Telluride: Where the Views – and Not the Thin Air – Take Your Breath Away

Colorado Ski Season Now in Full Swing

By Richard Varr

Richard at 13,114 feet elevation.

A cold wind howls through the mountain passes as I gaze upon the jagged peaks towering over the historic town of Telluride – not looking up at them, mind you, but instead looking straight out.  That’s because I’m 13,114 feet high atop Imogene Pass – so high, it seems, that I can almost touch the puffy strands of clouds above.

It took a couple hours or so to reach this altitude.  Our 4-wheel-drive vehicle maneuvered rough rock-filled roads carved along steep mountainsides, all part of the Imogene Pass/Tomboy Ghost Town Tour.

Views up the Imogene Pass/Tomboy Tour. Photo by Richard Varr

Our journey led us deep into the San Juan Mountains to the once notorious gold rush mining town of Tomboy, where dilapidated cabins and splintered wood beams now clutter the landscape along some of Colorado’s most dramatic high country views.  We then continued to ascend the mountain range, passing shimmering waterfalls, driving over makeshift stone bridges and eventually along two-mile-high roads carved through ice drifts as we approached the summit.

Tomboy ruins. Photo by Richard Varr

This adventure, offered by tour operator Telluride Outside, was just one highlight of my visit last July to the year-round resort area.

What started as a rugged mining town in the late 1800s, due to its vast silver and mineral deposits, would eventually blossom into a world-class ski destination, festival hub and vacation getaway.

Gondolas above Mountain Village. Photo by Richard Varr

The actual historic town itself, designated a National Historic Landmark, sits in a box canyon at 8,750 feet elevation and connects with neighboring Mountain Village using a free gondola transportation system,

the only one of its kind in North America.  With its upscale hotels, spas, restaurants and shops, Mountain Village at 9,545 feet elevation is also home to the Telluride Ski & Golf Resort,

Mountain Village. Photo by Richard Varr

founded in the 1970s when skiing and tourism would eventually replace mining as the area’s major industry.

With the fall upon us, ski season has officially kicked off in Colorado, and the Telluride Ski Resort is looking forward to the upcoming season.  “It’s probably the most beautiful place you’ll ever ski,” says resort spokesman Tom Watkinson.

Ski statue, Mountain Village. Photo by Richard Varr

“Telluride is surrounded by 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks and is one of the highest concentrations of 14-000-foot peaks in North America.  We have skiing from 13,150 feet all the way down to 8,725 feet.”

Along the San Miguel River in Telluride. Photo by Richard Varr

The area includes 2,000 skiable acres with 125 trails, 18 lifts and an average annual snowfall of 309 inches.  And for the non-skier, there’s plenty to do.  “There are spas, galleries, shopping and a history museum,” says Watkinson.  “There’s an extremely rich history in Telluride with the old mining days before skiing started.”  Other winter activities include snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

“The non-skier can come out here with the ski group and be entertained, and not feel like they’re just stuck in the ski lodge and watching the fireplace,” adds Watkinson.

Actual safe robbed by Butch Cassidy in 1889. Photo by Richard Varr

A tour of the old town reveals genuine and dramatic episodes of Wild West history.  In 1889, Butch Cassidy and his gang robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank – his first bank heist.  The outlaws strategically placed horses around town to escape.  They were never caught, and the $24,580 of stolen loot was never recovered.  The bank no longer exists, but a sunglass shop has the actual safe that Cassidy robbed.

Another interesting spot is the so-called “Popcorn Alley,” where prostitutes once worked small shacks known as “cribs.”

“Popcorn Alley.” Photo by Richard Varr

“In  Telluride they had a series of seven or eight of them in a row,” explains local historian and tour guide Lauren Bloemsma.  “The doors opened and closed so rapidly throughout the evening, that the street became known as Popcorn Alley, and it’s still known as that today.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:  www.visittelluride.com

LODGING

Hotel Madeline in Mountain Village. Photo by Richard Varr

The Hotel Madeline, opened in 2008, is the top luxury resort hotel in Telluride.  Located in Mountain Village, the hotel has one, two and three bedroom suites, and one, two, three and four bedroom condos and penthouses.  Guests enjoy the full service Spa Linnea, two restaurants, indoor pool, ski valet, family and children’s activities.   (www.hotelmadelinetelluride.com)

Telluride Ski & Golf Resort (www.tellurideskiresort.com) and the Hotel Madeline recently announced a partnership whereby the hotel will become the official hotel of the resort.

DINING

View from outside Allred’s Restaurant: Telluride in a box canyon below. Photo by Richard Varr

I suggest a visit to Allred’s Restaurant, atop the mountain peak between Telluride and Mountain Village.  The gondola stops there; elevation 10,550 feet above sea level.  It’s a pricy restaurant, but at least have a cocktail and enjoy the view.   www.allredsrestaurant.com

Central Telluride. Photo by Richard Varr

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One response to “Telluride: Where the Views – and Not the Thin Air – Take Your Breath Away

  1. hi, Richard! I’ve been looking for interesting posts about Telluride to feature on our site. if you’re interested, you can drop me a line at Brenda (at) Dwellable (.com).

    thanks!
    Brenda

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