Telluride is tucked away in a box canyon; a treasure you have to seek. And once you are there, you realise you really have struck it rich … just like Butch Cassidy way back in 1895. Back then he robbed a bank to hit the big time, but today, it is skiers and snowboarders who find that pot of gold. Put simply, Telluride is incredibly, magnificently, awesome.
There is a big list of celebrities that are fans of Telluride, the biggest being Tom Cruise. He has a house here and flies his private jet in when he pleases. Ralph Lauren’s massive Double RL Ranch is just outside of town, and you are quite likely to run into Darryl Hannah, who actually lives here and is a true local.
What’s interesting is that no-one cares who is who. You could be sitting next to Jerry Seinfeld, a famous movie producer, Laura Linney or Dan Quayle and there will be no airs and graces. Everyone is there to enjoy one thing – Telluride and its exceptional snow-clad mountains.
Take your pick of Telluride town, which is on the canyon floor, or Mountain Village, which is up on the ridge at 2895 metres. The two towns are linked by a free gondola which is a tourist attraction in its own right. The view down from the Mountain Village to the town is gob smackingly gorgeous.
The town of Telluride – is tucked away in the box canyon surrounded by the rugged and steep San Juan Mountains. The town is a National Historic District and is a showcase of charming Victorian architecture. The preserved downtown area is a great combination of restaurants, boutiques, bars and galleries, and you can walk from end to end with no trouble. If your legs are tired from skiing, there is a free shuttle bus called the Galloping Goose. Being an old silver mining town there is plenty of history, with the magnificent old New Sheridan Hotel a must.
Almost everything is original – it’s fantastic for a drink before or after dinner. Check out the Opera House as well – a lot of celebs raised money for it, including Mel Gibson, according to the thank you plaques on the floor. Must do: Stroll down the Main Street and take it all in. Dine at: Rustico – amazing food, exceptional wine list and great ambience. Best moment: Seeing the exact spot where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank. Find the plaque on the door of the Mahr Building.
Mountain Village – is where most of the accommodation is, with a host of excellent properties to choose from. Most are ski-in, ski-out and are centred around European-style piazzas, fringed by shops, restaurants, firepits and one has an ice rink. Take your pick of condos, hotels, luxury homes and lodges, with some of the world’s best skiing at your doorstep. Must do: Sit by the firepit and watch the action on the ice rink, or have a go yourself. Dine at: View Restaurant at Mountain Lodge or Rev at Hotel Madeline.
Best moment: Checking out the view from our room over the San Juan Mountains on the first morning. A ‘wow’moment.
Check in – at Hotel Madeline, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, was seamless and slick. Our three-bedroom apartment was superb and for budding chefs, the kitchen top of the line. As I am not a budding chef, it stayed pristine and unused. We loved the downstairs lounge, and collapsed into the comfy lounges after skiing a few times. The location is a real winner – so close to everything. If you prefer small boutique properties, Lumiére is divine. The 18 residences and 11 hotel rooms are impeccably styled.
Gear up – We arranged our gear through Telluride Sports, which has several outlets around the Mountain Village and the town. We picked ours at up at Neve Sports, where the expert staff had us fitted and kitted in no time, and then stored it for us the Hotel Madeline’s ski valet. In the mornings, we just turned up, switched shoes for ski boots and our skis were waiting for us on the snow outside. Step in, click on, and go. They even helped us out of our boots in the afternoon and with a smile.
Telluride Ski Resort – is mind-blowing. It offers skiing that is out of this world no matter what level you are – and there not that many places that can say that and live up to the hype. You could be an absolute beginner here and have just as good a time as those that throw themselves down double blacks. The Resort has 18 lifts servicing over 120 trails spread out over a vast area. We checked out the runs off the Village Express chair, the main access up the mountains from the Mountain Village. The Polar Queen was a veritable playground with plenty of blues for happy intermediates while Gold Hill Express gives access to one of my favourite spots, Revelation Bowl. The Majestic run is sensational and lives up to its name, while Silvercloud is also spectacular. Prospect Express takes you up to terrain for all levels, from beginner green to double blacks and extreme skiing on Palmyra Peak. Also do the Galloping Goose – Telluride’s longest run at a calf-tearing 7.4 kms. It’s an easy green run that is a bit like a scenic tour, taking you past some of the houses, under bridges and back to the Chondola lift – a combination of chairlift and gondola – which links back up with the Mountain Village.
When we first arrived and looked at the runs down from the Mountain Village to the town of Telluride, they looked too steep, but soon we were whizzing down the Plunge and skiing all the way down to the town, only to catch the Gondola or Oak Street lift back up. What an experience. Must do: Laze in a deckchair with a local brew at Gorrono Ranch. Dine at: Alpino Vino up the mountain.
Bon Vivant is another great place on the mountain for lunch or a drink at the sun-drenched bar. Best moment: Standing at the top of the Revelation Lift at 3831 metres and experiencing the heavenly view. It really does take the breath away.
Shopping – While not quite as shop-heavy as Aspen, there are plenty of places to spend your hard-earned but don’t expect to find the usual array of labels and designers. Every place is unique. Black Bear Trading has super cool cowboy boots and western gear, while Appaloosa has great leather wear. Lustre and Picaya will satisfy your cravings for fine jewellery and artwork, while Dolce and Elinoff have exquisite jewels. If you are a bargain hunter, spend time in Pip’s Fine and Funky Consignment store. If you are there on the first Thursday of the month, do the Art Walk, with all the galleries open and serving drinks and nibblies.
Apres ski – Half the fun of skiing and snowboarding is the socialising afterwards and there are plenty of cool places to wind down, or wind up in Telluride. In the Mountain Village head for Lumiére, Tomboy Tavern or Smak Bar at Hotel Madeline. Order a Smak Mary – a combination of a Bloody Mary and a Slider – a drink and a snack all in one.
If you want to dine out in town, you can’t go past the New Sheridan for its western chic.
Dining out – Prepare to pamper your taste buds, because there’s some seriously good restaurants here. In town, one of the best is the Cosmopolitan at the Hotel Columbia, where Chef Chad Scothorn dishes out mighty fine fare in a serene environment. Rustico is a joyous Italian restaurant with a massive wine list and a party feel. It’s the only place in town where you can tuck into Ralph Lauren’s grass-fed beef from the Double RL Ranch. Plus it has an Australian tie in, with one of the owners, Carmella, hailing from Melbourne. La Marmotte is always on the money, but when it comes to views and gourmet cuisine combined – you have to go to Allred’s. It’s at the St Sophia Gondola station – about half way between the Mountain Village and the town – and is perched on the ridge looking down over the twinkling lights of Telluride. The location, the food and the ambience are top of the world. Incidentally, did you know that Telluride was the first town in the world to have electric street lights? Yep. The world’s first AC power plant was built in Telluride so it was first to switch on.
Other activities – There are plenty of other things to do should you want a day off the slopes. We went snowmobiling with Telluride Snowmobile Adventures and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon, driving through incredible scenery, with wide snowy tracks cutting through stands of aspens and surround by rugged, craggy peaks.
We stop for a look around and hear plenty of history about the place from the knowledgeable guide, before riding our trusty steeds back to base. Dog sledding is also fun with Winter Moon highly recommended. History buffs can do an Historical Town Tour, with plenty of information about Butch Cassidy along the way.
Tips – Don’t ski the first day so you can acclimatise to the altitude. Drink plenty of water. If your room doesn’t have a humidifier, ask for one and use it.
Getting there: Telluride does have a commercial airport – the third highest in the world behind Quito and La Paz – but flights can be disrupted by weather. Of course if you have your own private jet – a la Tom Cruise – you can fly in when you like and park it on the tarmac. We flew direct from LAX to Montrose with an easy connection to our Sydney flight. From there it’s about a 90-minute transfer to Telluride.