How to Compete in a Chili Cookoff? Vacation Rental of Course!

Our vacation rental in Crested Butte
Our vacation rental in Crested Butte

By Eileen Ogintz

CRESTED BUTTE, CO — Where are we going to put 25 pounds of brisket?

Good thing we are not’s staying in a hotel in tiny (pop 1600) in Crested Butte, CO, with another 800 people living three miles north on Mt. Crested Butte. Our daughter Mel lives here and we’ve come with “supplies” for her—and her dad’s–entry into Crested Butte’s annual Chili and Beer Fest at the base of the snow resort. The event is so popular it sells out every year.

Mel also opined that her stove hasn’t been working too well. So, how to make 10 gallons of chili, not to mention 10 pans of cornbread? In our VRBO rental house, of course, with stainless steel appliances and a big gas stove. We’re joined by old friends from Texas—we all shared a winter ski trip here some 35 years ago soon after we were married and before kids were part of the equation.

 

An only in Crested Butte dog encounter in front of our vacation rental
An only in Crested Butte dog encounter in front of our vacation rental

VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) is part of Homeway, which is now part of Expedia, offering houses, condos, cabins and more in 190 countries, even castles in France—more than two million listings. It is one of the world’s largest vacation rental websites.

The difference from Air B&B – there are no shared spaces. Most of the rentals are vacation homes so there won’t be anyone’s clothes in the closet or food in the fridge.  I have to say this is one of the best equipped rentals I’ve ever experienced not only with plenty of dishes, pots, pans and utensils but basic spices and even tin foil and zip lock bags.

We’ve stayed in vacation rentals from the Caribbean to ski towns across the West ,  Paris to  Wales. Some have been amazing; others not so much. But what they have always offered is space for my gang to spread out and a kitchen, whether we just want breakfast or more often, hang out over dinner. When traveling with young kids, they could go to sleep without us being stuck in a hotel room with them. When traveling with a dog, we don’t have to worry about leaving her alone in an unfamiliar place. And when hitting the slopes, we can kick back at the end of the day around a fire and eat pasta when everyone is tired.

View of 12,000-foot Gothic Mountain near Crested Butte CO
View of 12,000-foot Gothic Mountain near Crested Butte CO

Such rentals save money of course—not only on food but also on lodging since a three-bedroom unit that sleeps eight certainly is a lot cheaper than three or four hotel rooms, especially if divided among extended family or friends.

And then there is cooking for the chili fest, Crested Butte’s largest one day event drawing some 1600 people, half from out of town.

The pressure is on because Mel has won the amateur competition twice. Here, there is plenty of room to dice up all that brisket and simmer the chili as well as bake the cornbread, all the while listening to some good music.

In my family, cooking has always been a memorable part of vacation experience—whether having two 12 year olds shop for a baguette and fresh croissants in the Paris neighborhood where we were staying or steaming fresh lobsters on Cape Cod.

Here, we are in a home lovingly restored by a California couple on Teocali Street just a few books from Crested Butte’s famous Elk Avenue—entirely on the National Historic Register with miners’ cabins and wood houses dating back to the end of the 19thCentury. Many now are available as vacation rentals—there are more than 500 VRBO/Homeaway listings just in Crested Butte and thousands more in mountain towns from Breckenridge and Aspen to Park City to Jackson Hole, WY as well as in beach towns and overseas.  (You will find the same listings on www.Homeaway.comand www.VRBO.com)

Other pluses: room for the kids’ friends, more than one TV and enough bathrooms.  There’s also space to get away from one another if need be, whether grandparents need some quiet or a child needs a nap.

As for us, tomorrow will be cooking day. I can’t wait.

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