Telluride in Colorado is the Wild West revisited, a contact high with nature, great après ski adventures and, above all, a single skier’s paradise.
In the early morning light, the snow-covered San Juan Mountains glowed with a pale pink fire. The sky was cerulean blue. Every trace of the clouds that dumped four inches of powder on Telluride the night before had vanished. The conditions were perfect for my first ski trip in five years. But as I rode the chairlift up the mountain, watching skiers dodging boulders and leaping over cliffs below, I wondered if I should have stayed in the hot tub at my hotel.
My chairlift companion, a grand-fatherly type with ice crystals in his beard, sensed my concern and grinned reassuringly. “Don’t worry, darling, there’s an easier way down. Just head left to ‘See Forever.’ You’ll get better views there anyway.” Then, with a “Whoop!,” he shot out of the chair and down the double-black diamond run with the rest of the hooligans.
It was an appropriate welcome to Telluride, a town where you have to try not to meet people. Nestled in a canyon valley surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks, this southern Colorado ski resort is famous for its Telluride Film Festival and part-time celebrity residents such as Tom Cruise and Oprah. But Telluride is more Northern Exposure than Beverly Hills 90210, making it an ideal getaway for me, a solo traveler from Los Angeles.
The Wild, Wild West
Telluride’s downtown consists of a colorful collection of Victorian buildings dating from the 1800s. “To Hell You Ride!” was the send-off given to miners seeking their fortune in this remote back country. In fact, Telluride saw its share of Deadwood-like action — including a bank robbery by Butch Cassidy in 1889 — before the end of the mining boom.
The big draw these days isn’t the silver ore underground, it’s the Telluride Ski Resort, located 2,000 feet above the town. Headquartered in Mountain Village, the resort is connected to Telluride by a free, 13-minute gondola ride. More intimate than mega-mountains like Vail or Whistler, this destination offers variety without overwhelming options, and its 1,700 acres of ski-able terrain are split evenly between beginner/intermediate and advanced/expert trails.
For my first run, I took the friendly hooligan’s advice and discovered what would become my favorite trail on the mountain. “See Forever” lives up to its name — to the southeast, a wall of craggy granite soars upward, the peaks ringed with crowns of cumulus, and to the northwest, a sweeping panorama of snow-blanketed mountains that spreads all the way to Utah. Descending from the ridge-line, the trail weaves through silent cathedrals of pine and aspen before connecting with other intermediate runs near the Polar Queen Express.
For beginners, Telluride’s Ski and Snowboard School offers lessons on the gentle slopes near Mountain Village. TopAten Nordic & Snowshoe Center on the mountain and Telluride Nordic Center in town offer guidance for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Hotdoggers can head up Plunge Lift, where trails like Bushwacker and Mammoth plummet down the sheer marble face of the mountain, or access the hike-to terrain near Palmyra Peak, where powder stashes and steep chutes await those willing to make the trek.
Comfort Food and Companionship
With all the activity and fresh mountain air, it’s not long before hunger kicks in. After three hours of exhilarating but grueling powder skiing, I was lured to a mountaintop hut by the smell of warm bread wafting from the doorway. Located at the top of Lift 9, Giuseppe’s Restaurant offers basic fare like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, with a side of awe-inspiring views. Sitting cozily with other skiers, it’s easy to get recommendations on trails and après-ski spots for the evening.
The shadows on the mountain seemed darker and colder after Giuseppe’s comfy warmth, but as I cut through glades of towering pines with no sound other than the crunch of fresh powder, I remembered the difference between loneliness and solitude. Although easily accessed by flights through Phoenix or Denver, Telluride’s secluded location means there are rarely lift lines or crowds. Sharing a ski run with only a deer or fox is both an ordinary and an extraordinary event.
After a day of skiing, my legs began to feel like a combination of jelly and lead. But I just had to get in one more run. Digging my edges into the final turns, I passed Gorrono Ranch, another on-mountain restaurant. Outside on the “beach,” skiers and boarders lounged on chairs half-buried in the snow and soaked up the last of the high-altitude sun, cold beers in hand. I was tempted to join them, but decided it would be safer to start my après-ski drinking at the bottom of the run, after my skis came off.
I didn’t have long to wait. At the midway stop on the gondola back to town is Allred’s, an upscale dinner and après-ski restaurant with views of 12,000-foot canyon walls looming above Telluride below. Although Allred’s is one of the more formal dining options, the bartender will happily serve you even when you’re a little sweaty and have hat hair — this is Telluride, after all, where the ski bunnies actually ski.
And after a great day of skiing
Taking the rest of the gondola ride down, I arrived at my hotel, a homey bed-and-breakfast just off Main Street and a thousand miles from the condos and rentals that are often the default choice for visitors to most ski towns. Another unique lodging option is the New Sheridan Hotel, which just reopened after extensive renovations. Built in 1895, the hotel is a stately Victorian treasure. The renovation preserved historical details like mahogany paneling and ornate chandeliers while updating the rooms with modern amenities.
Downtown Telluride is just eight blocks by twelve blocks but boasts enough restaurants for a town triple its size. Craving a carb-heavy meal with spice, I decided on Las Montañas/Alejandro’s, a chic Latin cantina. This colorful locale is decorated with indigenous art its owners have gathered on their trips to Central and South America, and the menu is equally authentic, with dangerously delicious margaritas.
On my last day in Telluride, I returned my skis and headed to the Golden Door Spa. My sporadic attendance at yoga class had not prepared my body for the slopes. I needed professional help. The spa, located inside The Peaks Resort, offers traditional treatments as well as unique options like detoxifying soaks and reflexology therapy. Relaxed into a state of near intoxication, I reluctantly bypassed the buzzing après-ski scene at X Café, a stylish retro ski lounge at the gondola’s base, in favor of a pre-dinner nap. But before I could reach my bed, I ran into a pleasant roadblock at the San Sophia: Every afternoon, the inn hosts a wine reception, giving guests a chance to swap stories of epic runs and killer moguls.
I ended my trip to Telluride at one of the oldest addresses in town. The New Sheridan Bar looks like the set of an old Western movie, with its worn mahogany paneling, pressed tin ceiling and exquisitely detailed leaded windows. The night I stopped in, a local bluegrass band was playing and the bar was filled to capacity. I found a seat near the massive stone fireplace and listened to music not so different from what might have been played here a century ago.
Telluride may be a world-class ski resort today, but it still has the tight-knit, fraternal feel of the mining camp it once was. With only one road leading out of town, visitors find it hard to leave.
visit / stay / dine
The nearest airports are Telluride (7 miles) and Montrose (64 miles). From Los Angeles, United and America West offer connecting flights. Shuttle service and car rentals are available at both airports. A car is unnecessary once you’re there.
Telluride Ski Resort: The ski season runs from Thanksgiving to early April. Lift tickets are available at a discount on the resort’s website, and visitors should also ask their hotel about discount packages. (800) 778-8581, tellurideskiresort.com.
Telluride Nordic Center: Located in Town Park, the Nordic Center offers rentals, lessons, and guided cross-country and snowshoe tours in the national forests near Telluride.
500 E. Colorado Ave.; (970) 728-1144, telluridetrails.org.
Golden Door Spa at The Peaks: Offering massages, facials, soaks and other spa treatments in a tranquil mountaintop setting. 136 Country Club Dr.; (970) 728-2590, thepeaksresort.com.
EATING AND DRINKING
Giuseppe’s Restaurant: Located at the top of Lift 9, this small, on-mountain lunch spot offers hearty comfort food at the top of the world. (970) 728-7445, telluride.com/giuseppes.
Allred’s: Midway up the mountain above Telluride, Allred’s serves contemporary American cuisine alongside jaw-dropping views of the San Juan Mountains. Open for après-ski and dinner. Gondola, Station San Sophia; (970) 728-7474, allredsrestaurant.com.
New Sheridan Bar: Located in the historic hotel that is its namesake, the New Sheridan’s roaring fireplace and stiff cocktails make it an ideal spot to settle in for the night. 233 W. Colorado Ave.; (970) 728-3911, newsheridan.com.
X Café: A colorful retro ski lounge at the base of the gondola, X Café is packed during après-ski, but chef Jake Linzinmeir also has crafted a gourmet lunch and weekend brunch menu. 250 W. San Juan Ave.; (970) 728-8887.
Gorrono Ranch: An on-mountain restaurant serving casual American fare like burgers and chili, Gorrono Ranch’s “beach” is a sunny place to refuel and relax. (970) 728-7442.
New Sheridan Hotel: This 113-year-old hotel is located in the heart of historic Telluride. 231 W. Colorado Ave.; (800) 200-1891, newsheridan.com.