A Guide to Telluride: North America’s Coolest Ski Resort

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Tucked away at the end of a box canyon in Southern Colorado, Telluride – or “to Hell You Ride” – is drop-dead gorgeous and has a terrific personality to boot.

Telluride is not just a spectacular ski resort surrounded by four 14,000 foot peaks (Colorado’s famed ‘fourteeners’), it is also an old silver mining town with a Wild West streak; home to the very first bank Butch Cassidy robbed, right on Main Street.

It’s Aspen without the pretense.

Put simply, Telluride is the whole package, offering a real sense of place in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, fabulous food and wine, and some of the finest skiing and snowboarding in North America.

The Town:

Located on the valley floor, the heritage-listed town offers a fascinating Victorian-era streetscape much closer to funky than cute. It is a down-to-earth place, easy to explore, and the Picturesque-historic-township-of-Telluride-72vibrant local community is not at all marginalized by the wealthy fly-ins. There is a long tradition of quirky bars and even quirkier traditions, such as the Free Box, where locals and visitors leave and pick up anything from ski boots and leather jackets to snow tires and baby clothes.

The Mountain Village:

The tastefully built Mountain Village (all local stone, wood and glass) is on a ridge at 9500 feet and even boasts an ice-skating rink. Access from the town is via the free Gondola which is a joy to ride because it is clean, green and you’ll never get tired of those views.

Eighteen lifts service 127 green, blue, black and double-black trails, as well as off-piste slopes across 2000 acres.

Because the San Juan Mountains are the second youngest in the US, the mountain landscape features sheer cliff walls, which give Telluride its deserved reputation as an extreme skiing Telluride-Mountain-Village-72mecca. Check out the Gold Hill Chutes, Black Iron Bowl and all the runs off Palmyra Peak, if you are so inclined. And for the really hardcore, there is some of the best side-country skiing (meaning back country that is connected to a ski area) in the United States.

But Telluride is far from a one trick pony. It is one of the few ski regions in the world where beginners can use a lift that goes to 12,000 feet to see mind-blowing views normally only accessible to more advanced skiers.

There are plenty of easy runs and groomed slopes for beginners and intermediates.  In fact the resort breakdown is: 23% beginner, 36% intermediate and 41% advanced. The easy green 4 1/2 mile Galloping Goose run is the longest on the mountain and offers a great way to get the lie of the land.

The Polar Queen lift accesses a terrific array of blue slopes, while the Gold Hill Express opens up to the gorgeous black runs of Revelation Bowl.

Perrier-Jouet-at-Telluride-72Eat & Drink:

Telluride is arguably the best gourmet snow resort in the US. It exudes a European-style ambiance with charming restaurants and inns dotted all over the mountain.

At  13,000 feet, Alpino Vino is North America’s highest restaurant. It is located in a stone cottage near the top of the appropriately named See Forever run. This cozy European-style nook with its heated deck combines Telluride’s widest by-the-glass wine selection with delectable antipasti, soups, handmade pasta, and paninis. It also has a fabulous deck with sensational views, perfect for a sunny lunch with a local Colorado craft beer or two. And you’ll be served by a dapper waiter in vest and felt cap. For something extra-special, take the heated snow-coach here for a five-course Italian themed dinner.

Bon Vivant is an open-air alfresco French restaurant located at the top of Polar Queen Express offering 360-degree mountain views from its large deck. The menu features a terrific French wine selection to go with crepes, cassoulets, French onion soup and Croque Madames with quail eggs.

The historic Gorrono Ranch offers a perfect laid-back atmosphere underneath the Village Express chairlift. There’s an open fire pit, deck chairs on “the beach” for soaking up the sunshine, and entertainment from local musicians. If the weather turns nasty, squeeze into the rustic Gorrono Ranch Saloon and warm up by the pot belly stove.

Alpino-Vino-Telluride-72It is hard to believe that the beautiful stone, wood and glass Allreds hides behind the rather ordinary looking St. Sophia Gondola Station on the ridge between the Mountain Village and Telluride town. It offers spectacular views for après ski drinks and a menu of modern American dishes.

Near the base of the Village Express, Tomboy Tavern, named after one of the region’s most famous silver mines, sports Telluride’s best outdoor beer garden, as well as the indoor, wraparound, hand-pounded zinc bar. Try some of its 30 Colorado craft beers on tap to go with American tavern fare.

On Telluride’s main street and embracing the best of Italian cuisine and spirit, the stone-walled Rustico Restaurant offers terrific antipasto, pasta and free-range veal, beef, lamb and chicken (the only Telluride restaurant to feature grass-fed beef from Ralph Lauren’s RL Ranch down the road). Everything goes down a treat with the remarkable selection of Italian wines.

One of the oldest bars in the West, the 1895 Historic Bar at the New Sheriden Hotel boasts original leaded-glass windows, mahogany paneling and a pressed-tin ceiling. Enjoy a scotch or craft beer with the locals at the hand-carved bar.

Stay:

dusk-falls-on-Telluride-72Hotel Madeline, a Leading Hotel of the World, is perfectly located next to the free Gondola in the Mountain Village for an ideal ski-in/ski-out location complete with ski valet service. It also has a luxurious indoor pool and spa facilities.

Hotel Columbia is a charming family-run boutique hotel with terrific food at the base of the Gondola in Telluride town.

Mountain Lodge is an excellent base for families with its wide range of accommodation options including rooms, suites and multi-bedroom cabins with full kitchen facilities. There is also a heated outdoor pool and a log-cabin-style casual lounge and dining area with expansive mountain views.

Lumière is the Mountain Village’s most luxurious ski-in/ski-out boutique property offering exquisite hotel rooms and residences. The Little Bar at Lumière is a great spot for après-ski cocktails and tapas.

Festivals:

The Telluride Bluegrass Festival has offered its laid-back roots music every summer solstice for 40 years.

The late-summer Telluride Film Festival has also been wowing fans for 40 years, with all films on view for the first time in North America.

The September Telluride Blues and Brews Festival offers a terrific mix of rocking musical talent and beer tasting from some of America’s finest boutique breweries.

Getting there:

Telluride has North America’s highest commercial airport, but flights are often disrupted by weather. It’s better to fly to Montrose with a 90-minute limo or van transfer.

 

Your say:

I fully appreciate that snow sports lovers are passionate about their resorts and there are a great many in Colorado alone that deserve that love.  It would be great to hear what your favorite Colorado resort is and what makes it so special.  And while you’re at it, let me know what other North American resorts you think are at the top of the list.

My visit to Telluride was courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort.

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Telluride 37.937494, -107.812285

 

A version of this post first appeared in Qantas Insider

Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.

5 comments to A Guide to Telluride: North America’s Coolest Ski Resort

  • Paul Emerson  says:

    Wow, Telluride looks fantastic. I had heard whispers about how cool it was and this post certainly explains why. I love food and I love skiing. What a great combination.

    • Sue Gough Henly  says:

      Telluride certainly has it all!

  • Mark McCracken  says:

    I just booked a trip to Telluride. I have never been there but it appears that it will be right up my alley. I’m a huge Copper mountain fan and this sounds a lot like it. Not all jazzed up, if you know what I mean.
    Can’t wait to give you a full report…think snow.

  • Mark McCracken  says:

    Wow. Very nice…and very much vertical. Long drive but oh so worth it. Thank the good Lord we had good snow. That made all the difference. I would never had been able to experience as much of the mountain as I did. Very impressive. Never waited for a lift. Other than that, I’m speechless.

    • Sue Gough Henly  says:

      Isn’t the skiing just incredible. And Telluride itself has such a great spirit.

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