One of the highlights in our Colorado roving retirement sojourn this year was our visit to Telluride, a real old west mining town nestled into a magnificent box canyon. We have been skiing in Colorado for a number of years, but we had never been to Telluride because it is not easy to get to. The entire town is really two towns, Telluride and the Town of Mountain Village, and both are very upscale, hence Bougie.
We drove from Beaver Creek to Telluride in about 5 hours (7 hours from Denver). A better choice is to fly into Montrose, about 90 minutes from Telluride. Winter service is available from Denver on Southwest, so you won’t have to fork over for extra and oversize bag charges. From Montrose, you can take a shuttle to Telluride.
Telluride is in a box canyon with sheer cliffs and steeply ascending slopes that surround the town and provide a dramatic backdrop everywhere you look. Even if you don’t ascend the Revelation Bowl lift to over 12,500 feet, you can still get a commanding view of the town and surrounding mountains. The run on Revelation Bowl seems to end at the edge of an abyss. From the top of the ski area, you can see what I was told is the image on the Coors Light can. To the west, mountains in Utah are visible on a clear day. From town or the resort, the views are magnificent.
One evening on our way to dinner, our shuttle driver pointed out the “candle tops” on a couple of the surrounding mountains. By this, he meant the soft reddish glow of dusk on the very tops of the snow-covered peaks, aka “alpenglow”. The fleeting effect was a bit mesmerizing and a lovely way to start our evening.
The Town of Telluride
Telluride was a historic mining town with over 350 miles of working tunnels before the mines shut down in 1978. In the 1970 census, the year-round population was below 600. Skiing then blossomed on the adjacent mountain and the town had an Aspen bad-boy feel, attracting celebs in the 80s and 90s. Even today, the year-round population is only about 2500. The town still has a very upscale feel.
One of the unique features of Telluride is the free gondola that connects the town to Mountain Village, which has been aggressively developed since skiing started in 1972. The gondola, open from 6:30 am to midnight is used for sightseeing and general transportation between town and the mountain. The views are spectacular day or night.
The town itself is long and narrow and can be walked in about 15 minutes. As such, it isn’t hard to get the measure of the place fairly quickly. There are only a handful of lodgings available in town proper. Much of the town appears very homogenous in style because of the strict building regulations. I found it a bit disquieting. The genuine historic buildings can be hard to distinguish from recent construction. The result is a bit of a Disney-esque feel, IMHO.
The Town of Mountain Village
In contrast to Telluride, the Town of Mountain Village is a modern ski village with a lot of expensive homes and resorts for short- and long-term ski-in/ski-out lodging.
There are some restaurants available in the village, but the options are better in town. So, every night, there is a line of people taking the gondola down to town for dinner. On weekends, you might be waiting a long time in the dark and cold to catch a ride. Before Covid, the resort would close the cabin windows and provide blankets. Let’s hope that tradition returns.
We stayed at the Hotel Telluride, a boutique hotel near the west edge of town. Our modest room came with a balcony and kitchenette. An awesome feature of this hotel is the free shuttle that took us anywhere we wanted in town (including to/from the gondola on days I skied) with very little wait, so the location wasn’t much of an issue.
Telluride Ski Resort
41% of the runs at Telluride are Advanced. In addition to the numerous black and double-black runs, there were a dozen double-black “EX” routes (hard to call it a run). These appeared very steep with trees and exposed rocks. Some were chutes. I hadn’t encountered any EX before, and I don’t know if I will ever be up to that challenge. Too much risk, methinks.
Surprisingly, there were lift lines mid-week. I was told this very unusual and basically due to Covid distancing requirements preventing fully loaded lifts. Still, I only waited longer than 10 minutes once and that was due to a maintenance issue.
On Mountain Dining
The on-mountain dining is mostly outdoors. Covid isn’t so much the issue as finding a place to get warm. Happily, a dozen or so gondola cabins have been repurposed as dining cabins set in the main square. They are first-come, first-serve and you can order take-out from a half-dozen nearby food spots. When it is nice out, the setting is breathtaking. On the mountain, Alpino Vino with a deck at nearly 12,000 feet serves great wine and food. The umbrella deck at 11,000 at Bon Vivant serves French items. A few places in Mountain Village take reservations, but they can be a bit spendy.
Befitting the bougie feel of the town, there were a few restaurants that delivered on the food side. 221 South Oak had probably the best elk T-bone I’ve had and we dined in the yurt outback. Their tables were ultra-far apart, much better than some of the other places we saw. Sidework, a speakeasy, was also worth a visit. Our hotel housed the West End Bistro, which provided a decent surf-n-turf with scallops.
More dressed down was the Floradora Saloon, where Diana made a meal out of a side of mac & cheese topped with short ribs. Another find was the Telluride Brewing Company Brew Pub & Taqueria in Mountain Village. A fantastic range of their awarding-winning brews are on tap and the tacos are very good, too. They even had a bourbon barrel version of my favorite Face Down Brown on tap. Wunderbar!
There was one place we tried that didn’t meet expectations. Email us if you are going to Telluride and you want that info.
Owing to Diana’s injury, she was unable to ski this visit, so she really wants to come back another year. We think we will stay in Mountain Village, just for a change of scene. Any way you slice it, the resort has magic that is worth trying to capture again.
What is your favorite former mining town to visit?