A Guide to the Steeps

A collection of (unofficial) local advice

By Katherine Nettles

So you think you are comfortable skiing expert terrain. Even extreme terrain, or at least you’re ready to try. That’s the first step. And you’ve come to Crested Butte, a place known for its two t-bar lifts accessing more than 500 acres of extremes. Heck, it’s even the “birthplace of inbounds extreme skiing,” as Crested Butte Mountain Resort phrases it, and the home of Rambo, the steepest (but not the most user-friendly) lift-served, cut run in North America. You’ve bought the Extremes map and unfolded it all over your kitchen table, complete with red letters and tiny indications of where some very large drop offs and cliffs are located. 

So now what?

While most dyed-in-the-wool CB locals might rather give you their favorite skis than tell you where to go for the best turns in the resort’s famous steeps, we did gather some sound advice from a handful of willing (and qualified) hard-chargers around town on how to explore the lift-served areas that pack a punch without getting into trouble (we hope).  

McKinley Lenker, as she describes it, has been lucky enough to teach skiing at CBMR for eight consecutive seasons. “I actually learned to ski at Crested Butte Ski School when I was three years old,” she says. “I love working outside in the mountains, working with people, and helping affect positive change. My biggest passion while teaching and in life is helping people to gain more confidence. That confidence can be gained by getting on the Magic Carpet for the first time or shredding down Headwall. I have brought a lot of kids and adults up on the t-bars for their first time. It truly is one of my favorite things to teach.”

Lenker’s advice for those eyeing the Extremes for the first time is to know before you go. “Before going up the t-bar go to Rumors Bookstore in town and purchase the extreme guidebook! It is incredibly important to know your way around this special part of our mountain,” she says.

McKinley’s tips for heading to the steeps

• Go with someone who knows the terrain.

• Skills such as being able to link consistent parallel turns on a steep slope, the ability to jump turn, self-arrest and being self-sufficient if you crash are musts.

• Practice on lots of bumps, such as the moguls on Black Eagle and be confident on all of the steepest terrain that is not t-bar extremes. 

Tips for riding the T-Bars

Riding the t-bar itself can be quite extreme – here is some advice: 

• Go on a weekday when it’s less crowded. The chances of being heckled for falling are lower. Avoid powder days for the same reason.


• If riding with a more experienced person, have that person be on the side that will release the t-bar at the top.

• Hold your poles in the outer hand, the inside hand holds the t-bar.

• If you fall, quickly scoot to the side out of the way of other riders and go to the back of the line.

If you just want to ride the t-bar to a mellower run – half way up the High Lift off to the right is Eflin’s Way that takes you back to the top of the Silver Queen. Rachels or Sheps Shoot off the top of the North Face Lift will lead you back down towards that lift. And as always, a hello and a thank you to the hard working lift ops is appreciated.

More locals weigh in on how to enjoy the terrain

“The day the steeps in Crested Butte open is one of the happiest days of my year, second to Christmas and my birthday. But even if you’re an advanced skier, you can find yourself in a really bad situation really fast out there. My best advice for our unique steeps is to find someone to follow or show you around before you go on your own. It’s too easy to find a terrible line or end up on a cliff or rock band and have to get help [be rescued] to get out. There are some awesome mellow black runs out there but there are even more gnarly trails that will make you want to call home to Mommy (trust me, been there!). So find a friend or local to show you around to learn where it’s safe and fun to start. But here is a real tip on how to ski like a local – don’t stop! On the traverse, in the trees, around a blind corner. You will get hit (or yelled at). This will help you become a better skier too, even if your legs are toast.”  —Kim Raines

“If you go out and about, beware of following some group of what appear to be strong skiers who know their way around. You are likely to get more than you bargained for, or maybe if they get lost and cliffed-out you’ll be adding to the number of people getting rescued.”  —Anonymous

“Try out the North Face proper, such as Hawk’s Nest and Old Pro. And take it easy your first time around if it’s pushing your ability levels. Headwall is always a great place, as long as you are comfortable with very steep terrain, because mostly it’s straightforward and you can’t get lost. But it’s steep! The Headwall Glades are great and have some easier lines if you know where to look. But it’s hard to know where you are if you aren’t familiar with the line.”  —Anonymous

“Pay attention to all the signs patrollers put out there – they will save you if you think you are in over your head.  Double up on the t-bars when there are lines – if you can’t ride a t-bar solo, chances are you won’t like the terrain either. East River is a great place to practice ungroomed terrain!” —Greg Flynt

“I recommend Phaser, just go hard and fast and keep your tips straight.”