Colorado is the winter playground of the United States, known for ski resorts such as Aspen and Vail. A little further afield is Telluride, a mining town with great skiing facilities for beginners
Twice, we had driven through the San Juan Mountains in summer and seen the famed ski areas of Colorado out of season. So inspiring was the landscape, it planted the desire to see the same glorious scenery shrouded in a white blanket – and nowhere captured our imagination more than the charming box-canyon town of Telluride.
With its historic buildings, laid-back bohemian vibe and effortless beauty, this 19th-century mining town held enormous promise in the mellow early autumn and was to live up to every expectation in the depth of a magical winter. At 49, and being something of a vessel for large quantities of Guinness, I found the idea of skiing a tad fanciful – but Telluride had gripped me and my similarly athletically-challenged wife to take the plunge. A couple of outrageously expensive ski lessons at Chill Factor (www.chillfactore.com) in Manchester had given us an early indication of just how financially draining the sport can be.
Arriving in Denver, we hired a suitable vehicle at the airport – a Hummer , which proved useful despite its unfortunate environmental connotations. We spent a night in the buzzing little town of Boulder to shake off the flight, before setting off on the six-hour drive to Telluride. The drive from Boulder is occasionally spectacular – particularly around Glenwood Springs, where road, rail and river meet in gorgeous confluence. If you prefer to get nearer to your ultimate destination, you can fly on to Montrose and take the regular shuttle or Telluride itself – if you are brave enough to fly in to the US’s highest airport. Someone I know told me his flight into Telluride was the scariest he has ever known – and that was in the summer!
As we knew from our summer visits, Telluride is the place to head at that time of year for festivals, mountain bike riding, hiking, golf and all things bucolic. (See http://tellurideskiresort.com/TellSki/index.winter.aspx for an excellent introduction to winter and summer activities.) In the winter, the mountains are transformed into an even more incredible playground.
For a small place, Telluride has a wide choice of lodging options in the winter – both in the town itself, which we preferred for its access to a range of bars, restaurants and shopping, and in Mountain Village, an Alpine pastiche incorporated as a town in the 1970s. We chose the charming and recently refurbished New Sheridan Hotel, which has a real old West feeling while offering all the comforts you would expect from a modern establishment (free internet access was a godsend for me, since the cell-phone reception was non-existent).
The hotel has an excellent restaurant with a lively bar attached, and a hot tub on the roof. The staff were friendly, exceptionally well-informed and unfailingly helpful throughout the stay. We were so impressed, we actually returned for two impromptu days at the end of a holiday that moved on to Jackson Hole, rather than going back to the Front Range as planned.
The easy part over – eating and drinking after a long drive, a restful sleep and breakfast in the lobby – it was time to take the skiing plunge. The New Sheridan offers ski packages and our six-night say included four-day lift passes for each of us and a discount of 20 per cent at Paragon Ski & Sport (www.paragontelluride.com/index.cfm) which proved to be an essential resource with impartial, expert and patient advice. Our experience of Telluride people almost certainly means this level of service will be repeated throughout town – but it definitely applied at Paragon.
Fitted out, we climbed on board the free and regular gondola to Mountain Village and the ski school. No tracks of any note (in early February, which was also the popular gay week) gave an indication of the wide open spaces we would eventually experience – but first we had to learn.
The cost of the ski school can only be judged on the value of the lessons and the teacher – and our first day was marred by an inexperienced instructor who just couldn’t get the basics across and pushed too hard, with no breaks for food and water. It almost put both of us off, and certainly didn’t imbue us with confidence.
The second day couldn’t have been more different. We were a little late for the school and ended up with what was effectively a private lesson (a bargain, since the cost difference between a group lesson and a private one is quite stark) with Jeff from California. It is probably a dangerous tip, but if you time things on the tardy side, you might get lucky, as we did.
Jeff was a revelation – I “got” it within an hour, and though Violet was a little slower, her confidence increased throughout the day. As novices, the wide open spaces of Telluride’s green and double-green runs allowed us to practise and grow as skiers – and the more challenging runs provided the stimulation to begin planning a return trip.
However, it is very hard to ski day after day – the pharmacy across the road from our hotel did a roaring trade in soothing remedies – and a road trip was in order. Telluride sits in the San Juan Mountains and the range offers an excellent scenic drive in good weather – it is about 275 miles, but very little of it is dull and much of it impressive. A Hummer helped, it should be said, as some of the mountain passes are challenging, but the rewards are bountiful. For the ultra adventure-seekers among you, the mountains offers significant back-country skiing.
The extra effort it takes to get to Telluride, compared to the more celebrated Colorado ski resorts, is massively rewarded. A wide range of facilities, combined with a natural, magnificent beauty and a fascinating history, make Telluride a unique ski-town experience – but don't forget how charming it is in the summer, either.