Rustic Elegance in Telluride

by  Jim Sherman | Mar 9, 2010
Telluride, Colorado
Telluride, Colorado / SEASTOCK/iStock

Since the world was riveted by an exciting Olympic Winter Games in Whistler, Canada last month, I want to recommend one of my favorite ski resorts in the American West: Telluride, Colorado. This is a lesser-known resort, compared with Vail or Aspen, yet among the world’s most satisfying to visit. The light powder is amazing; the mountain runs are long, with incredible vistas and of myriad variety for all skill levels; and the lift lines are short. (On my most recent visit I never waited in line; I couldn’t believe it.)

What makes Telluride extra special, however, is its small size (getting around is so easy) and an atmosphere that is decidedly laid-back Western chic. Unlike glitzy Aspen and Vail, Telluride is low-key, and the city takes pride in that. It’s every bit as exclusive as other top- notch resorts but Telluride does not flash its opulence; the restaurants, shops, and attitudes are just more down-to-earth. The town’s charming main street looks like what one might see in an old Western movie with its storefronts, small shops, and, in this case, the gorgeous San Juan mountains in the background. Indeed, the landmarked town center was once a gold mining boom town. Upon closer examination one will find a real rustic elegance, albeit not in the form of Prada or Armani stores. That said, there are lots of high-quality shopping and dining options in town.

My days started with an early rise to hit the slopes. One can choose between staying in Telluride or nearby Mountain Village. The two are about 20 minutes apart via a free gondola ride. Telluride stands at an elevation of 8,800 feet and Mountain Village at 9,500 feet. The high altitude can cause one to be short of breath during the first couple of days—even from just walking! Altitude sickness is not uncommon. I have to admit that I felt some dizziness and a slight headache for the first night or two. Despite this, the experience of skiing Telluride is well worth it, the conditions are marvelous—a true joy.

After some hard runs, consider having lunch at Giuseppe’s, an intimate Italian spot on the mountain that’s known for its simple yet terrific spaghetti and meatballs. And after a day of skiing, consider Allred’s, a refined restaurant at the station midway along the gondola ride between Telluride and Mountain Village, for schnapps and hot chocolate, excellent views from 10,600 feet, and an exceptionally clubby atmosphere. It was the classiest place I’ve ever gone in ski boots! Try the elk for something different and delicious. Afterwards, take the gondola back to the hotel since the buzz from the drinks will preclude skiing down.

Since I like skiing but would not call myself a zealous skier, a ski resort’s town, dining, and hotel scenes are as important to me as the snow conditions. Some of my favorite mountainside restaurants can easily match the fine dining spots in big cities. In Telluride, I recommend Cosmopolitan, purveyor of truffled lobster corn dogs and an assortment of Southwestern, French, and Thai cuisine; Honga’s Lotus Petal, for pan-Asian fare; and the handsome Chop House Restaurant at the New Sheridan Hotel (pictured), for New American cuisine, especially steak dishes.

I recommend the Hotel Telluride (from $259/night). The rooms are spacious and nicely appointed; a 5-minute shuttle takes skiers to and from the nearby slopes. A good value option is the New Sheridan Hotel located on the town’s main street (from $169/night). More expensive are the slopeside Camel’s Garden Hotel (from $295/night) in Telluride and The Peaks Resort & Golden Door Spa (from $219/night) in Mountain Village. (I encourage staying in Telluride if one is likely to go out at night.) These are all excellent high-end properties. Also, after a long day of skiing, consider making an appointment at The Peaks Resort’s excellent Golden Door Spa.

I’m sure any trip to Telluride will leave visitors wanting more.  The spectacular scenery and views are perhaps the most beautiful in the Rockies. Travelers can also sample a robust menu of cultural attractions ( And the historic charms of Telluride’s old town, quaint and high-quality restaurants, luxury hotels, and friendly and relaxed vibe will lure visitors back time and again.

From the Feb/March 2010 issue of Sherman's Travel magazine.

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