Gettin’ Hitched in the Butte
Written by Mark Reaman
Wednesday, 31 July 2013
Beauty brings wedding boom to the area
Here comes the bride—literally. Actually the brides and the grooms, the preachers, flower girls and the grandmas and everyone else who gets to attend a wedding in a beautiful spot, with everything you need for a memorable day.
Crested Butte and the surrounding valleys are becoming the Rocky Mountains’ premier wedding destinations. And weddings bring in people and put people to work. On a recent Saturday bike ride, you could easily pass four or five weddings if you took a tour of Snodgrass, the Woods Walk, Gunsight Bridge and the towns. Weddings are everywhere on the weekends in this valley and that’s keeping waitresses and bartenders, DJs, photographers, restaurants and wedding planners plenty busy.
Those working in the local wedding industry a decade ago knew they had something special and decided to join forces and focus on making Crested Butte a destination wedding resort. Rachael Gardner of Crested Butte Events said a local wedding council was formed and has taken off.
“Tracy Hastings was organizing weddings at the Club at Crested Butte and deserves a lot of credit,” Gardner recalled. “She started saying we needed to get a group together to promote the area for weddings and we all jumped in. It ended up with the Crested Butte Wedding Council idea. It’s now focused on a web site highlighting Gunnison-Crested Butte wedding vendors and information.”
Gardner said the Tourism Association was extremely supportive when Jane Chaney was the executive director and the organization continues to help promote the idea. “Every year there seems to be more and more weddings in the area,” Gardner said. “Another thing I have noticed is that weddings are coming in with bigger budgets.”
Wedding planner Penni Ervin was an original member of the local wedding council and she said in 2002, the area got serious about the wedding business as a destination market. “We brought in the Association of Bridal Consultants from the Front Range of Colorado to show them the area,” she recalled. “Now, I feel with the construction of the Wedding Garden, the Wedding Council and CBMR’s efforts to improve the area with Uley’s and the improvements at the top of the Painter Boy and Gold Link lifts, the word has really spread across the country. Plus the fact that CBMR has attended many of the Wedding Shows in Denver has helped.”
Many opt to get married in a traditional setting such as one of the local churches or the Club at Crested Butte. But saying “I do” outside in the heart of nature is very popular in this mountain resort town.
The Wedding Garden in Mt. Crested Butte started with a partnership between the town and the Crested Butter Wildflower Festival in 2002. That year there was one wedding at the spot. This summer, there are 28 weddings on the books at the Mt. Crested Butte garden and more expected. The Wedding Garden is now run exclusively by the town.
“The prime season is definitely from June 15 to the middle of September but we go from May to October,” explained the Mt. Crested Butte wedding coordinator Tiffany O’Connell. “It does really well and I’m surprised at how busy it is. What’s nice about this spot is that the garden is beautiful and the wildflowers on Snodgrass are gorgeous.
“A lot of people have a vision of getting married in the woods surrounded by wildflowers but the reality is, that can be hard to coordinate,” continued O’Connell. “It isn’t always easy for grandma to hike into a wildflower meadow. But this place gives you that same feeling in a controlled setting. Grandma is okay with it. The brides love it. And you don’t have to take a big hike into the woods.”
Downtown, the vibe is the same. Parks and Recreation director Jake Jones said the wedding biz is going off in Crested Butte. “People love it,” he said. “It is so pretty and people love having these views but are still able to be in town.”
The primary Crested Butte wedding site is at the Town Ranch event area behind the school. But a couple of summer weddings are also scheduled for the Big Mine Ice Rink.
“One of the grooms had a problem with the idea of getting married in the ice rink so we started calling it the Big Mine Palladium to make it a little more romantic. But the people are able to take that space and make it look really nice,” he said.
Jones said the town sees activity not just from weddings but also from the ancillary events that accompany nuptials. “The Rainbow Park Pavilion has at least 20 events tied to weddings, such as the rehearsal dinners. It is pretty happening through August. In fact, people are starting to have to book a year in advance.”
Jones cited one wedding as an example of the impact on local venues. The rehearsal dinner took place at the Big Mine Palladium. The ceremony was held at the Painter Boy ski lift area and the reception was set up for the Town Ranch event area. “Those were three huge productions for one gala. We actually hired an intern for our office so we could work on events and other things. We will clearly bring in more revenue from that line item than we budgeted,” Jones said. “It’s pretty amazing and it is only growing.”
A couple of popular places to tie the knot are on properties overseen by the Crested Butte Land Trust. The Woods Walk at the west end of Crested Butte and Peanut Lake are two common choices. The Land Trust also offers spots at the Lower Loop and Gunsight Bridge. A gorgeous trail in the surrounding aspen forest at the Woods Walk and Lower Loop or the beautiful open views and tranquility of Peanut Lake and the Gunsight Bridge make them magical spots to start a life together. CBLT executive director Ann Johnston said the Land Trust has about 20 weddings booked on their properties for this summer, which is twice as many as last year.
“I think people really like the naturalness and simplicity,” Johnston explained. “They aren’t allowed tents or other structures, no amplified sounds, and the reception must take place elsewhere. All of our wedding sites are in the Slate River Valley with its incredible views whichever way you look—either of Paradise Divide, Mt. Crested Butte, or Gothic Mountain.”
Johnston said while most people coming here to get married have some sort of Crested Butte connection, some have never been here before. “For us, most of them are from Colorado. We have locals along with couples from Denver, Boulder and interestingly, Steamboat Springs and Avon, too. But we also have people coming in from all over. This summer, we have folks coming in from Maine, Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico and Texas.
O’Connell said she too sees people coming from all over the country to get married here. She said while many have some connection to the place, others are coming here because they heard how nice and easy and beautiful it is to hold a wedding here.
“People bring their own touches to the ceremonies and receptions here,” she said. “It is sort of a Crested Butte attitude. A couple from Boulder got married here last year and started off the reception with a bunch of Mikey’s Pizzas being delivered. Then they held a sumo-wrestling contest. Some kayakers got married and had all the drinks iced down in their boats while they walked down the aisle barefoot and in Carhartts. We even had a horse in one of the ceremonies.”
Down the road at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), wedding season starts in June and takes off in July and August.
“It’s sort of like the ski season for us,” explained CBMR wedding sales manager Tracy Hastings. “The wedding season on the mountain is 12 to 14 weeks long. So we crank it out. I had three weddings last Saturday and I have five events coming up this weekend.”
For the summer, Hastings said, the resort has 30 wedding-related events booked, with more in the wings. People use the top of the Painter Boy and Red Lady lifts to get married but Uley’s is the most popular spot for ceremonies at CBMR.
“Guests really enjoy riding the lifts in the summertime to get up to the venues,” Hastings said. “They see a different side to the mountain and are blown away. Overall, most people choose to use Uley’s because Painter Boy might be a bit too rustic for some people, but Uley’s provides that rustic Colorado charm and indoor plumbing. It’s nice for the guests.”
Hastings agreed with O’Connell and Johnston that most people who choose to get married at the resort have a previous connection to the place. And the act of getting married in Crested Butte ties them even more deeply to the valley. “They fall in love even more with the area and keep coming back,” she said. “It’s a great connection.
“Another aspect of the wedding economy that people don’t think about is the pre-wedding visit,” Hastings added. “The bride and groom and maybe the parents come in to check out the area a year ahead of time. They will talk to the vendors, taste the food and look at the accommodations. They’ll be here three or four days. I bet I have 50 such tours lined up in the next few weeks. Most say they are amazed by the remoteness and beauty but love the quality of the vendors in the valley. They get a good feel for what their special day will be like a year from now and fall in love with the idea.”
Gardner said there are probably at least 100 destination weddings that come to the north end of the valley each summer between June and the end of September. A few are small but more and more are bringing hundreds of people with each event. “If there are about six or seven weddings here each weekend—that’s a lot of people coming here as a result of weddings,” Gardner said. “We are trying to increase the number of winter weddings we attract now, since summer is booming. But the biggest challenge is making it easy for people to get here. Once they arrive, they love it.”
Hastings agreed the most common complaint is the difficulty of getting to the valley. But those choosing Crested Butte for a wedding are the more “relaxed” brides and grooms. “They’ll go for a four-hour bike ride before the ceremony and have to rush to get dressed. We get the adventurous types instead of the high maintenance brides.”
The other attraction for wedding parties, according to Hastings, is the increase in the variety of activities now available for guests here for several days. “It’s not just a place to mountain bike anymore. The older guests who don’t hit the single track can go to a class, attend a concert or take a culinary seminar or tour the museum. The kids can find a children’s camp. It wasn’t like that 10 years ago. It all helps.”
So the common theme is beauty and quality. Weddings get both pretty much anywhere in the upper end of the valley.
The Land Trust’s Katie Onheiber said local Laura De Felice was married at Peanut Lake last summer and she told Onheiber, “The beauty of this area speaks for itself and we wanted our family and out-of-town friends to experience what we are lucky enough to see every day. We couldn’t imagine getting married anywhere else.”
O’Connell said there are some things unique to the area that wedding parties need to keep in mind. “We do make a point of warning the out-of-towners about bears in the neighborhood,” she said. “That’s not something they would think about if they are coming in from a city. But last year there were times a mama bear and her three cubs would sit a few hundred yards away and watch the festivities. When it was over they’d come in and look for scraps. We always make it clear that people have to do a very thorough clean-up when it’s all over.”
It’s just one of the more unique charms of getting married in the beautiful Rocky Mountains at 9,000 feet. In typical Crested Butte fashion, you never know who might crash your party.