Club Med adds exposure for 'Wild West' town

Contributing editor Felicity Long attended the grand opening of the Club Med Crested Butte in Colorado. Her report follows:

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. -- During the height of Club Med Crested Butte's grand opening festivities on Jan. 20, Club Med chairman and chief executive officer Philippe Bourguignon and Mount Crested Butte Mayor Gwen Pettit broke into an impromptu mock-guitar jam session on stage after cutting the ceremonial ribbon with scissors fashioned from skis.

Although seemingly unlikely bedfellows, the sophisticated French company and the self-described "Wild West cowboy town" show every sign of making a good match.

"We are very pleased with the international exposure Club Med has brought to our area," said a spokeswoman for Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

"One of Crested Butte's main attractions, especially among international travelers, is our Western heritage," the spokeswoman said. "Club Med has introduced us to a whole new travel segment -- primarily Europeans and Brazilians -- that we, as a family-owned ski company, would otherwise not have the resources to reach."

Club Med's new ski-in/ski-out Crested Butte village is situated at the base of the Keystone chairlift. Having visited the mountain before the Crested Butte Marriott Ski Resort was transformed into a Club Med village, I immediately noticed the change in the clientele -- most of whom were international.

The property, Club Med's second ski village in the U.S. and the only one geared to families, was renovated in time for this year's ski season.

Improvements include in-house ski rental facilities, two restaurants, two bars, a boutique, a children's Mini Club and -- especially convenient -- ski and boot storage facilities.

Still in the works is a theater, set to open in time for the 2001-02 ski season, if not before.

For the grand opening weekend, we arrived at Gunnison County Airport, located about 40 minutes or so from the village. Club Med visitors are met at the airport, handed their identification bracelets on the spot, divested of their luggage and put on vans to the resort.

Upon arrival, guests are greeted by a gauntlet of gentil organisateurs (GOs) rattling skis in the entryway of the property, handed tropical drinks in the lobby and whisked to their rooms.

Club Med Crested Butte is the company's only famil ski village in the U.S. Our accommodations turned out to be good-sized adjoining rooms, each containing two double beds, combination bath and dressing rooms and views of the slopes.

Amenities in the 256-room property include minirefrigerators, safes, hair dryers, televisions and telephones along with humidifiers, which are especially helpful at galtitude.

Most meals are served in the main dining room, called the Meribel, and as befits a Club Med, the buffets were lavish and included an eclectic mix of food, such as guacamole, sushi, game stew, pizza, pasta, hamburgers and chicken, not to mention tables with trays of desserts.

A second eatery, the Wilderness Restaurant, offers a la carte, upscale dining for no additional charge, but reservations are required.

To ease the cumbersome ski- and snowboard-rental process, arriving guests can rent equipment in the downstairs lobby for an additional fee and sign up for ski instruction or the Mini Club all in one location.

The ski storage facility is located next to the ski rental shop, which offers a separate exit to the slopes.

Guests should get acquainted with the shop's hours, as it is closed at designated periods during the day.

The children's Mini Club, located on the resort's lower level, is a series of decorated function rooms where kids can meet in the mornings before ski lessons and retreat to at the end of the day. They can be picked up at 3 p.m. or stay and play until 5 p.m. if parents are still out on the slopes.

The program, available at no additional charge for children ages 4 to 12, includes ski lessons for kids ages 4 and up and snowboarding for those ages 6 and up.

Children who opt for the full-day program are taken to a midday lunch at the Meribel restaurant.

Mini Club activities also are scheduled at night, allowing parents to dine on their own or participate in activities.

The lack of a theater during our stay did not stop the GOs from performing nightly in the lobby, which was decorated elaborately each day then dismantled for the next day's endeavor.

We saw a lip-synch contest one night, featuring GOs in drag emulating famous "girl-groups"; a Parisian review with dancers in full headdress, and a Wild West night with a mechanical bull.

Entertainment and fun activities notwithstanding, probably the best prognosticator of the village's success is the high quality of the 1,424-acre ski mountain itself.

Known primarily for its extreme terrain -- there are 15 double black-diamond runs -- Crested Butte also offers plenty of novice and intermediate trails for skiers and snowboarders along with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

Because the mountain is high -- between 9,375 and 12,162 feet -- we took routine precautions against altitude sickness, such as drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol. Oxygen is available in the event that someone does experience problems.

Guests who want to see the sights away from the village can visit the town of Crested Butte via complimentary shuttle.

The town, which dates from the 1880s, is a National Historic District full of shops and restaurants in picturesque Victorian buildings.

Excursions also are available for an additional charge that include such activities as horse-drawn sleigh rides and dogsled and historical walking tours.

Rates at the new village, where conditions are typically excellent into the spring, begin at $1,060 per person, double, for seven nights including air fare.

For additional information, call (800) 258-2633 or visit the Web site at www.clubmed.com.

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