Wild Wild West Rockies: Telluride Offers Visitors Year-Round Outdoors Adventures
By Pearson Brown | Originally published in Westside Today March 30, 2010
We got a taste of the Rocky Mountain spirit when we first arrived at the tiny Montrose Junction Airport, about an hour and a half’s drive from our destination of Telluride. As my spouse and I loaded into the shuttle, I reminded our driver that we had requested a child car seat.
‘Here’s what we’ve got,’ he said, handing me a tattered booster seat.
‘This is actually a booster,’ I told the driver, trying not to sound too much like an LA diva. ‘My son is only two. He needs a car seat with a harness to keep him in.’
‘No worries. This is Colorado. He can join us for a drink later if he wants,’ the driver said with a laugh as he heaved our bags into the back of the van.
OK, it was time to let loose. I strapped my son into the booster with the lap belt and held him in with an arm across
his chest. ‘Here we go. We’re in the Wild West now,’ I told him as his eyes lit up looking at the magnificent mountain peaks surrounding us.
Onward and upward we went up the icy windy roads to Telluride, an old mining town that has become a winter wonderland for skiers and a year-round playground for hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers and lovers of the great outdoors.
We had dreaded the trip to Telluride because we had booked late and couldn’t get a direct flight from Los Angeles, so we had a plane change in Salt Lake City, and a road trip through the mountains. All with a cranky two-year-old toddler. But our layover was short, made more bearable by a children’s play area at the SLC airport, and our driver regaled us all the way to town with local gossip, so before we knew it, we were
there — and was it ever worth the trip.
Right away we felt welcome in the lobby of the Peak’s Resort. In front of us was the hotel’s Great Room, a splendid oversize living room of rustic leather and cowhide sofas, lounge chairs and ottomans. Guests in zipped-down ski gear were unwinding after a day on the slopes, warming themselves in front of a huge, crackling fireplace and enjoying beverages from the bar and casual dining from a menu of burgers, grilled cheese and hot dogs. It felt like home, only with a dozen suntanned, outdoorsy looking strangers lounging about.
Just through the grand foyer was the Peak’s spa, a world-class facility a full fitness center with state-of-the art cardio room, Cybex machines, a yoga studio and even a rock-climbing wall. The spa also offered massage, mani-pedis, tanning, sauna, Roman tubs and a eucalyptus inhalation room. None of that mattered to our toddler, but he could hardly contain his excitement to see not one but two heated pools and an indoor water slide. No wonder the resort was selected by Parent’s magazine as a top 10 family winter resort.
We checked into our room, and just as the hotel’s Web site had promised, our room indeed had a fabulous view, as does every room at the hotel. From our balcony we saw endless snow covered trees up to the mountain peaks. To our left we could see the ski slopes, with the chair lifts floating up to the mountain top. We couldn’t wait to get out in the snow.
It was our toddler first time in the white stuff. We bundled him up in his snow suit and headed out to explore the town. We hardly got past the hotel lobby doors when he bounded into the snow outside the doors where he made his first snow ball, snow man and snow angel. He was in snow heaven.
A three-minute walk from the Peaks we found ourselves in the Mountain Village plaza, a cute collection of boutiques and restaurants with an ice skating rink and bonfire pit. We followed the brick walkway of the plaza and directional signs everywhere to the base of the slopes. Truly a ski-in ski-out resort, snow bunnies bounded all around us, skis propped on their shoulders, walking directly out of their hotels and onto the snow to step into their skis and hop on the lifts.
At the base of the mountain, known as ‘the beach,’ we caught the free gondola for a ride into the town of Telluride. A true delight for a toddler — and adults — the gondola whisked us up into the air and high over the trails where we watched skiers and snowboarders whoosh by underneath us. We learned that the gondola is the only free transit of its type in the US. It takes visitors and locals back and forth over the mountain at 11 miles an hour, all day from 7 am until midnight, from the town of Telluride to the Mountain Village Plaza, with an optional stop midway at St. Sophia Station, where Allred’s, the town’s premier fine dining establishment, is perched at 10,000 above sea level for the best food and best views in town.
Other than the gondola, another indispensible mode of transportation we discovered was the plastic toboggan. We learned the hard way that holding a 30-pound kid on your hip or even in a backpack carrier across icy walkways can be hazardous to everyone involved, so we got a tip from a local the best way to get around town with a toddler in tow was to literally tow him. We picked up a small sled and some twine to make an extra long pull cord at the local ACE Hardware. I was the best $16 we ever spent.
Dragging our little one behind us, we set off to explore the many adorable shops, galleries and restaurants. The town itself defines quaint. The the snow-covered streets are lined with story-book cute chalets and small independent boutiques. A couple local snowboarder girls who we shared a gondola cab with informed us that Telluride does not permit chain stores, so you will never see a Starbucks or Pottery Barn or any of the stores that populate Every Mall USA littering the landscape of this purist town. How refreshing.
We stopped for lunch at the charming TPK Bistro where we had a delicious and surprisingly reasonably priced lunch of Panini di Italian prosciutto ham and fontina cheese and Stromboli di pollo, served by a friendly and gracious wait staff, who seemed genuinely happy to serve us. Perhaps one reason the servers were so attentive was the fact that we were the restaurant’s only guests, at 12 pm.
Despite excellent food, great service and an ideal location on Colorado Avenue, a central thoroughfare, the eatery was empty, as was much of the town. This was partially due to the flagging economy which brought fewer visitors this year, and also partially because the ski season was nearly over, but according to locals, even during peak season the town is never over-run or crowded, as say Park City, Utah, during Sundance, which can be a bear.
Likewise, the Telluride gets two thumbs up for eschewing commercialism, which has nearly ruined Park City, which must have resembled Telluride before the film festival overtook it. Hopefully Telluride will not head that way, despite the fact that it also hosts the Telluride Film Festival each fall which continues to grow in popularity and rivals Sundance in the quality of films it features, such as Sling Blade, Brokeback Mountain and Slumdog Millionaire, which all had premiere screenings at Telluride.
While there are plenty of cultural scenes in town, including theaters and music venues, the main attraction of Telluride remains the great outdoors, where visitors can enjoy all sorts of activities year round, from fly-fishing and horseback riding to paragliding and hot air balloon rides.
Of course, the snow skiing is legendary, and after a few runs down the slopes it is clear why. Owing to the location of the resort nestled in a box canyon, the weather is ideal for snow and snow making. The snow was perfect. No ice, groomed, packed powder, and I had the trails almost to myself. It was absolutely the best skiing I had ever experienced.
While downhill skiing is why most winter tourists come to Telluride, the resort offers a host of other snow-capades, including cross-country and Nordic skiing, heli skiing, dog sledding, sleigh rides and snowmobiling. The latter was the adventure of choice for us, and on our final day we headed out for a snowmobiling tour with Telluride Snowmobiling Adventures, thanks to a few hours timeout arranged by the Peaks Resort with a local nanny service.
Our friendly guide, Sam Haury, suited us up with warm boots and goggles, and we hopped on our machines and sped off in the freshly fallen snow high into the mountains. Sam stopped along the way to give us an educational tour of the historic spots, such as the Alta Ghost Town where miners and their families once lived.
We also learned that Telluride was the first in the world to have electric street lights (a week before Paris) thanks to the world’s first hydro-electric power plant built in 1904 to power the Smuggler-Union Mine. By the end of our two-hour tour, we not only truly appreciated the beauty and history of Telluride, we were expert snowmobilers, flying over whoop-de-dos and winding our way around curves through snow-covered forests with ease.
Our adventures in Telluride were a blast, though our four-day visit was much too short to do all that we wanted to do during our stay. But just because the snow will be melting soon, that won’t stop us from returning in the near future, because as the locals kept telling us, ‘You can always come back, and the summer season is even better!’