Then there’s the Town of Mountain Village with its expansive mansions, upscale lodging, fine dining establishments, second homeowners and genteel sense of exclusive country living.
The two solitudes meet on the slopes of the mountain and, like most good ski hills, the mountain seems to offer up what each wants. From wide, meticulously-groomed boulevards to harrowing, treed and cliff-banded steeps, from fast intermediate cruisers to long, knee-numbing mogul runs, Telluride both accommodates and rewards the hopes and wishes of ski bums and gentry alike.
“You have arrived,” the Magellan Lady announced. No kidding, I thought. Having driven past country estates and a rolling golf course snowscape, I had arrived at Mountain Village. An impressive stone and wood Information Centre proclaimed my arrival. It framed the entry into a world of privilege.
My destination, the Mountain Lodge at Telluride, lay a short distance away. Beyond that a meandering road wound up the mountain past second homes that could easily be mistaken for boutique hotels.
On this weekend in January, I could have enjoyed skiing at Telluride for four nights and three days for $99/day, lifts and lodging. Or I could easily have dropped $20-$30 million bucks for one of those very well-appointed homes.
But I only came to ski.
It had been snowing for 24 hours. The highway closed behind me when I arrived Saturday afternoon. With only three hours, I grabbed a ticket and taking the seller’s advice, jumped on the Sunshine lift, the fastest way up the mountain from where I was. No time to read a map, just time to ski like a local: get high, stay high.
Locals call it the two-mile chair and it seems at least that long as it glides quickly over many of those pricey mansions I didn’t buy. I felt like a peeping Tom just eyeballing them.
Another short lift and easy ski took me to the Prospect Bowl lift. With a hike-up or ski-in option at the top, I choose the path less traveled and hiked for a couple of minutes to La Rosa, a steep black leading into tree islands. It quickly played out into a roving amble through gentle trees and narrow gullies in Black Iron Bowl.
Having no idea where I was headed, I was happy to find myself at Gold Hill lift. Happy because I recognized the people waiting to hop on. They were dusted head to foot in fresh snow, breathing hard and looking like they were having the time of their lives.
Latching on to a couple of middle-aged locals, Pete and Craig, I did my best never-been-here-before-can-I-ski-with-you plea. They were happy to drag me around the best terrain on the mountain and in the course of five or six quick laps on lines named Dynamo, Electra and nothing at all proved Telluride was a skier’s mountain worth bragging about. From a wind-swept top, the terrain dropped quickly into tight trees, skirted well-marked cliffs, plunged down steep-sided, half-pipe gullies and emerged into open rollers leading back to the lift. They killed me in a single afternoon while the snow kept falling.
The next day, Sunday, was a thigh-deep powder day. But all was not well in skiville. The snow falling, part of a massive storm that buried much of California, was not the champagne fluff tourists and locals brag about. Plaintive cries were heard that the snow was too heavy. These were offset by locals at the base of Chair 9 declaring the day one of the best ever. For a Whistler guy… well, it seemed almost like home. Deep snow, no vis and wind keeping the top closed.
When the top of Telluride is closed and there’s lots of deep snow, your choices narrow quickly. Much of the lower mountain is too gentle to overcome the drag. But mogul staircases off of Chair 9, 8 and 7 are thrilling when that much snow has fallen to fill in the depressions. And the gladed runs between Allais Alley and Sully’s, skied the day before with boot-top snow seemed almost subterranean accompanied by faceshots and waist-deep pockets of windfill.
A late afternoon lunch at the very local Chair 8 restaurant confirmed my impressions that this was an enchanted weekend. Filled with mountain workers and townies babbling about their epic day, the atmosphere was one of exhausted, steaming fulfillment.
Guess that tempting real estate will have to wait for the next trip.