By Tim Johnson
Ski time
The painter
A valley drive
Gunnison’s attraction
Mountain Bike Hall of Fame
Where to eat

Hartman Rocks, Gunnison.
© Xavier Fane.

The siren’s blare snapped me out of my daze and back to full attention.
I hadn’t run a stoplight or sped past a police car. I was cross-country skiing at the Crested Butte Nordic Center (CBNC), in hopes of giving my legs some relief from a day-and-a-half of downhilling at Mt. Crested Butte. The trail I was on gave me a panoramic view of town, and I expected a flurry of emergency vehicles gassing it toward some calamity.
None appeared. The traffic through town continued at its 15-mph posted speed.
A glance at my watch finally clued me in: it was the Noon Whistle. I never found out if this was a holdover from the past, signaling lunch for shift workers, or a modern test of the town’s emergency preparedness. It was just one of many subtle moments that I experienced and enjoyed in Crested Butte and Gunnison.

Shaun Horne has spent six years painting outdoors in Crested Butte. © Tim Johnson.

Ski time

As I snowplowed to a stop at the Nordic Center, the air was filled with the unmistakable sound of elementary students. Lots of them. They were flooding off yellow buses from Gunnison, ready to hone their cross-country ski skills as part of their PE class, offered pro bono to local schools by the CBNC.
The CBNC grooms about 30 miles of track, and hosts regular race series through the season. But don’t think everyone takes the racing stuff too seriously. Though the annual Alley Loop draws in competitive athletes, a larger contingent comes for a good time — as if their costumes won’t convey that perspective. The downtown event’s 24th running is February 6, 2010; race-day registration will be available.
A couple of thousand feet higher and five miles away is Mt. Crested Butte, the mountain and moniker of the lift-served ski area. From town, the mountain towers over the valley, but you don’t see the breadth of the ski area until you’re on the lifts.
The Paradise Express carries you over both the Terrain Park and the Super Pipe, and delivers you to Paradise Bowl. Choices from there expand, with an option to jump on the North Face Lift (which serves a range of double-diamond runs) or three blue runs that funnel back to the lift you just rode up. Factor in a mid-week visit for ridiculously short lift line waits, and you’ll get a refresher course in what lactic acid can do to a range of muscles. This is not a complaint by any means.

Shaun Horne has spent six years painting outdoors in Crested Butte.
© Tim Johnson.

The painter

Driving to the ski area, I noticed someone just off the road, paintbrush in hand, in front of an easel pushed into the snow.
The man I was about to meet, standing against a steady wind that bounced mid-sized gravel across the road, was wearing a paint-smeared snowmobile suit and was engrossed in his work despite the regular stream of passing cars.
Shaun Horne explained that he’s a practitioner of en plein air painting. The open air is his studio. Neither the chill nor the traffic could dull his passion for these landscape works.
Q: How long have you been painting?
Shaun Horne: 20 years.
Q: How long have you been painting outside in the winter?
SH: Ah … 20 years.
Q: How long have you lived here in the valley?
SH: Only six years. This is my third time moving here to be a painter. I failed the first two times, but I pulled it off this time.
Q: What’s the attraction of Crested Butte?
SH: It’s the prettiest place I could find in the 48 states. I checked out all the other ski towns and this is my favorite in Colorado. You can see a lot of mountain ranges around Crested Butte — a lot of other ones are sort of socked in. It’s also got teeth though, you know. It’s intense. It takes some getting used to.
You can view his work at
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MINI TOUR: Snapshots of Crested Butte and Gunnison
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