affair with son Ethan part of the management. But at a time when many successful business people would be slowing down, the Muellers have embarked on a $200 million expansion of this unique resort.

The first phase is the new Lodge at Mountaineer Square and the Mountaineer Conference Center where we’re staying, just steps from the lifts.
The lodge and conference center wrap around a cozy courtyard, in which guests can find visitor services, dining and shopping. Here the Crested Butte Adventure Center serves as the “resort concierge,” a one-stop shopping venue.

But refinements will touch all areas of the resort, including renovation of the former Club Med, now the upscale Elevation Hotel. There are on-mountain improvements too and planning is in the works for the construction of the Red Lady Lodge.

The Muellers aim to position Crested Butte — with its unique town of Victorian buildings that has just been designated one of just a dozen distinctive destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation — as a destination for families seeking something different and willing to travel a little further to try it.

Certainly it’s going to be more upscale — and skiing isn’t a cheap sport with ski school running over $100 a day and lift tickets $79. The Muellers hope it’s the people who can afford Aspen and Vail but want something different — something unpretentious and real. “It’s our playground at the end of the road,” says Tim Mueller.

And locals here want to share it with visitors. Certainly the picturesque town of Crested Butte, just a few miles down the mountain, is unique with its Victorian wooden authentic 19th Century buildings that make the town one of Colorado’s largest historic districts. That said, there are plenty of shops and restaurants. But the key is no one is very pretentious here. You don’t see many fur coats. “It’s not a put on, Everyone really is nice,” says Noel Adam, whose shop, Zachariah Zypp, has been in business for more than three decades. “People will be nice whether you buy something or not,” he says. “They just want to show you what they’ve found here.”

So the Muellers hope to attract the families who will appreciate that ambiance — and of course a terrific mountain. This season, incidentally, they’ve gotten more snow than in 20 years, with piles in town as high as rooftops.

Most striking among the changes is the opening of Mountaineer Square, a focal point of the base area. Here, visitors can buy lift tickets, book Crested Butte Mountain Schools lessons and clinics, make dinner reservations, find out about activities like snowmobiling or horseback riding, or just ask directions to a great local watering hole. Those who want to make a beeline to the slopes can purchase lift tickets at the automated ticket kiosk.

And that’s just the beginning. Phase two of Mountaineer Square will take shape over the next two years. Crews will “deconstruct” the Gothic Building and launch the updated, upscale Cimarron. Cimarron will house the lift ticket office, ski and snowboard rental, retail shops, restaurants and premier resort residences. There will be a new restaurant and on top of one of the lifts, and an outpost of Kids World so the kids can eat lunch and have hot chocolate without going all the way down.

Just over a mile north of Mountaineer Square, on the way to Snodgrass Mountain, sits a parcel of land framed by countless acres of National Forest. The Mueller’s have a master plan to develop this area into “the North Village” at Mt. Crested Butte. The project has met with some local and environmental resistance. The Muellers envision a sustainable mountain community, with a Colorado-themed mini golf course. There are also plans for a place for local artisans to showcase their wares, a big recreation and aquatic center, and maybe a teen place too.

The big question seems to be whether Crested Butte will maintain its unique ambience. The Muellers certainly think it will and say they want to make the mountain more user friendly too for families, preserving the environment and the sprit. I hope so.