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The Scarp Ridge Lodge is a nirvana for all five senses.Handout

The Scarp Ridge Lodge is a nirvana for all five senses. But the boot warmers, oxygenated air, delicate sheets, steam showers and highly curated experience would be a distant memory by now if it weren’t for the scents of rhubarb, passion fruit and white jasmine that permeate every space.

My wife and I liked the scent so much we purchased that same candle – and having that smell fill my house has turned around many tough days over the past 23 months. One whiff instantly takes me from a place of juggling 16-hour days full of parenting, virtual school and working, to being right back on the best ski vacation we have ever taken.

Jordan Chittley skis a line during a day cat skiing near Crested Butte, Colo., in Feb., 2020Jessica Chittley/The Globe and Mail

Tucked in a valley on the western slope of the Rockies is the town of Crested Butte, Colo. The former mining town at the end of the railroad is a destination for extreme skiing and home to a mountain generally cited as having the steepest lift-served terrain in the United States. Almost half of the runs are marked as double black, which are the hardest, most challenging runs and should only be attempted by experts.

On the evening my wife and I arrived in February, 2020, the town was covered in snow and more was falling. Looking down Main Street, with its colourful, old mining buildings turned into shops and cozy pubs with picturesque mountains in the background, it felt as if we were in a freshly shaken snow globe.

We settled into our room at the Scarp Ridge Lodge. The building, which was built in 1885 as a saloon and dance hall for Croatian workers, still has its Wild West facade, but the inside has been turned into a high-end, six-room lodge that I imagine resembles a billionaire’s ski chalet, complete with the full complement of staff.

The first morning of our trip we took an SUV then a snowcat to a lodge in the backcountry. There, our guides from Irwin Catskiing informed us they had been closed the previous day because of – get this – too much snow. Our conditions were perfect: clear blue skies with one metre of fresh, untouched powder. It was the type of snow where – as I learned near the top of the first run – if you fall you can’t get back up by yourself. But after a rough first run of getting used to the fat powder skis, things started to click and I began to gain confidence down the steep pitches and small cliffs.

The best three days of my life are the day I got married and when each of my two kids were born. In a close fourth is that day cat skiing in Crested Butte.Stephen Fenton

Fear and nerves vanished. I just pointed down and floated my skis above the supersoft powder while snow splashed in my face – in other words, what I dream about doing most days when I’m stuck sitting at my desk. The best three days of my life are the day I got married and when each of my two kids were born. In a close fourth is that day cat skiing in Crested Butte.

Crested Butte is known for its independent spirit and being the birthplace of American extreme skiing.Stephen Fenton

For the final two ski days of our trip, my wife and I skied at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The terrain is varied, but overall far more challenging than most other ski resorts, including nearby Vail and Aspen.

Known for its independent spirit and being the birthplace of American extreme skiing, Crested Butte once used the marketing slogan “This is not Vail.” Now, it’s part of the Vail universe after it was acquired in 2018. The consolidation of ski resorts over the past quarter century is a shift in business models. Vail Resorts now owns and operates 37 ski resorts across North America, accessible through the EPIC season pass. Altera Mountain Company, which has the same owners as the Aspen Skiing Company, offers the IKON pass for dozens of ski resorts around the world. For skiers it means more options. For ski companies, it allows them to reduce reliance on single-day ticket sales.

“There was, and still is, lots of skepticism from a portion of the locals about Vail buying the resort,” said Martin Spencer, a real estate broker and developer in the area with Sotheby’s International Realty. “I have been in several meetings with the Vail group over the past year, and they have explained that as a company they are no longer interested in real estate holdings. They have figured out how to actually be a ‘ski company.’” By which he means, selling ski passes.

Will Shoemaker, my guide for a half-day into some of the steepest, most snow-covered inbounds pitches I’ve skied in my life, assured me residents and fans don’t need to worry. “Few mountains in the portfolio are known for steep skiing and that’s what puts Crested Butte on the map,” said Shoemaker, who at the time was a Vail Resorts spokesperson. Aside from updating some aging lifts, “the plan is to maintain status quo.”

By the end of our trip, two thoughts were going through my mind: As someone who previously lived in Colorado for five years, how did it take me this long to ski here – and how long until I can return? Work and kids usually get in the way of skiing bottomless powder, but any time of day I can light that candle and instantly be transported back to the luxuriousness of the Scarp Ridge Lodge and the kind of powder where a snorkel is almost as useful as ski poles.

If You Go

How to get there

There are three airport options: Gunnison, Montrose and Grand Junction. Gunnison is the closest at a 30-minute drive and some hotels offer a shuttle, but the flight options are limited. Montrose is a 90-minute drive and will require a rental car, but has a few one-stop options each day from Toronto. Grand Junction is a three-hour drive and offers a couple more flight options than Montrose and at a slightly cheaper price.

What to do

The area is a hub for adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts in summer and winter. It offers cat skiing, on-piste skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and ice climbing in the colder months, and mountain biking, rafting, rock climbing, stand up paddle boarding, walk and wade fishing, float fishing, hiking and horseback riding when it gets warm.

Where to eat

Soupçon is a high-end French/American restaurant perfect for a special occasion; Sunflower is a farm-to-table eatery; and Public House, as the name suggests, is a relaxing place to grab a burger and beer where kids will also feel right at home.

COVID-19 safety protocols: As of press time, Vail Resorts will no longer have a mountain reservation system and will load lifts at normal capacity. Face coverings will be required for indoor settings including restaurants and buses, but will not be required in lift lines or on chairlifts. Guests 12 and over will be required to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors. All employees are required to be fully vaccinated, undergo a daily health screening and wear face coverings indoors.

The writer was a guest of Vail Resorts. The company did not review or approve the story.

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