Time for Telluride
The Colorado ski haven remains America’s best for enjoying an authentic Old West experience and all types of mountain terrain—from easy green cruisers to powdery bowls accessed via helicopter.
Telluride’s two biggest strengths are its terrific ski terrain and towns—unlike other resorts, there are two very different ones, linked together by the ski trails themselves. Telluride, locally known simply as “town,” is a charming, authentic, well-preserved 19th-century mining enclave on the floor of the canyon below the skiing. Here, you can free your inner cowboy or cowgirl while drinking in one of its saloons, shopping for a duster, or walking past the site of the very first bank infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy ever robbed.
Right from town, catch the gondola up to the top of the ski area, called Mountain Village. Established in 1987, the modern, pedestrianized ski resort village has firepits, a skating rink, lots of lavish rental homes, and plenty of touristic amenities. With lots of lodging and dining options up or down, you can stay, eat, drink, and shop in either, and just about every visitor enjoys the best of both no matter where they lay their head. Telluride and Mountain Village are both fully connected to the slopes, ski-in/ski-out, and also directly connected by the free gondola running well into the post-dinner hours, a form of public transportation as unique and charming as Telluride itself. It is common for Mountain Village guests to end their day at the base and enjoy town’s ample après offerings, then make their way home by gondola hours later—still in ski boots.
In terms of skiing, the resort has plenty of greens, blues, blacks, and double black diamonds, but there is also an unrivaled wealth of double blue terrain, perfect for the huge but traditionally underserved advanced intermediate audience. This includes glades, which in most places are only for experts.
At the high end, there is also a vast amount of even more challenging double black options and cliff-face chutes. Those who choose destinations like Jackson Hole, Crested Butte, and Big Sky for ultra-steeps, chutes, and “mandatory air,” will be overjoyed. In addition to every ability level, Telluride also caters to tastes for trees, bowls, in-bound hike-to, lift-served out-of-bounds side country, long groomers, and most famously, moguls, for which Telluride may well be America’s very best spot. All this terrain is easy to access, even over the busy holidays, because with no real day-skiing drive market and little nearby regional lodging, the ski resort is rarely crowded.
For such a large mountain, it is very easy to navigate and requires surprisingly few lift rides to get around, and because every lift serves at least one groomed beginner or intermediate trail, it’s virtually impossible to get stuck over your head. Unlike most resorts, where novices are relegated to the base area, here they can enjoy the same stunning vistas from the top as experts, thanks to a 4.5-mile beginner run from just below the summit. After all, what’s the point of a big mountain skiing vacation if you never get to experience the big mountain?
If all that is not enough, Telluride is also one of just a handful of North American resorts offering on-site daily heli-skiing, right from the middle of Mountain Village. With nearly four decades’ experience, a state-of-the-art, high-altitude Eurocopter AS350 B3e aircraft, and more than 200 square miles of untracked terrain in the San Juan Mountains, Telluride Helitrax is a proven, exceptional, and extremely convenient operator.
If you fly private, getting to Telluride could not be easier—the airport is just 10 minutes away, closer than even famously convenient options like Jackson Hole and Aspen. But until last winter, the gateway for commercial flights was Montrose, 90 minutes out. Montrose still has the most options, adding several seasonal routes for more flights than ever on United, American, and Delta, with nonstops from 11 major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta, Denver, and Chicago. But the biggest change was the launch of Denver Air Connection, a United regional partner offering the quick leg from United’s international Denver hub right into the Telluride airport with regional jets, instantly making town a one-stop flight from as far away as Tokyo.
The most obvious thing Telluride lacks is a big-name five-star resort like the Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, or Four Seasons, but it is home to two boutique Auberge Resorts. The luxury brand took over Madeline Hotel & Residences (aubergeresorts .com), already Telluride’s top full-service luxury property (above), less than three years ago. Since then, they have revamped the dining, added a fantastic indoor/outdoor après club lounge for guests, and recently wrapped a major renovation including public and social spaces as well as all guest rooms. There are also luxury residences for rent, and the ski-in/ski-out Madeline is the heart and soul of Mountain Village, complete with an ice rink, a large spa, multiple restaurants, and convenient ski valet service.
Also in Mountain Village, with a prime ski-in/ski-out location at the base of Lift 4, Lumiere with Inspirato (inspirato.com) is a warm, welcoming European-style residential hotel (inset). It has just 18 swank one- to five-bedroom apartments, each completely renovated in the past two years. All feature gourmet commercial-style kitchens, gas fireplaces, and oversize bathrooms with soaking tubs and walk-in showers, most with steam showers and laundry rooms. They recently added an in-room private chef program and have a bar lounge serving delicious meals including breakfast, then shifting to wine and small plates for après-ski. It is very pet friendly and makes guests feel as if they are returning home.
The best lodging down in town is a boutique residential option, Element 52 (aubergeresorts.com). Auberge’s ski-in/ski-out property has no restaurants, though many are within walking distance, and houses just a small—but excellent—spa. What sets it apart are its over-the-top residences (many multistory, some with private elevators, game rooms, home theaters, outdoor hot tubs) and its direct connection to the slopes by private funicular. Element 52 is very intimate, high-touch, and service-oriented, complementing its superb physical accommodations with white-glove staff, house car transport, and on-demand adult beverage service. There is no better accommodation in Telluride proper.
The already impressive fine-dining scene has recently been expanding. The longtime hottest reservation in town remains 221 South Oak (221southoak.com), owned by cookbook author and former Top Chef star Eliza Gavin, with a constantly changing but reliably delicious menu and the best wine list in Telluride. Two years ago, The National (thenationaltelluride.com) debuted and immediately became a favorite, combining lots of delicious, gourmet small plate options with an impressive wine list and extensive craft cocktails. Telluride already had an intimate and very popular cocktail and small plate specialist, Side Work Speakeasy (sideworkspeakeasy.com), a poorly “hidden” gem.
While it could rest on its laurels for the drop-dead views, Allred’s Restaurant (left; tellurideskiresort.com), in the top gondola terminal, serves worthy upscale dinners. There’s also the tourist favorite with kitschy Old West flair, the New Sheridan Chop House (newsheridan.com). This excellent steakhouse sources locally ranched beef, lamb, and bison and keeps a very well-curated wine list. Up on the mountain, Alpino Vino (tellurideskiresort.com) is a tiny fine-dining eatery modeled on the culinary mountain refugios of Italy. With two nightly seatings, it requires advance reservations and a snowcat ride, both well worth it for a multicourse menu with wine pairings that is the best replication of European ski dining in the United States.
But while all major ski resorts have fine-dining standouts, where Telluride excels over all its peers is on the comfort food front: that hard-to-find, post-skiing combination of informality, value, and excellence that seems overlooked in many mountain towns. To that end, Oak (oakstelluride.com) is simply the best authentic smoked barbecue joint (Alabama-style) in skiing, plus Cajun and Creole specialties and a deep bourbon library including Pappy Van Winkle. Likewise, the best pizzeria in all of ski country is Brown Dog Pizza (browndogpizza.com), a mind-blowing, Detroit-style spot that is arguably the favorite eatery in town. Telluride is also home to skiing’s best taqueria, the wildly creative, chef-driven, and always delicious Taco del Gnar (gnarlytacos.com). All of this adds up to massive family appeal you don’t need advance reservations for, and adding to this embarrassment of down-home culinary riches, local favorite Steamies Burger Bar (steamiesburgers.com) won a prestigious statewide competition and was named the Best Burger in Colorado. The “regular” version is locally ranched, drug-free, all-natural Angus, but upgrades include Colorado bison and domestic Wagyu.
The only visitors who might possibly be disappointed are those in need of luxury fashion boutiques—there’s no sign of Prada or Gucci. What Telluride excels at is outdoor gear, from national retailers like Patagonia (patagonia.com) to one-off (but famous in the climbing world) Jagged Edge Mountain Gear (jagged-edge-telluride.com). This main street institution has long been one of the nation’s top options for every conceivable twist on climbing, hiking, skiing, ski mountaineering, camping, and all related gear and apparel. With shops in both town and Mountain Village, Bootdoctors (bootdoctors.com) is considered by many experts to be the nation’s best independent ski boot customizer and fitter, with pro skiers making special trips and others planning their ski vacations around buying new boots. It’s also a full-serviceski and bike shop carrying all the best brands with a high level of expertise.
Finally, Mountain Village is home to the gallery and factory of Wagner Custom Skis (wagnerskis.com), far and away America’s preeminent manufacturer of high-tech, totally personalized skis.