Telluride, Colorado has rugged mountains, scenic slopes and a vibrant culinary scene, making it nirvana for skiers and snowboarders of all ages.
Telluride, is, in simple terms, a skier’s heaven.
On a bluebird sky kind of day, the view from the top of the Gold Hill Express is almost a cliché. Four of Colorado’s tallest 13,000- and 14,000-foot mountain peaks rise around glittering white slopes. One of these is Wilson Peak, famously illustrated on the Coors Light beer can. A light breeze moves through the aspens and evergreens, while skiers and snowboarders whir effortlessly over the sun-warmed snow.
Telluride is in its own magical snow globe—once the snowflakes settle, there’s a world of winter beauty begging to be explored. But chances are good that few will see these Instagram-worthy views. Compared to other ski resorts, and unless you’re visiting on a holiday, Telluride is known for its lower crowd volume. Case in point: Aside from the Chondula (part chairlift, part gondola), nearly every other lift line is less than a five-minute wait all day long. I didn’t see as many skiers or snowboarders tearing up the slopes as I have at other ski destinations, nor were the chairlifts full. It made for an exceptionally wonderful skiing experience—one that helps explain Telluride’s many laurels.
Ski magazine named Telluride Ski Resort the “No. 1 Ski Resort for Scenery” in its 2016 Resort Guide, while Condé Nast Traveler’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards called it the “No. 1 Ski Resort in North America.” Forbes and National Geographic Traveler put Telluride among the “Top 10 Ski Towns in America” and “World’s Top 25 Ski Towns,” respectively. The mountain offers 2,000 acres of ski-friendly slopes, two terrain parks, 127 trails for varying experience levels, and 309 inches of snow on average.
Telluride is about skiing—and snowboarding—at every age, at any experience level. It’s what makes Telluride, as the awards suggest, one of the best ski destinations in North America.
There’s a misconception that Telluride is difficult to get to. Formerly a silver mining camp, the town is softly nestled in a box canyon in the tree-covered snow-capped San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. A short flight from Denver to Montrose Regional Airport, then a 1.25-hour picturesque drive around and behind the mountains, makes travel easy. Denver also offers direct flights to Telluride Regional Airport, and there’s nonstop service available from 11 major U.S. hubs.
Telluride is also literally a cinematic place; Quentin Tarantino filmed “The Hateful Eight” just outside Telluride, and Butch Cassidy began his infamous bank-robbing career at the San Miguel Valley Bank in town. Grammy maker John Billings keeps his shop on Cora Street in Ridgeway, a few miles away.
Telluride is only eight blocks wide and 12 blocks long, making a stroll down Main Street more like a neighborhood block party. There is plenty of great dining, from 221 South Oak’s creative, eclectic farm-to-table fare served within a cozy refurbished home to the rustic-meets-elegant contemporary American menu at Allred’s. Victorian-era homes, art galleries, laid-back bars, quirky shops, historic hotels and buildings keep visitors busy off the slopes. At the edge of downtown, America’s first and only free, 13-minute gondola takes passengers up and over a short peak to access chairlifts, ski slopes and fresh powder at Telluride’s Mountain Village.
Telluride Ski Resort features storied slopes and terrain for all types of skiers (and snowboarders), says Tom Watkinson, director of communications for Visit Telluride, and my ski guide for the weekend. Although other ski resorts often reserve the breathtaking mountaintop views for advanced intermediates and experts, he says, Telluride gives everyone a chance to see the rugged, towering peaks of Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak, El Diente and Mount Sneffels, collectively known as the Wilson Group. And Palmyra Peak, a 13,000-foot mountain that stands proudly above Ute Park, offers wide, gentle runs perfect for new skiers.
The ultimate ski day starts with fresh, soft powder followed by a gondola ride up to the second stop. From here, beginners can cautiously make their way to the Chondula lift, and spend the day practicing the “French fry” (skis pointing straight forward) and the “pizza” stop (skis turned into each other, forming a triangle) down the genial, forgiving slopes. For the still-new-to-skiing-but-definitely-comfortable types, the Sunshine Pass gives access to more challenging green slopes and even a couple blues.
For intermediate skiers and above, Telluride is a skier’s playground. The lifts make it easy to go from skiing a shimmering, steep blue run to a mogul-covered black or even a terrain park. Favorites among experts include Revelation Bowl, Gold Hill and The Plunge, which all provide postcard-perfect snapshots of the mountains and town below. Utah is visible from up here, as well.
See Forever was my personal favorite—great for a morning warmup or to end the day. It starts with an easygoing ride up the Gold Hill Express lift. Looking below and behind, the slopes are powdery white and pristine, some spots practically untouched. We are at 12,500 feet, a high altitude for those who aren’t used to it. I ski down a long curve along the mountain ridge, noting the short width between me and the edge. Alpino Vino, one of Telluride’s acclaimed mountain restaurants, slides in and out of sight. Eventually, the snowy path widens, then doglegs left and straight down, melding into another blue run. If you stay on course, you’ll eventually get to the base of the mountain. Woozley’s Way and Polar Queen are two other slopes notable for their challenging topography.
A culinary garden has sprung up in Telluride over the past few years. For breakfast, do as the locals and walk to The Butcher & Baker Café on East Colorado Avenue in downtown Telluride. Load up on handmade artisan pastries: a light and flaky chocolate croissant, muffins, decadent coffee cake, or a scone and fresh coffee (they have protein-packed options too).
Enjoy a mountain lunch at Bon Vivant, Telluride’s premier dining spot at the top of Polar Queen Express Lift (lift 5). The French country cuisine under “Top Chef” star Jared Campbell is both luxurious and authentic, while views of Palmyra Peak and the Wilson mountain range are second to none.
If you’re up for après ski, try a “Flatliner” (espresso, vodka, Baileys and more!) at the parlor bar in the historic New Sheridan Hotel. Dinner is by far the toughest choice, as Telluride is home to a host of talented chefs. For a multicourse meal that highlights Colorado’s local cuisine, try 221 South Oak, owned by Chef Eliza Gavin of “Top Chef” fame. The culinary presentations are like artwork; the flavors are bold and authentic. Try grilled boar tenderloin for something exotic, or look over the extensive vegetarian menu.
Allred’s Restaurant is a one-of-a-kind dining experience at the first stop off the gondola. Enjoy views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains in contemporary rustic ambience at over 10,000 feet. An extensive, award-winning wine list pairs well with lamb, elk, salmon and other American fare.
WHAT TO DO
TELLURIDE SLEIGHS & WAGONS
220 E. Colorado Ave., Suite 214, Telluride, telluridesleighs.com
Spend an evening on the historic Aldasoro Ranch, which has been a part of Telluride since the 1920s. After your dreamy sleigh ride through part of the property, host and owner Ashley Story offers guests a decadent three-course meal and shares her family’s history. Prices start at $110 for kids under 12 and $145 for adults.
WAGNER CUSTOM SKIS
620 Mountain Village Blvd., Unit 1B, Mountain Village, 970/728-0107, wagnerskis.com
Twelve years ago, Pete Wagner says he was writing software to enhance golf club performance in San Diego. On a whim, he applied the same logic to skiing, one of his passions. Wagner says it worked so well that he moved to Telluride and opened Wagner Custom Skis. Today, he and his staff build custom skis based on a skier’s measurements, skill level and terrain preference—in three weeks.
BIKES & BEVIES TOUR
Bootdoctors & Paragon Outdoors, 213 W. Colorado Ave., Telluride, 970/728-4525, bootdoctors.com
Take a scenic, three-mile bike ride from downtown to the Telluride Distilling Co. and Telluride Brewing Co. Along the way, you’ll enjoy snowy landscapes and see the valley floor up close. Each stop includes a facility tour and beverage samples created and nuanced right here. Ask for the Chairlift Warmer Peppermint Schnapps at the distillery and the Tripel Cork at the brewery.
WHERE TO STAY
THE HOTEL TELLURIDE
199 N. Cornet St., 970/369-1188, thehoteltelluride.com
This 59-room boutique luxury hotel in downtown Telluride offers chic European interiors surrounded by breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains. A complimentary shuttle transports guests to and from the gondola in Telluride. After a long day on the slopes, a soak in one of the outdoor hot tubs is the perfect remedy before heading out for the evening.
MADELINE HOTEL & RESIDENCES
568 Mountain Village Blvd., 855/923-7640, madeline.aubergeresorts.com
The Madeline Hotel and Residences is Telluride’s only four-diamond, full-service hotel complete with valet ski, ski-in and ski-out accommodations, a premium spa and fitness center, and even an ice skating rink on resort grounds. Guests and locals should take advantage of the Bath Bar amenity: Bath baristas draw a custom bath in your room. It’s the perfect ending to a day on the slopes.
THE PEAKS RESORT & SPA
136 Country Club Drive, 970/728-6800, thepeaksresort.com
This 164-unit resort in Telluride’s Mountain Village provides rooms, suites, penthouses and vacation rentals with ski-in, ski-out convenience. Luxurious amenities, including a fitness center, outdoor pools, full-service spa and first-class restaurant, made it the winner of the “Top Hotels in Colorado” award by Condé Nast Traveler’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards.