Until last year, all I knew about skiing in Colorado was the the i70 strip from Breckenridge to Beaver Creek. I've been fortunate to ski all of those resorts and wanted to go on a bit of an adventure this year but when a friend of ours mentioned Telluride and Silverton, I'll admit, I had to get a map out. Set in the far south-west of the state, almost on the border with Utah, Telluride is a unique old mining town in the west San Juan Mountains.
Steeped in history thanks to it's gold fortune, Telluride was made famous by Butch Casidy who robbed his first $25000 in a bank heist from the town but since the 1980's it's become known for being Colorado's "best kept secret" among skiers. It didn't take a lot of research to convince me that we needed to check it out.
Flying into Montrose, it's immediately obvious that this part of Colorado is "different". With one luggage belt and a log fire burning in the arrivals hall you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd landed in someone's front living room rather than the regions largest commercial airport!
Getting from Montrose to Telluride is easy by way of the Telluride Express ($105 round trip) or car hire (roughly the same cost for 4 people sharing a vehicle for the week). If you're self-catering, as we were, I'd highly recommend the car option so you can stock up at Walmart before you leave Montrose. We bought everything our group could have wanted and more and never had to venture to a supermarket again during our stay - and lets be honest, your time in resort is much better spent on the mountain, in the hot tub or enjoying a beer than doing groceries.
Telluride is split into two parts - Telluride town which is the old, historic centre centered around a main street full of quirky bars, shops and restaurants, and Telluride Mountain Village, a purpose built resort in the heart of the ski area. We chose to stay in Mountain Village - mainly because there was a bigger choice of accommodation options for a large group, and because of the convenience of ski-in-ski-out, but there are pro's and con's to staying in both areas and to be honest, you'll have a great time wherever you chose. The two hubs are connected by a free gondola that runs until midnight (genius! Why don't other resorts do this?) so if you do stay up in the Mountain Village and want to venture into town, doing so will only cost you 15 minutes in the cable car.
We woke up on the first day to a dream world - blue skies, sunshine and corduroy snow. We put the deserted slopes down to the fact that it was "changeover day" before realising that they were always empty - this is Colorado's best kept secret after all and it feels sensationally private.
The ski area is vast but intuitive to navigate and littered with fabulous spots to recharge and take in the alpine-style views. We zoomed around the ski area checking out each of the lifts and getting used to the altitude before looking for somewhere to refuel. There's so many options for slope side dining and you can forget the canteen-like mountain restaurants of other USA resorts. We snuggled up on cosy couches under the giant umbrella and outdoor heaters at Bon Vivant. Their creamy hot chocolates and croques monsieur's spilling out with molten cheese are compulsory and I wouldn't blame you for settling in for the afternoon with a bottle of Rose!
We managed a few more runs after lunch before skidding into to Gorrono's just above Mountain Village for a free beer tasting and some live music. Don't expect European style apres ski from this unassuming little town, but this gorgeous sun trap in the middle of the mountain is the perfect place to chill out with a beer at the end of the day.
Returning home at the end of our first day on the snow, confident that we'd found our bearings and excited to jump into the hot tub, snow flakes started tumbling from the sky as clouds enveloped the mountain and turned the scenery outside our windows into Narnia overnight.
Rising early to our new found wonderland we ventured excitedly up the hill - be warned, if you're hiring demo skis from Christy Sports and think that chosing demo gear is a good idea for the purpose of being able to change it up in accordance with the conditions, you're likely to be disappointed. We tried to trade our all-rounders for fat powder skis to be told that they'd all been rented out already - given the lack of crowds on the mountain I'd hasten to guess their equipment range isn't actually all that extensive so manage your expectations! Hey ho, there was fresh snow waiting to be played in and a good tradesman never blames his tools so of we went!
3 days of epic powder conditions followed and Telluride really delivers in terms of terrain for all abilities. There's something for everyone from beginner to expert, whether you prefer wide open groomers or tight trees - but where it really shows off is in the double diamond department.
Unloading at the top of the Gold Hill chair (14) challenging, steep faces open out in every direction, unless you chose to head into the huge Revelation back bowl.
Back over on the Prospect Chair the possibilities are almost endless, whether you ski straight off the lift or hike a little bit along Palmyra Peak or Bald Mountain.
After 4 days of epic skiing it was time for us to pack up and continue to Silverton (more on that to come) but we had a seriously good time in Telluride and there's no doubt that I'll be going back!
TELLURIDE TOP TIPS
WHERE TO EAT - ON THE MOUNTAIN
- Bon Vivant - open air restaurant at the top of the Polar Express so you need good weather but an absolute gem of a place. Limited menu (typical of a french bistro) with a great selection of drinks.
- High Camp Warming Hut - A very simple hut with grab and go food - the hot chocolates are the best I've ever had, loaded with marshmallows and cream and exactly what you need when you need a generous dose of calories half way through the day. The burrito's are absolutely delicious too. The perfect place to warm up and refuel if you don't want to waste time.
- Alpino Vino - We didn't actually stop here but we skied past it a few times and if we'd had more time I definitely would have made it a lunch spot! On the ski down from Chair 14 this cute little cabin has incredible views and apparently the food is awesome - probably somewhere to stop for a long, lazy afternoon in the mountains.
WHERE TO EAT OFF THE MOUNTAIN
- Siam - the main restaurant is in Telluride Town but has proved so popular that the owners opened a second location in Mountain Village and it's brilliant. The food is delicious, the service is attentive and equipped to handle rowdy tables of friends and the price point is very reasonable given the quality.
- Smugglers Brew Pub - A cosy craft beer eatery with delicious cocktail options as well as wine and generous food portions to match. If you're hankering for a burger, look no further.
GRAB YOUR GEAR
Whether you're renting or buying new kit, the best place both in town and up in Mountain Village is the Boot Doctors. As mentioned above I wasn't blown away by the choice at Christy's (although the service was fab! Sorry guys!) and the Boot Doctors stores are much better stocked with all manner of equipment and knowledgable staff
WHERE TO STAY
- Telluride Rentals - If you're in a group, self catering is a great option and the condo's available through Telluride Rentals are incredible. If you can fill a house the prices are affordable compared to other accommodation options in the resort which tend to be on the high side. This isn't a cheap resort to stay or ski in, but that's balanced out to a certain extend by the affordable eating and drinking.
- Victorian Inn - A well priced, no frills hotel, the Victorian Inn is perfectly located in the heart of the town a stone's throw away from the gondola.
PREPARE FOR ALTITUDE
It hits you like a steam train and even if you have never suffered from altitude sickness before, you never know how your body is going to react with living at 10,000 feet about sea level! Consult your doctor before you travel and consider taking Diamox or similar medication for the first few days of your stay. If you want to avoid drugs, try taking Ginseng or grab a couple of cans of oxygen from any of the stores in town.
What are your top tips for a ski holiday in Telluride?