Fall 2007 Forward to a Friend

The Four Seasons of Telluride
by Rob Story
Summer in Telluride Spring in Telluride
Fall in Telluride Winter in Telluride
Photos: Courtesy of Brett Schreckengost

No Colorado ski resort sits farther from Denver and its international flights. Situated 8,750 feet above sea level, the town is reached via a winding, two-lane blacktop instead of a fast, sleek superhighway.

Telluride Slopes

Still, split grooming is prevalent on many Telluride slopes, allowing skiers to sample the bumps while providing a graceful exit onto smooth terrain if necessary.

I first visited in 1991 during a storm that dropped 36 inches of light powder. By 1998, I lived in Telluride. Why? That snow, for one thing. Telluride’s snow is as good as any ski area’s, even rivaling the champagne powder of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.

Telluride sits only about 30 miles east of the Utah desert. Indeed, the most famous groomed run at Telluride is called See Forever because, from its location atop Telluride’s highest ridge, you can see deep into the red-rock canyons near Moab. The skiing and snowboarding are fantastic in winter.

The range surrounding Telluride – the San Juan Mountains – is the steepest in Colorado. Even jaded experts tingle at the classic Telluride experience: staring through ski tips at the town thousands of feet below while preparing to tackle mogul-infested pistes.

Still, split grooming is prevalent on many Telluride slopes, allowing skiers to sample the bumps while providing a graceful exit onto smooth terrain if necessary. And though steep and challenging terrain is plentiful, the majority of the pistes rate as intermediate or beginner, allowing families to ski together at speeds that are right for everyone.

Locals love winter, but don’t make them choose between winter and spring. That’s because March is usually the snowiest month of the season in Telluride. However, when it’s not dumping powder, the weather promises sunny blue skies (we get about 300 a year).

Snow Covered Bench

Once a gentle, spring warm front blows in, Telluride becomes a kinder, gentler place. Its snowpack sheds any traces of a nasty disposition. Ice fields become puddles; moguls that have rebuffed your advances all winter permit carving. The combination of warm rays, fragrant woods, and hero snow can make any nature-lover lose composure.

My previous residencies in sunny Laguna Beach and Chicago’s leafy Lincoln Park hardly lacked for charm, yet Telluride is far and away the prettiest place I’ve lived. The cozy, Victorian town sits on the National Register of Historic Places – and more than two hours from the nearest interstate. It’s surrounded by the highest concentration of 14,000-foot summits in the lower 48 states. There’s a rainbow of mountain scenery: alpine white, riparian green, and canyon-country red.

Then comes summer, when wildflowers emerge in all their Technicolor glory.

Telluride is ridiculously gorgeous to begin with. Then comes summer, when wildflowers emerge in all their Technicolor glory. Snowmelt streams gurgle musically down their beds.

Stores go alfresco, and patrons linger an hour or two at Cowboy Coffee’s picnic tables, a mere soy chai away from criminal loitering. This is summer as it should be, where cars and neckties aren’t required and air conditioning bills don’t exist. Our days are warm, our skies clear, our humidity scant, and our insects bashful.

Not that life here is effortless. I’ve seen locals obey bankers’ hours. I reckon there’s as much hustle and strife in Telluride as in Chicago. We just try not to waste our ambition and elbow grease on work.

Instead, we bust our tails to mountain bike the sadistic inclines of Eider Creek trail or lead climb the 5.11 pitches of Ophir Wall. We haven’t escaped the real-world’s clichés – they just mean different things. Here, we achieve “synergy” by bringing a dog along on our sunset hikes. “Closure” happens with the resumption of resting heart rate.

You don’t want to visit between late October and Thanksgiving, due to short days and premature, unskiable snowfalls. But early autumn is stunning. Our abundant aspens turn a brilliant gold and we enjoy Indian Summer warmth. Nighttime temperatures sink into the 30s, yet the days warm to the high 60s or even the 70s under a dependable sun.

It’s common for tourists to go leaf-peeping during the day before returning to Telluride’s eight city blocks of brick hotels and clapboard storefronts.

The town looks much like it did in the 1880s – when Telluride had four times its current year-round population of 2,400 and served as a gold and silver mining Mecca. That’s why Telluride is designated a National Historic District, meaning that all construction must adhere to the Victorian town’s “Wild West” image and code. Walk down Main Street, and you almost expect to hear the creak of leather saddles and the jingle of spurs. Instead, you’ll hear music from an upscale bistro or cash registers ringing up the sale of cashmere sweaters. But that’s OK. Telluride has aged as gracefully as any town in the Mountain West.

Telluride Map
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The Drive to Telluride
by Rob Story

Although Telluride boasts a tiny airport for turboprops and private jets, you definitely want to drive here. Both of the paved byways into town (from the west through San Miguel River towns Placerville and Sawpit or from the south skirting Trout Lake and the Lizard Head Wilderness) are gorgeous sections of Colorado Highway 145.

Three striking – and strikingly different – national parks await a short drive from Telluride:

  • About two hours south is Mesa Verde National Park, where one must climb a 32-foot-tall ladder, crawl through a 12-foot-long tunnel, and then scamper an additional 60 feet up ladders and stone steps to visit Balcony House, a 14th-century Anasazi cliff dwelling (www.nps.gov/meve).
  • Two and a half hours west, in Utah, is Arches National Park, where rushing waters carved out arches, narrow canyons, and balanced rocks that change colors according to the season or time of day (www.nps.gov/arch).
  • Near Montrose, about 90 minutes away, is America’s youngest national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which was established in 1999. Eleven hundred feet across at its narrowest and 2,772 feet deep, its dark walls are shaded most of the day – hence the name. Fly-fishing, kayaking, and hiking rarely get more dramatic than in the “big wow” (www.nps.gov/blca).

A car also facilitates visits to the area’s waterfalls. Because the San Juans are Colorado’s steepest range and all that snow has to melt somewhere, Telluride enjoys several stunning cascades:

  • The easiest to reach is 60-foot-tall Cornet Falls, located just a quarter mile up a steep dirt trail from the top of Aspen Street.
  • Ingram Falls is the most obvious. You can see the huge, 125-foot-tall white ribbon churning from town. Drive there by heading east on Colorado Avenue, past the old Pandora Mill, and up the switchbacking dirt road toward Black Bear Pass.
  • Along the way to Ingram Falls, around one of the switchbacks, you’ll see the most dramatic – Bridal Veil Falls, which plunges more than 300 feet, making it the tallest free-falling waterfall in Colorado.

Call the local Forest Service office for information – 970-327-4261.

Subaru Partner Telluride Ski Resort

Subaru is proud to be the Official Vehicle of Telluride Ski Resort. Find out more at www.subaru.com, then go to the “Subaru Life” tab, then “Outdoor Life,” and then click on “Partners.” Scroll down to find “Telluride.”