New Crested Butte bar named for famed but reclusive snowpack researcher

For five decades, Billy Barr has lived in the remote town of Gothic, north of Crested Butte, where he’s spent the majority of his time interacting with the environment instead of other people.

Barr prefers it that way and has become something of an accidental apostle for climate researchers in the process. Since the 1970s, Barr has spent the winters in the woods recording daily snowfall and snowpack measures, as well as animal sightings, that help scientists understand the impacts of global warming and climate change in the Rocky Mountains.

But there are two things Barr doesn’t do: drink alcohol or socialize very much. Which is why he thought it was amusing when a hotel in Crested Butte approached him about naming a bar after him. Heck, he’s never even skied at the resort.

“The fact is it was nice of them to think of me and it’s kind of funny,” Barr said. “I’m glad my last name’s not like, privy, they would have named a toilet after me instead of a bar.”

The Elevation Hotel & Spa at the base of Crested Butte Mountain Resort recently debuted a new lobby lounge called billy barr as an homage to the local legend and his work. Skiers who stop by for a quick coffee or après-ski get a side of local history with their beverage, thanks to pictures of Barr adorning the walls, along with other memorabilia donated by the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) and Crested Butte Museum.

The menu at billy barr Elevation Hotel & Spa in Crested Butte features cocktails with weather-themed names like Frost, Partly Cloudy and Snowdrift. (Provided by Taylor Ahearn)

“Billy deserves a lot of recognition for what he’s doing,” Ian Billick, mayor of Crested Butte and executive director of RMBL, told The Denver Post. “It’s nice for tourists who visit the area to have a better appreciation of what makes the community special.”

Additionally, in March, Elevation Hotel plans to unveil another onsite watering hole called the Matchstick Lounge, inspired by locally-based ski film company, Matchstick Productions.

Barr, for his part, is modest about the work he’s done over the last half-century. When asked what first enticed him to start recording observations of his surroundings, he replied “nothing.”

In 1972, Barr relocated to Gothic from his hometown of Trenton, N.J. looking, simply, for some peace and quiet. For eight years, he lived in a mining shack with no electricity. But what he lacked in electric power he made up for in free time and natural curiosity.

“In New Jersey, I would have had to learn how to cross streets at busy intersections. Out here, I have to know snow conditions. So I just started writing things down,” he said. “After five winters of writing down daily weather and animal sighting and everything, I started looking back on the previous years.”

“It’s a wonderful example of citizen science,” Billick said. “His snow records are invaluable and help us understand long-term change and many scientists have taken advantage of them.”

So, too, has the billy barr lounge, where the cocktail menu reads like a weather forecast. The Snowdrift, for example, is a libation made with Aviation gin, D.O.M. Bénédictine liqueur, spirulina, lime and cedar simple syrup. The Frost is a variation of a Moscow mule made with bourbon and mint. And the Partly Cloudy features cognac, a citrus liqueur, lemon and orange.

The menu also includes a small selection of paninis and charcuterie.

Barr has not visited his namesake watering hole and he possibly never will. (“I haven’t been in a bar in decades and I’m not a great fan of crowded places,” especially considering COVID-19, he said.) Still, he hopes the information he’s collected about the climate “changing drastically” piques patrons’ interest the same way it piqued his own decades ago.

“Even forgetting about climate change, people have a curiosity as to, how much snow do we have now? What’s the average? Is this above average? What’s the water content?” Barr said. “There’s just a general interest in snow. That’s why people live here.”

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