Mel Yemma doing her thing on Crested Butte Mountain (Photo by Chris Segal)

Mel Yemma doing her thing on Crested Butte Mountain

By Eileen Ogintz

CRESTED BUTTE, CO (Day One) — Sometimes, it’s good to follow the kids.

When my kids were small, we often skied at Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Southwest Colorado.  Yes, it required a change of planes to get here but we loved the vibe — the tiny town that is mostly on the Register of Historic Places; the friendly locals, and the mountain that offered everything from beginner terrain to some of the most famous extreme terrain anywhere.

We haven’t been here in seven years. Why are we back? Because my daughter Mel, two years out of college, is living and working here. The memories hit me at every turn — the year when she was six and was determined to snowboard to be different from her older brother and sister; the junior extreme competition when her older sister came in third; the Christmases and February breaks where the kids quickly out skied their parents, and the days when they were old enough to take the free bus two miles into town.

This trip we’re back with Mel’s older sister and some extended family, all of whom live in California. I remember quickly why I love this place and so do the other families I meet.

“Everyone is so friendly and it’s not too fancy or too crowded,” said Judy Levin, here with her husband and six year-old daughter from Chicago.

“It’s a fun town,” agreed Ernie Schell, a teacher from New Orleans here with her children and grandchildren.

“People here are super helpful,” said Laura Blackman, here with her husband and four sons from Austin, TX.

Reggie Yemma at the top of Crested Butte Mountain

Reggie Yemma at the top of Crested Butte Mountain

“This is a real community,” says Wendy Fisher, a champion skier who teaches “Wednesdays with Wendy” clinics twice a month and private lessons. “We’re very appreciative of outsiders coming to town and we embrace everyone,” she said.

This place is so safe that she allows her nine and six year-olds to play on the mountain on their own — something she wouldn’t do anywhere else.

This  is also a place where you can set goals for yourself—like her parents who first started skiing extreme terrain in their 1970s and now, at 80, ski better than they ever have.

But don’t come here if you are looking for Aspen or Vail. No one wears furs. The condo where we’re staying, The Plaza, is very nice and comfortable, but it isn’t fancy.

What you will get is a first-rate ski school where your kids likely won’t be in a class larger than six — and there is no upcharge for small classes like at other resorts, said Nick Herrin, the ski school director and assistant general manager of the resort.  Another plus: Much of the 200- member ski school staff return year after year.   “They are here because they are part of the community and because we’re small,” he said.

Families, he said, are also increasingly opting for family private lessons so they can stay together as a family.  Those who vacation here, he added, like the vibe so much they return in a different seasons—winter visitors coming to experience the mountain community in summer and summer visitors coming in winter.

That it’s harder to get here just makes it more charming… “The beginning of paradise,” locals promise.  My daughter certainly thinks so.  Her job, in fact, is convincing callers to choose this resort.