|It's ten o'clock in the morning,
the temperature is nudging 20 degrees, and I'm standing at the top of Lift
9 in Telluride, which is 11,890 feet above sea level. In front of me is
the Plunge, one of the longest, best-known steeps in skiing, covered with
several inches of fresh snow. All around are spectacular, jagged-edged 13,000-
and 14,000-foot peaks. The kids are in ski school and I've already taken
a few runs to get loose, so there are no excuses. As the adrenaline begins
to flow, I glance at my wife, who flashes me a huge smile just before pointing
her skis and taking off.
In the world of big-mountain, big-resort skiing, this is as close to
perfect as it gets. A crisp morning, fresh snow, matchless vistas, a thrilling
run, and not another person besides the two of us in sight. After several
decades as a fairly obsessed skier including four years as a resident
of Vail I found that my first trip to Telluride last winter reminded
me why (despite the expense and the hassles) I still ski. It was, frankly,
the most fun I've had in Colorado in years.
There are bigger mountains (Vail); more glamorous towns (Aspen); more
polished resorts (Deer Valley and Beaver Creek); and easier places to
get to (Steamboat).What Telluride has (along with great skiing and no
crowds) is an extraordinary combination of contrasts. It's funky and elegant.
It's historic and contemporary. The spas and condos and modern alpine
architecture of fourteen-year-old Mountain Village coexist with big furry
dogs, white guys with dreadlocks, and the quaint 100-year-old Victorian-Old
West look of the town. And all of it is set in a boxed canyon that provides
the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in ski country.
For years, though, Telluride has been dogged by two essential questions.
The first is access: Is it too much of a pain to get to? Not anymore.
Continental has one nonstop flight a week on Saturday morning from Newark
to Montrose. From there, it's a scenic 65-mile drive past Ralph Lauren's
enormous and perfectly fenced ranch.
If you can't take this flight, you have two other options: Connect to
Montrose through either Dallas or Houston, which adds, depending on your
connection, a couple of hours of traveling. Or fly to Denver and take
a small plane directly into Telluride, where the airport sits at a hair-raising
9,073 feet and is the third-highest in the world (only those in La Paz,
Bolivia, and Kathmandu are higher). But even if going to Telluride means
having to make a connecting flight, it's unquestionably worth the effort.
The other key question about Telluride has always been its ski terrain.
Is the mountain well suited for beginners and intermediates, or is the
skiing mostly for experts? In fact, nearly half of the terrain was intermediate.
I say was because this past summer, Telluride underwent a major
expansion. Three new lifts were put in, adding more than 700 acres of
skiing to the 1,050 already there. Called Prospect Bowl, the new terrain
includes intermediate glade skiing, and above-the-tree-line chutes and
bowl skiing for experts.
The first decision you have to make when going to Telluride is where
to stay: in town or in Mountain Village. Town is an eight-block-by-twelve-block
national historic district that despite high-altitude real-estate values
remains one of the last truly charming ski towns in the Rockies. It's
a taste of what Aspen was like 30 years ago.
Mountain Village is a completely different experience. It's located on
a kind of plateau at 9,540 feet on the face of Telluride Mountain. (Town
is 800 feet lower.) Everything there is new, and it's home not only to
lots of swanky condos and soaring trophy houses but also to the Golden
Door Spa at Wyndham Peaks Resort and the impeccable Franz Klammer Lodge.
Ski school is in Mountain Village, which is a consideration if you have
kids you need to get set up in the morning. If you stay in town, you have
to ride one of the lifts to get to ski school.
Town, on the other hand, is where you'll want to be most nights for dinner.
Best bets: Rustico for terrific Italian with a lively, casual atmosphere;
the New Sheridan Chophouse for game, in a setting that's an elegant but
casual mix of Southwest and Frank Lloyd Wright Arts and Crafts; Floradora
for burgers and such; and don't miss Allred's, a beautiful, soaring wood-and-glass
restaurant with regional American dishes that's on the mountain. When
the moon is out, the views are breathtaking.
If you stay in Mountain Village and want to go to dinner in town, you'll
have to ride the gondola back and forth; it's not only a ski lift but
a transportation system that functions like a kind of shuttle bus. It's
one more quirk in a ski town made irresistible by its eccentricities.
And to get a thorough understanding of how Telluride got this way, I urge
you to take an hour one afternoon and spend it with Ashley Boling. He's
a thoroughly engaging, six-foot-four-inch blond guy in a cowboy hat and
red bandanna who is a wonderful storyteller and a walking repository of