A sapphire sky on a sunny day. The aroma of rich, creamy mushroom soup. Larmandier-Bernier Champagne chilling. Bon Vivant restaurant puts a luxurious twist on the skier’s outdoor picnic lunch — just one of the refined touches at Telluride Ski Resort, where the season kicks off Thursday.
Since I first skied here 20-plus years ago, the once rough-hewn edges have been polished to a fine sheen. The on-mountain food is among the best in the Rockies. And as of Dec. 17, new Great Lakes Airlines service from Denver makes it even easier to reach.
The mountain isn’t huge — just a little more than 2,000 skiable acres. But it still boasts more than its share of expert terrain, which was its original lure, while offering an abundance of intermediate and beginner runs as well.
Runs such as Spiral Stairs, Plunge and Power Line rise above the town and dare skiers to test their mettle on the double black-diamond pitches. When the resort opened in 1972, these were among the steepest runs in the Rockies.
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The above-tree-line runs on Black Iron Bowl and Palmyra Peak opened in the early 2000s, and they challenge even the most skilled skier.
The middle portion of the mountain is awash with superlative groomed runs. The Village Express and Polar Queen Express chairlifts serve acres of intermediate terrain, and the Sunshine Express lift provides access to some stellar family-fun and learning runs.
Polar Queen, Humboldt Draw and Silver Tip are just three of the trails that can easily fill up an afternoon of cruising.
The mountain’s terrain is clustered according to ability; it’s difficult for skiers to take a wrong turn and end up on a run that’s over their head.
The scenery is breathtaking from almost every run but especially on the aptly named See Forever, which traces the spine of the resort. The trail is skiable by an intermediate and shouldn’t be missed. The true test on this run is to find a place to stop at the side and take in the beauty without getting in the way of other skiers.
For a relatively small resort, visitors still have plenty of choices. There are two centers for lodging, meals and entertainment. At the base of the mountain is the town of Telluride; about 800 feet higher on the mountain is Mountain Village. Each has its own appeal.
Home to roughly 2,300 permanent residents, Telluride has all the flavor you’d expect from a town that’s been around since the 1870s. A walk along Main Street makes it easy to imagine what it was like at the height of the late-19th-century mining boom.
Visitors can pause outside the Mahr Building and visualize the old San Miguel Valley Bank, the site of Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery. Funky shops and restaurants are neighbors with the well-stocked, old-time hardware store.
Restaurants range from local hangouts like La Cocina de Luz (www.lacocinatelluride.com), serving superb Mexican food and margaritas, to the exquisite French cuisine of La Marmotte (www.lamarmotte.com), located in an old ice house.
The New Sheridan Hotel (www.newsheridan.com) has been open for nearly 125 years. The rooms, updated in 2008, make for a great marriage of history and comfort.
Designed with convenience in mind, Mountain Village is a cozy collection of excellent resort-style lodging and restaurants that are good but don’t measure up to the selection in town. Amenities differ among the properties; the 32-room boutique hotel Inn at Lost Creek was perfect for my needs (www.innatlostcreek.com).
What makes this sort of split personality work is the Mountain Village-Telluride gondola. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, the free gondola runs between the village and the town from 7 a.m. to midnight, eliminating the need to drive or take a taxi.
Perched on a ridge at the 10,550-foot midpoint of the gondola trip is the resort’s premier dining spot, Allred’s (www.tellurideskiresort.com/allreds). Huge windows deliver unparalleled views to go along with outstanding, locally sourced food and a fabulous wine list.
Those who wonder how skis are made should take the Wagner Custom Skis factory tour (www.wagnerskis.com), which plans to move from Placerville to Mountain Village later this year. Tours can be arranged by calling 970-728-0107.
“Golfers who are serious get their clubs sized specifically for them,” founder and owner Peter Wagner told our tour group. “I thought that would be a good idea for skis, too.”
Although Wagner’s focus is on high-end, custom-made skis, the company also makes a line of rental skis available at Telluride facilities; inquire at the rental shop.
Ski resorts are becoming hot spots for distilleries, and Telluride is no exception.
Telluride Distilling Co. (www.telluridedistilling.com) is just 10 minutes outside of town. It makes vodka from 100 percent sugar cane instead of grain or potatoes. The result is an ultra-smooth version of the old standby, perfect for a martini or bloody mary.
Combine a great mountain with a historic town, season with fine food and amenities, and you have the recipe for a ski resort that consistently is ranked among the best in North America.
If you go
Getting there: Nonstop flights into Montrose-Telluride Regional Airport (MTJ) are available from nine major cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and San Francisco.
It’s about 68 miles — up to a 90-minute drive — from Montrose to Telluride. Cars aren’t a necessity in Telluride, so take a shuttle from Montrose.
You can also fly into Denver International Airport and take United Airlines’ partner, Great Lakes, to Telluride Regional Airport (TEX), just five minutes from downtown.
Skiing there: Adult daily lift tickets at Telluride cost $86, $344 for four days ($316 when purchased in advance online). Telluride recently joined The Mountain Collective pass program, entitling holders to two days each at 14 ski resorts, including Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole and Taos. Adult passes are currently priced at $419; www.mountaincollective.com.