Nestled in a picturesque box canyon in the San Miguel mountains of Southwest Colorado, this old Victorian gold-mining town manages to keep its historic charm while finding new life as a world-class ski resort.
Beyond the slopes, Telluride offers seemingly endless nature to explore and an acclaimed film and festival lineup that draws hikers, film buffs, and music lovers from around the world, in addition to skiers. But it’s the authentic character and welcoming locals, who can be identified by their big dogs and their boots with a patina of mountain dirt, that set Telluride apart from other ski destinations.
When you first walk down the main drag of Colorado Avenue, it feels like an Old West movie, set against the stunning backdrop of the rugged San Juan Mountains. You’ll notice the New Sheridan — so named when it was rebuilt after a fire in 1895, and the bar next door, where Butch Cassidy imbibed some liquid courage before his first bank robbery in 1889. Pop into the sunglass store on the corner to see the actual bank vault he pilfered.
There are only about 2,000 local residents, but with 300 inches of annual snow and a solid lineup of festivals, Telluride never feels empty.
With over eight square kilometres of ski terrain, Telluride admirably accommodates the first-day skier and the veteran thrill-seeker. Unlike most mountains, which relegate tyros to the base bunny slopes, Telluride has a full beginner park at the very top of the mountain, where you can take in the stunning vistas of the San Miguel mountains while you hone your technique, and then hop on the beginner ski run Galloping Goose for the 7-plus kilometres back down.
Whole swaths of the mountain are devoted to intermediate blue slopes, but for the expert and adventurous, Telluride is a thrill seeker’s playground, with chutes, glades, and bowls to rival any in the world. You can even helicopter with a guide for some gnarly off-piste adventures. Be ready for a full day of skiing, as even on popular weekends, lift lines are never more than a few minutes.
The main street of Telluride harkens to a bygone era. Victorian houses and clapboard storefronts haven’t changed significantly since the days of the Old West, but today you’ll find bike shops and boutiques. The Telluride Historical Museum or daily walking tour will paint a picture of the boom and bust history of the mining-turned-ski town, but most locals flock to Colorado Avenue to grab a drink at the Floradora Saloon or dinner at Siam or Brown Dog Pizza.
From Telluride, hop on the free solar-powered gondola to get to Mountain Village. Built to be the base of the ski resort, it was constructed with local stone and glass and offers slopeside restaurants, hotels, and an ice rink. Tomboy Tavern is popular with skiers straight off the slopes, who in most cases are still wearing their boots and helmets as they sip their beers. Mountain Village is also the base of ski school and ski shops such as BootDoctors, which has a podiatrist, Sam, on staff to make sure your boots are a precision fit.
For lunch, the highest restaurant in North America, Alpino Vino, at 3,647 metres, is also one of its best. Ski in to enjoy a leisurely lunch and top-notch Italian wine on their multi-tiered deck, reminiscent of a Dolomite hütte, or take the snow coach up the mountain at night to enjoy a world-class five-course Italian Alpine degustation.
For aprés ski, snag a window seat at Allred’s bar, nestled atop the gondola, with views of Telluride below, and at sunset, the alpine glow that creates breathtaking incandescent pink peaks across the canyon.
In town, the New Sheridan Chop House serves steaks, chops and mountain game in an elegant Victorian setting of rich damask fabrics, wallpapers and traditional fixtures that evoke the town’s bygone mining era. At 221 South Oak, Chef Eliza offers fresh-ingredient-focused fine dining in a refurbished historic home, and La Marmotte offers elegant bistro food in the historic Telluride Ice House.
Skiing is not necessary to appreciate the natural beauty of Telluride. Spend a day hiking through the Uncompahgre National Forest beneath majestic Mount Sneffels to visit Bridalveil Falls and hopefully catch a glimpse of indigenous bears, marmots, elk, deer, foxes, grouse, prairie dogs and porcupines, or venture on a dog-sledding adventure. There’s a snow-bike tour (mountain bikes with specialty oversize tires for snow) that takes visitors on a ride to the Telluride Brewing Company and also a paragliding school, where you can soar above the mountaintops.
It is said that visitors come for the winter skiing and stay for the summer festivals. Telluride mounts a yearly film festival, which doesn’t feature celebrities and fancy parties, but rather focuses on four days of film viewing, with a program that is not even announced until its commencement. The Blues & Brews Festival in September combines big-name blues musicians and a beer competition in an intimate setting. During the Balloon Festival, dozens of hot air balloons launch from Town Park and sail down the valley.
Only in Telluride: Wagner skis
Wagner Custom Ski shop, which has a storefront in Mountain Village, is garnering international attention with its bespoke skis, which are handcrafted and calibrated to skier body measurements and ski style — what they call your “skier DNA” — then finished with custom graphic designs. “Our custom-fit skis will improve your balance, comfort, and control. So people notice that skiing is easier and more comfortable when they get on our custom skis,” says Pete Wagner, founder and CEO.
The Telluride spa at Mountain Village’s luxurious Madeline Hotel specializes in deep tissue treatments, yoga and pilates classes, and hot-stone massages to restore your body after a day on the slopes. It even has an oxygen bar to help guests adjust to the 3,048-metre altitude.
The Madeline and Fairmont’s Franz Klammer Lodge offer luxe accommodations in Mountain Village, but those in the know opt to rent private houses on the slopes, which offer ski-in, ski-out access. These private properties vary from multi-bedroom condos to incredible mountain houses with chef-grade kitchens and private pools and hot tubs. Plus, with one of these addresses, you’ve practically become a local already.
Text by Laine McDonnell