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Telluride, Colorado -- ski vacation in Colorado mountains, San Juan Mountain ski vacation

by Suzanne Carmel

Skiing Prospect Bowl, Telluride.
Photo: Tony Demin
Mention a winter ski vacation in Colorado and perhaps Aspen, Vail or Breckenridge will come to mind. Many head to these ski destinations before thinking of Telluride, a quirky, offbeat, warm and welcoming resort town nestled in the San Juan Mountains. The discovered-but-not-completely-overrun-with-tourists town is just the way the locals like it.

When Telluride isn't full to capacity (5,100 beds) with summer or winter outdoor enthusiasts, it is home to 2,200 residents in the town of Telluride (8,725-foot elevation), and another 1,000 in Mountain Village (9,540 foot-elevation). The altitude won't be the only thing to leave you gasping for breath. Though this destination is a bit isolated, it's certainly a hot spot with plenty of exhilarating things to do.

Every day during ski season (Nov. 26, 2003 - April 4, 2004), lifts run from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., carrying skiers and snowboarders to a variety of mountain terrain. Though Telluride is known for its steeps and bumps, 38 percent of the mountain is intermediate terrain and there is a fair share of runs for beginning skiers, as well. In January of 2002, the opening of Prospect Bowl gave skiers an additional 733 acres of terrain, nearly doubling the size of the ski slopes on the mountain.

Clock tower, New Sheridan and Ajax.
Photo: George Huey

Extremely experienced skiers can access backcountry terrain through a gate at the top of Golden Hill Lift, but the area is not patrolled and can be extremely hazardous. Adrenaline junkies will also enjoy the Air Garden Terrain Park, where skiers and snowboarders can try out a steep half pipe and the latest jibs. Another adventure, snowbiking, where a bike rests low to the ground with two skis instead of wheels, can be enjoyed on terrain accessible from any detachable quad lift.

For those who are more cautious about their winter activities or simply need a break from the slopes, Telluride has plenty to keep you occupied. Visitors can explore the history of this eight-by-12-block town, founded in 1878. The town was originally named Columbia and changed to its current name in 1887 to avoid confusion with Columbia, California. Telluride developed around the mining industry, particularly gold mining, and prospered until most of the mines were shut down in 1953. During its heyday, nearly 5,000 people lived here. The wealthy little town even attracted the attention of Butch Cassidy, who began his career as a bank robber at the San Miguel Valley Bank.

After the mining ended, the town didn't recover until a ski area was developed in the early 1970s, expanding over the decades into what it is today. Telluride has flourished with an influx of winter and summer tourists. Today there are over 50 restaurants and bars, about 70 shops and galleries and accommodations ranging from small inns and hotels to upscale resorts and luxury condominiums.

Take one of Ashley Boling's historical walking tours of Telluride to get the lay of the land. To get an overview of the mountain, you can take a Meet the Mountain free tour (open to intermediate and above snowriders), leaving from the trail map at the top of Lift 7 daily at 10:00 a.m. A snowshoe tour is another option, guided by a U.S. Forest Service Ranger and leaving Thursday through Sunday at 1:00 p.m. from Station St. Sophia. Snowshoe rentals are available at Telluride Sports. Snowshoers and Nordic skiers take to 10 kilometers of groomed trails on their own at the Topaten Touring Center, where guided snowshoe tours are also available.

Roudy and Teddy Horseback Riding
Photo: Doug Berry

The 30,000-square-foot Mountain Village Activity Center is where you can purchase lift tickets, rent equipment or register for lessons. The Children's Center offers a nursery for toddlers and a ski and snowboard school for kids. Kids can skateboard and rollerblade at Telluride Town Park, while the young and young-at-heart will enjoy tubing, snowbiking and snowskating (on skateboards without wheels) at Thrill Hill, located off Lift 2 and open Wednesday through Sunday from 2:30 - 8:00 p.m.

Don't miss other favorite winter activities, such as saddling-up for a ride with Roudy Roudebush at Telluride Horseback or snowmobiling up to the historic ghost town of Alta Lakes with Dave's Snowmobile Tours or Telluride Snowmobile Adventures.

Skaters can glide across the rinks in either Telluride Town Park or Mountain Village, or guests can take a half-, full-day or overnight trip with Winter Moon Sled Dog Adventures.

Expert skiers can get their powder fix while helicopter skiing with Telluride Helitrax. Off the skies, thrill seekers can ice climb and mountaineer with Ryder/Walker Alpine Adventures and Fantasy Ridge Alpinism. Telluride and neighboring Ouray offer some of the best ice climbs in the country.

Warm up with a spa treatment at the Golden Door Spa at the Wyndham Peaks, a top spa in what is inarguably one of the top ski resorts, located in Mountain Village. The spa boasts 44 treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms, Jacuzzis, fitness facilities, a full-service beauty salon and much more. Other day spas include Atmosphere at Camels Garden Hotel, Aromatherapy Day Spa, Hal for Hair and The Repair Shop. Visitors can also soak in the natural hot springs in Ouray, or on the way to Ouray at Orvis Hot Springs.

However you decide to pass the time in Telluride, a vacation here will be as action-packed or restful as you'd like. With the nearest stoplight 45 miles from town, it isn't the easiest place to get into or out of, but a stay amidst the scenic splendor here is well worth the journey.

For more information, call Telluride Central Reservations at 866-287-9016, Telluride Ski and Snowboard School at 800-801-4832 and Snow Phone at 970-728-7425, or visit the websites at and

Before You Go

Visitors from Chicago can fly into Montrose airport, 65 miles from Telluride and catch a shuttle into town, or can fly into Denver and connect either to Montrose or Telluride. Several shuttles make daily trips to and from Montrose and Telluride.

Once in town, there is no need to rent a car to get around. Telluride and Mountain Village are connected by a free gondola, operating from 7:00 a.m. until midnight. Skiers need a lift pass to exit at the top, Station St. Sophia. Downtown Telluride is easy to cover on foot, or on the free Galloping Goose shuttle that runs from the gondola's Station Telluride and loops through town on 12-minute intervals. There are also Dial-A-Ride minivans and suburbans that can be booked through a concierge or directly at 970-728-8888.

Photo credits: T.R. Youngstrom (ski photo in header)

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