When asked his favourite thing about Telluride, local restauranteur Patrick Laguens is unequivocal: “It’s really hard to get to.”
“It’s not as if your car broke down and you wound up living here. Telluride is an intentional community. Everyone who’s here, is here for a reason.”
Laguens heads up Sidework, a popular restaurant in Telluride town among a string of buzzing bars and bistros tucked behind its Victorian-era facades. But the love for Telluride runs deeper than Laguens hole-in-the-wall eatery.
The late American author Edward Abbey said of Telluride in 1957, “I recognised it at once as something too good for the general public. For 13 years I kept the place a secret from all but my closest picnicking cronies. No use: I should’ve invested everything I had in Telluride real estate.”
Framed by the towering San Juan mountains on three sides, Telluride has the highest concentration of 14,000 foot peaks in North America. The town itself is a postcard-perfect strip of colourful Victorian-era homes, clapboard storefronts and boutiques, a place so cinematic that Quentin Tarantino chose it as the backdrop for his western film ‘The Hateful Eight’.
But by far the most enchanting thing about Telluride is its people. Grey-ponytailed hippies, nature-loving beatniks and powder junkies, for whom breathing in the mountain air is tantamount to religion. Many of them came here decades ago and, just like Patrick Laguens, found themselves so enamoured with this little town in a box canyon that they never left.
What follows is the best way to soak up the authentic mountain character of the ‘Big-T’, both on and off the snow fields.
Rumour has it, Telluride was named after the send-off given to renegades headed for the San Juan Mountains in the 1880s: "To-hell-you-ride". It’s a fitting slogan for modern day mountaineers too, with the resort offering more than 809 hectares of terrain and 148 trails, from gentle groomers to extreme off-piste chutes.
At the top of the Gold Hill express lift we meet John Roth, a legend of the mountain who at 74 dresses like a Patagonia-clad hipster, with vintage aviator shades in lieu of googles. “I’ve skied Telluride every day since 1972,” John proudly exclaims, gliding off for his daily strut down a double black.
We veer off towards, ‘See Forever’, an aptly named blue-trail that greets you with a grand auditorium of snow-capped peaks, so close you could almost touch them. That’s one of the great things about Telluride’s versatile terrain, even beginners can revel in being tête-à-tête with the alps, an outlook usually reserved for the more experienced.
Get acquainted with the mountain on one of Telluride Ski Resort’s daily free guided tours, or sign up to ski-school to sharpen your skills. Their winter season runs from November to April.
Bathe in the alpenglow
“See that light reflecting off the mountains?” says Tom Watkinson, Telluride Town Councilman, gesturing to the pink aura dancing over the peaks. “That’s what we call alpenglow.”
Watkinson is taking us on a fridge-to-fridge of the best après-ski haunts. We warm the cockles with a glass of red by the fireplace at Mountain Lodge, then jump on the free Gondola, which traces the edge of the mountain all the way to Telluride town.
At Sidework, a cozy 1950's American lounge, the food is fresh and faultless. Try the local cheese board, the beef short ribs and the poached olive oil branzino. If you’re lucky owner Patrick Laguens might even recite you a poem as the last plates are cleared away. Savour Italian classics like rigatoni alla grappa or fettucine mare at the ever popular Rustico, or splash out with a steak from Ralph Lauren’s ranch at $75.00.
Time travel back to 1895 at the New Sheridan bar, where notorious bank robber Butch Cassidy fuelled up before pulling off a heist. Or if après-ski is synonymous with live music in your books, head to the recently opened Liberty Bar to check out local bands and DJs, before a midnight dash to catch the last Gondola home.
Strummers, drummers and dreamers
With Ralph Lauren, Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Neil Young and Daryl Hannah all flying the Telluride flag – either living there or visiting regularly – it’s safe to say there’s something creative in the mountain water.
While the majority of tourists come for its winter spoils, when the snow finally melts, Telluride blossoms into the festival capital of North America, ‘with more festivals than Austin, Texas’, according to Tom Watkinson.
At the 2017 Ride Festival, an annual showcase of rock n roll underneath the San Juan peaks, headliners Pearl Jam were joined onstage for a surprise cameo by Neil Young. Telluride Film Festival precedes Sundance, making it the place with the most film premieres outside of New York and Los Angeles, including The Shape of Water, which took out Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards.
With festivals dedicated to everything from to jazz to wine to yoga unfolding from May to October, there’s plenty of reason to swap your ski boots for hiking boots and salute the Southern Rockies’ sun.
Fuel for the descent
You don’t have to leave the mountain to experience some of Telluride’s best culinary offerings.At French restaurant Bon Vivant, waiters sashay around with bottles of Dom Perignon, skiers strip off layers and jazz music is underscored by the staccato blast of an avalanche howitzer. Try the French onion soup with brûléed Gruyere, or if you have time to linger, the Le Bonaparte, a braised lamb shoulder which pairs perfectly with the Chateau Macquin Bordeaux.
Set in a rustic European-style chalet at 11,966 feet, Alpino Vino is the highest altitude restaurant in North America. Chef Nico Peccedi, who hails from the Italian Alps, prides himself on his braised-duck ravioli, cauliflower soup with amaretti crumbles and truffle oil, and his signature tiramisu (his grandma’s recipe).
For a special endnote to your time in Telluride, you can’t beat dinner at Allred’s, situated at the top of the gondola in a soaring wooden atrium. Order the hearty bourbon marinated elk strip, and put in a request with the Julliard-trained pianist, who’ll play anything from Beethoven to Billy Joel.
Some like it hot
What’s a sure-fire way to get the hot tub all to yourself? Wait till the season’s biggest snow-storm. Tip-toeing over 12 inches of virgin powder is a tad precarious, but a restorative soak while snowflakes dust your shoulders is a handsome reward. With sweeping views over the mountain village, the ‘sky terrace’ – featuring an outdoor pool, bar and hot-tub – is one of the Madeline Hotel and Residence’s biggest drawcards.
Continuously named the Best Ski Resort in North America by Condé Nast Traveller, the Madeline’s rich wooden interiors, spacious villas and ski-in, ski-out location make it the ultimate mountain base. A personal assistant stationed in the cosy living room, stocked around the clock with free hot chocolate and snacks, plus complimentary ski-valet ensure smooth sailing from the word go.
Iron out any post-ski kinks at The Spa at The Peaks. Headed up by the wellness gurus behind New York’s Naturpathica, the cavernous 42,000 square foot space is Colorado’s largest spa. The peak performance massage helps to unwind any sore muscles, and the high-altitude bio energy facial is perfectly for rehydrating your skin after a day on the slopes.
Rosamund Brennan travelled as a guest of Travelplan and Colorado Ski Country USA www.coloradoski.com