Challenging Skiing In The Cowboy Town Of Telluride

25 March 2015

On the snowy streets of Telluride, the feeling of the Wild West prevails.

The main drag is lined with Victorian-era shops and buildings, the New Sheridan Hotel looks ready-made for cowboys and, in a nod to contemporary customs, there’s a retro-green caravan called the Coffee Cowboy selling espresso and cappuccino.

There’s something else going on here, too. Cowboy vibe aside, this former silver-mining town in south-west Colorado is also a bright light for skiers, who are attracted from all over the world by the testing terrain.

The mountains tower over and surround the town, which sits in a box canyon. It’s a pretty place, with the fast-flowing San Miguel River roaring by. There are four-wheel-drives cruising the wide main street, skiers just off the slopes marching their hi-tech plastic-moulded ski boots awkwardly along the footpaths, and shoppers rugged up in Gore-Tex jackets and hand-woven beanies.

.........................................................................................................................................................

Here's Where Butch Cassidy Robbed His First Bank

.........................................................................................................................................................

It’s all very laidback in this heritage-listed town, population 2300, where there are no traffic lights and franchise stores such as McDonalds have been repelled, but shops selling medicinal marijuana are allowed.

 Cassidy's first crime scene

The streets of Telluride were not so calm on June 24, 1895. That’s the day Butch Cassidy and his gang robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank.

It was Cassidy’s first bank robbery and there’s now a plaque on the building marking the momentous occasion for the outlaw who was immortalised by Paul Newman in the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It’s said Cassidy grabbed $US21,000 in the Telluride robbery and outwitted his pursuers by having fresh horses hidden in the valley to make his getaway to a Utah hideout.

Telluride boomed with the coming of the railroad in 1890, bringing miners seeking their fortune.

The ski resort followed 80 years later when rail had been replaced by road and plane as a way to this remote destination, more than 500km from Denver.


Things worth knowing for your skiing holiday. Expert Tips For Your Next Snow Holiday

He's 97 (and a half) and still skiing strong. 97-Year-Old Skier Shares His Fountain Of Youth


.........................................................................................................................................................

A Mix Of Moguls, Steeps, Tree Runs And Groomers

.........................................................................................................................................................

The ski resort has always had a reputation for its tough skiing in the spectacular San Juan Mountains where many of America’s famed “fourteeners’’ (14,000-foot mountains) are found. Among them is Wilson Peak, which beer drinkers will recognise from the Coors Brewing Company’s iconic label.

From the resort’s on-piste runs, many side-country challenges beckon for experienced skiers and snowboarders.

There are couloirs and cliffs for those who dare, such as local skier Scott Kennett, forever etched into the ski world psyche after appearing in 1988 cult film Blizzard of Aaahs with his dog Zudnick.

Kennett, the first person to ski down Wilson Peak, says there is endless terrain to explore in the side-country, including a treacherous couloir called Heavens Eleven that requires an abrupt stop. “There’s a 350-foot [106-metre] cliff and you really have to put the brakes on and manoeuvre around it.”

 Telluride at its toughest

Back on the piste, the resort’s statistics also tell a tale of tough runs. The terrain breakdown is 41 per cent advanced/expert, 36 per cent intermediate and 23 per cent beginner. It’s a mix of moguls, steeps, tree runs and groomers.

Despite its awesome reputation, there is ample terrain for all levels.

Less-accomplished skiers and boarders can breathe easy, because there is at least one groomed intermediate (or easier) run off every chairlift, so there is little chance of being stranded in a place you don’t want to be.

Advanced skiers should head for Revelation Bowl, intermediates to the runs off the Polar Queen lift, while beginners should start at the Sunshine Express area.

.........................................................................................................................................................

Goggle At Homes Of The Rich And Famous

.........................................................................................................................................................

Among the delightful easy cruising terrain is the 7.4 kilometres Galloping Goose. The Goose is the longest run on the mountain and meanders through woodlands, over small bridges, into tunnels, and passes by luxury homes, one of which belongs to Tom Cruise, who has listed it for sale at $US59 million (A$76 million)

Rumours circulated some years ago that he wanted to build a bunker at the home to use as a refuge in case of alien attack.

Another piece of prime Telluride real estate is the Observatory at Alta Lakes. It’s an isolated timber and stone back-country home in a snowy meadow adjacent to Telluride’s ski runs, and available for rent.

It has leather sofas, a hot tub, fireplace and creature comforts such as board games, books, sauna and coffee maker to amuse if you got snowed in. Getting there is the hard part in winter, with many opting to arrive by snowmobile.

 There are facilities for all abilities

Easier-to-access accommodation is found at Telluride’s on-mountain base, Mountain Village, which is linked to Telluride town by a free gondola.

The on-mountain village has stylish ski-in/ski-out accommodation, shops, restaurants, cafes, bars and an ice rink clustered around a European-style plaza with fire pits and vendors selling comfort food, from meatballs to crepes.

.........................................................................................................................................................

You Won't Lack Good Food Either

.........................................................................................................................................................

Good food is plentiful at Telluride, but if you had to pick just three eateries then Rustico, Bon Vivant and Alpino Vino are the ones you would want on your credit card.

Rustico is an Italian place in the main street, serving grass-fed beef from Ralph Lauren’s nearby ranch; Bon Vivant is on mountain (at the top of the Polar Queen Express lift) serving French cuisine on an open deck under big umbrellas; Alpino Vino is a cute European-style mountain hut along the See Forever run, delivering Italian with impeccable service. (Alpino Vino, at 3647 metres, is North America’s highest restaurant).

At an elevation of 3830 metres, Telluride is one of Colorado’s higher ski resorts and precautions against altitude sickness should be taken. Stay well hydrated and use the humidifier in your room (usually provided).

Above all else, don’t go out for a big night on your first night in town and roll out of the New Sheridan Hotel hootin’ and hollerin’ at midnight like a cowboy!

Know this ...

  • Telluride isn’t the only Colorado resort with a Wild West flavour.
  • Also try Steamboat, Breckenridge and Aspen for their Western vibe and Victorian-era buildings.
  • In Wyoming, Jackson Hole has all the markings of a cowboy town, and there’s no better place to soak it up than at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar where there are saddles for bar stools.
  • The US snow season generally starts in late November and ends in April.
  • Telluride is 530 kilometres from Denver, so it makes sense to fly there from Denver or Los Angeles.

Robert Upe

Robert Upe is an award-winning travel writer and editor, specialising in skiing. At last count he had visited 50+ snow resorts. He has co-authored skiing guide books and was travel editor for Fairfax. Off snow, he has a passion for travel in Asia.