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Picture-perfect mountain townPicture-perfect mountain town

Telluride, ColoradoTelluride, Colorado

Like a fly-fisherman reluctant to reveal his favorite secret fishing hole, Telluride was conspicuously absent from my list of ski destinations to write about. But an email from a Telluride-based pilot and AOPA member caused me to re-think that omission. As he pointed out, Telluride Regional is surely one of the most beautiful airports to fly in to, and super friendly, with low fees. If a pilot’s skills and equipment can handle the 9,070-foot elevation and surrounding terrain, Telluride is also one of the most convenient resort destinations for general aviation pilots—no car needed. The town, tucked into a box canyon and home to about 2,500 of possibly the luckiest residents anywhere, is blessed with pristine mountain scenery in every direction. And Telluride’s city leaders intend to keep it that way. The town and resort are intentionally small, the result of environmentally responsible zoning and ski-loving resort owners. So go ahead—visit Telluride for the winter skiing, the summer festivals, the vast array of really good restaurants at every price range, the Wild West ambiance—you can’t spoil it.

  • Because of its significant role in the history of the American West, the core area of Telluride was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1964. The town's colorful Victorian-era buildings, clapboard storefronts, boutiques, art galleries, and gourmet restaurants make Telluride a delight to explore. Its residents are committed to preserving Telluride's historically significant architecture, open space, traditional design elements and, most of all, Telluride’s small-town mountain lifestyle. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.
  • Telluride is tucked into a box canyon surrounded by 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks. The town of Telluride is just eight blocks wide and 12 blocks long and home to fewer than 2,500 residents. Photo by John Fowler via Wikipedia.
  • Along with great skiing, the name "Telluride" has become synonymous with festivals that span the calendar from spring through fall. Telluride's festivals have evolved and grown, and range from arts and music to outdoor pursuits. Longstanding offerings such as the Mountainfilm Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Bluegrass Festival, and Jazz Festival attract world-class filmmakers and musicians. Many locals favor Blues & Brews, held during the third weekend of September, because it signifies the start of fall colors and the coming of ski season. Other offerings from the eclectic schedule include the Mushroom Festival, Balloon Festival, and the Imogene Pass Run. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.
  • Mountain Village is perched above the valley floor at 9,500 feet and provides access to the Telluride Ski Resort and Uncompahgre National Forest. Founded in 1987, the European-style Mountain Village includes luxurious hotels and rental properties along with elegant alpine restaurants. Mountain Village embraces green practices and sustainable growth in its everyday operations. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.
  • Rated the No. 1 ski resort in North America by Conde Nast readers, Telluride’s terrain is legendary and there are no lift lines. The region receives on average more than 300 inches of snow and 300 days of sunshine annually. Telluride’s terrain is 38 percent Advanced/Expert, 38 percent Intermediate, and 24 percent Beginner. Unlike most resorts, beginners aren’t relegated to “bunny slopes” at the bottom of the hill, but can explore miles-long runs with panoramic views. Intermediates can choose from moguls, glades, sport chutes, and corduroy cruisers. Experts love The Plunge, which descends 3,140 feet from the top of the mountain down to Telluride. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.
  • Sledding is available on Firecracker Hill, located on the southern side of Telluride Town Park. Bring your own sled or rent one from the Nordic Center. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.
  • Experience a ski day like this with Helitrax helicopter skiing and snowboarding. Helitrax provides access to over 200 square miles of pristine and untracked terrain in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride. Boasting some of the highest skiable elevations in North America, Helitrax can deliver you to high alpine basins, cirques, and couloirs. Their experts will guide you to unforgettable ski experiences. Photo courtesy Helitrax.
  • Fat-tire bikes are a fun winter alternative to skiing and can be rented at BootDoctors & Paragon Outdoors. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.
  • Whether you’re taking a day off from the slopes or heading to Telluride specifically for fishing, many of the area’s streams and rivers provide pristine fly-fishing year-round. From late February to April, the San Miguel River offers excellent fishing opportunities. The Uncompahgre fishes well all winter and offers private water for a multi-day experience. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.
  • USA Today ranked Telluride in its Top 5 Ski Resorts for Nightlife. Wander Main Street for some saloon hopping and live music, or check out the offerings up in Mountain Village. The Madeline Hotel’s heated outdoor pool is a great way to begin your après ski celebration. Its Mountain Village location offers great mountain views. Photo courtesy Madeline Hotel.
  • Telluride’s unique qualities have drawn celebrated chefs from far and wide. Condé Nast readers ranked Telluride in their Top 20 List of Best American Cities for Foodies, and Fodor’s ranked it in the Top 10. Whether you’re looking for a fresh pizza, foie gras, or a choice steak like this one at Smuggler’s Brew Pub, Telluride and Mountain Village together provide an exceptionally eclectic collection of quality restaurants at every price range. Photo courtesy Smuggler’s Brew Pub.
  • Allred’s offers elevated, contemporary American dining in a panoramic space at the top of the Telluride gondola. Photo courtesy Telluride Ski Resort.
  • At 11,966 feet, Alpino Vino is the highest elevation fine-dining restaurant in North America. This exclusive yet quaint European hütte offers leisurely lunches and unforgettable evening dining experiences. Ski in during the day or travel via an enclosed snow-coach at night to peruse a world-class wine list and enjoy Chef Nicola Peccedi’s Italian Alpine gourmet menu. Enjoy views of the Wilson Range and an appropriately Italian Alps-themed a la carte lunch menu or, at dinner, a five-course menu with optional wine pairing. Alpino Vino’s high alpine ambience is reminiscent of restaurants found throughout the Dolomites of Northern Italy. The structure was originally a private retreat built on a historic mining claim. Photo courtesy Telluride Ski Resort.
  • Townhomes on the Creek at Tristant 312 is a premier vacation home in the heart of the Mountain Village. This newly remodeled five-bedroom home offers ski-in/ski-out convenience via a private lift or the Tristant ski bridge to Lower Village Bypass ski run. The great room has stunning sweeping views of the St. Sophia Ridge and eastward toward the ski area. Photo courtesy Silver Star Telluride Vacation Rentals.
  • Located slopeside in Mountain Village, The Peaks Resort & Spa offers an array of comfortable vacation accommodations, a convenient ski-in/ski-out, golf-in/golf-out location, a variety of onsite amenities including the Altezza Restaurant and bar, a fitness center with outdoor pool, and a full-service spa, as well as spectacular views of Telluride Ski & Golf Resort and the surrounding San Juan Mountains. Photo courtesy The Peaks Resort & Spa.

Like Aspen, Crested Butte, and Steamboat Springs, Telluride is a former mining town, although it’s nestled in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, not the Rockies. Butch Cassidy pulled off his first major heist here in 1889, robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank of $24,580. The landmark New Sheridan Hotel (the “old” one burned down) was built in 1895. One of the many great things about Telluride is how city planners located the contemporary and pedestrianized Mountain Village, where you’ll find the ski resort, spas, and golf course, up on a mountain and away from town. Thus, downtown Telluride retains its Victorian Old West architecture and vibe. Yet the two areas are connected by a free gondola that runs from 6:30 a.m. to midnight.

Another Telluride perk: the best in ski gear. Established in 1986, BootDoctors maintains a lofty reputation for quality and expertise at three locations: two in downtown Telluride and another in Mountain Village. Plus, you can order Wagner skis, custom-engineered and crafted for you in Mountain Village.

Surrounded by peaks up to 14,246 feet msl, Telluride Regional Airport (TEX) sits atop a mesa six nautical miles west of town. The 7,111-foot-long Runway 9/27 is perched at 9,070 feet elevation, 1,000 feet above the San Miguel River. A major renovation in 2009 smoothed out the runway’s notorious dip, yet landing and tiedown fees remain low ($8 and $7, respectively, for a Cessna 210). Photo courtesy Telluride Regional Airport.

Ah, the mountain. The Telluride Ski Resort offers 2,000 acres of skiable terrain, a ski school, and 148 trails that go from beginner to double black and double black extreme, as well as hike-in terrain, sledding at Firecracker Hill, and Nordic skiing on the mountain and at Valley Floor, just outside of town. Of 19 lifts, nine are high-speed. Lines? Fuggetaboutit—they're nonexistent. And if you really want to get away, try heli-skiing with Helitrax. But Telluride’s ski genius is the balanced assortment of terrain: long, interesting beginner’s trails; intermediate glades; great mogul runs; plus extreme skiing, so everyone can have a great ski experience. And for breaks or overnight, rather than lugging your gear, just store it safely at the Telluride Ski Resort’s ski valet.

Telluride’s many trails make hiking a pleasure in summer and especially fall, when the quaking aspen leaves blaze in bright gold. Photo by John Fowler via Wikipedia.

With a variety of ski-in restaurants and rest areas, it’s easy to take a break. Ride the gondola or ski down to Telluride to refuel with tuna carpaccio tacos at Taco del Gnar. Warm up with a soba noodle bowl at Tomboy Tavern. Relax with a massage at the Madeline Hotel’s spa in Mountain Village and be back on the slopes in no time. To venture further afield, try a snowmobile or horseback ride. And great fly-fishing is available year-round.

When the lifts stop at 4 p.m., it’s time to kick back and raise a glass to your good fortune. The Madeline Hotel is literally steps away from the chairlift. You can “après ski” in the rooftop pool and hot tub and gaze at the Milky Way or catch snowflakes on your tongue, depending on the weather. Meet the locals at the New Sheridan’s historic bar or at There, known for its global fusion snacks and jam cocktails.

Telluride offers great food at every price range, too. Favorite eateries include pizza and brew at High Pie (really good gluten-free crust!), Floradora Saloon, Smuggler’s Brew Pub, Brown Dog Pizza, and The Butcher and Baker. For Asian, try Siam in town or Siam’s Talay Grille in Mountain Village. Fine dining can be had at the New Sheridan’s Chop House, 221 South Oak, Telluride Bistro, Cosmopolitan, and Sidework. Ride the gondola to Allred’s for great views, or, hop on a snow cat to the mountaintop Alpino Vino for a five-course Italian feast. Additional great lodging choices include home and condo rentals from Silver Star and the Peaks Resort and Spa Hotel.

With its gorgeous runway approach; convenient transportation; lack of crowds; and quality of skiing, lodging, and food, Telluride may be the perfect mountain getaway for pilots. There. I said it.

Telluride and Mountain Village are connected by a free, scenic gondola—the only transportation system of its kind in North America. Electricity for the gondola’s operation comes from wind power purchased from San Miguel Power Association. In the winter, ski and snowboard racks are mounted on the exterior of cabins, while in summer, the gondolas sport bike racks. Gondola attendants help load ski gear or bikes. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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