OverviewCrested Butte. Most people only know the mountain for its famous backcountry skiing bowl - the Red Lady Bowl. In fact, most locals only refer to the mountain as "Red Lady."
Like many Colorado ski towns, Crested Butte was once a thriving mining community. The Red Lady was a "woman of ill repute" who "served" the miners who lived far from civilization in the remote town. The Red Lady is immortalized in several places around modern Crested Butte - she has a ski lift, a beer, a yearly festival, and also her namesake backcountry skiing destination on Mount Emmons.
Mount Emmons offers the backcountry skier several great lines, in and out of the Red Lady Bowl. The mountain is also a great hike year-round. It offers a great vantage to look down upon Crested Butte, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, and the southern Elk Range where it resides.
Getting ThereMount Emmons is easy to access year-round. The trailhead is the winter closure site on the Kebler Pass Road (in both winter and summer). The parking area is almost always plowed. There is a large parking area with room for many cars. This winter closure is a very popular spot for snowmobiles making there way along the closed Kebler Pass road.
From downtown Crested Butte, take Elk Avenue (the main street) until it ends on the west side of town. Look for a sign for Kebler Pass. The sign will direct you left. Go two blocks, turn right on the Kebler Pass road, and follow the road for a mile or so until it dead ends into a winter closure. Park in one of the obvious parking areas, avoiding posted spots.
There are some restrictions in some of the parking spots for overnight parking.
Red Tape - Free Red Lady!
On April 2, 2004 the Bureau of Land Management sold 155 acres of land on Mount Emmons in the Gunnison National Forest to Phelps Dodge, an international mining company. The sale of land went for $5.00 (yes, that's 5 dollars) per acre. Under Red Lady is a deposit of molybdenum that mining companies have had their eye on since the 1970s. This absurdly cheap sale of our public land was done under the auspices of an antiquated provision of the 1872 mining act known as "patenting." The full sale was for $875.00 - about the cost of a good pair of backcountry skis.
The Longest Running Mine Fight in America
The fight to save Red Lady began in 1977 when the High Country Citizens' Alliance (HCCA) was founded to fight efforts to mine Red Lady. The group had several successes fighting the mining industry. In 1994, Congress became wary of selling our precious public land to industry at the criminally low prices stipulated under the 1872 Mining Act. After the Mining Company submitted their "patent" application to the BLM, the High Country Citizens' Alliance, the town of Crested Butte, and Gunnison County filed formal protests to the BLM. Twelve years later, in a closed door session in Washington DC that did not include either the HCCA, Crested Butte, or Gunnison County, the patent was granted to the internatinal conglomerate Phelps Dodge to mine Red Lady 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, for 11 years, eventually extracting 23 million tons of ore from the mountain.
This unprecedented decision came immediately after Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton expressed that the BLM should have more local community involvement in its decision making...
The Current Fight to Save Red Lady
April 2004 - After the BLM sold the land to Phelps Dodge, the HCAA, Crested Butte, and Gunnison County filed suit in the US District Court of Colorado, claiming that the BLM had no authority to sell the public land.
September 2004 - Phelps Dodge tried to have the suit thrown out. The argued that the community had no right to challenge the sale of land because of the 1872 Mining Act. The HCCA argued that current law and precedent allows for this type of lawsuit.
January 2005 - The District Court judge dismissed the case under procedural grounds. The court held that local communities cannot challenge the sale of land in District Court, even if the sale of land was illegal.
February 2005 - The HCCA filed suit in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
This federal lawsuit will likely take years to resolve.
"The Red Lady is a symbol of our land ethic, and the fight to protect her from industrial mining development and privatization is one of the country’s longest running mine fights, which has received national attention since it began in the late 1970’s. A full-blown industrial mining development in the watershed would threaten our pristine water quality, impair our community’s vision for a sustainable economy, and harm our quality of life. High Country Citizens’ Alliance has instructed our legal counsel to bring an action in Federal Court. We are represented by Western Mining Action Project, a nonprofit law center specializing in mining issues in the Western United States. The Town of Crested Butte will also be joining the suit."
- The High Country Citizens' Alliance
The High Country Citizens' Alliance
- Red Lady Fight Timeline
- Proposed Mine Map
- Patent Protest
Westerners for Responsible Mining - "Sale of mining patents roils Crested Butte residents"
Denver Post - "Communities dig in on mine"
Denver Post (Editorial) - "Uncle Sam Giving Away Land"
Yahoo Finance - "U.S. Energy Corp. and Crested Corp. Re-Acquire Mount Emmons Molybdenum Property"
Can I Ski Here?
Technically, no. However, it is still possible to climb and ski Mount Emmons without getting near the proposed mine site. As of April 2006, there are no mine structures, no posted land, and no sign that the mountain is now private. If you compare the link above with a TOPO! map, you'll see that the mine is generally on the lower slopes of the Red Lady Bowl, allowing the climber to skirt around the site on ridges.
Currently, it's business as usual in Red Lady Bowl. Locals simply ignore the mining site and ski the bowl anyway. As always, know all the information before you climb and ski here. This land is Private, so you are trespassing if you choose to ski near it.
CampingThere are no formal campsites near Mount Emmons. Informal camping is available throughout the Gunnison National Forest.
Gunnison National Forest
2250 Highway 50
Delta, CO 81416
This part of Colorado gets a ton of snow - much more even than Mount Crested Butte, just a few miles away. If you choose to ski Red Lady Bowl, ensure you carry the requisite avalanche safety gear, and are able to assess backcountry avalanche conditions.
The Crested Butte Avalanche Center will be your best source for expert avy advice and high country weather for this region. You may also want to glance at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's forecast, but the CB Avy Center's forecast will likely be much more accurate and localized.
For some photos of slides in Red Lady bowl, click this link from the CB Avy Center.