An Insider’s Luxury Guide to Telluride
An Insider’s Luxury Guide to Telluride
In the 1800s, they named this mining town Telluride, for the gold-bearing ore. But the poetic mishearing “to hellyou ride” better reflected this boisterous burg tucked into the barely accessible San Juan Mountains. Today, the gold is snow, but the boisterousness remains.
Telluride sits in the Southwest corner of Colorado, where the geology gods did some of their best work. Fourteen-thousand-foot peaks melt into red-rock mesas as countless stands of pine and aspen watch in awestruck silence. Though Telluride has gone from booming mining village to virtual ghost town to bustling ski resort, the 13 city blocks of brick hotels and clapboard storefronts look much like they did in the 1880s. It’s a National Historic District, so all construction must adhere to the Victorian town’s “Wild West” image and code. After all, Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank in Telluride.
In 1972 a Beverly Hills entrepreneur named Joe Zoline opened a couple of lifts and welcomed a nonstop parade of die-hard skiers from around the world. Even the most jaded experts still tingle at the classic Telluride experience— staring through your ski tips at mogul-studded pistes, glimpsing the town thousands of feet below.Getting to Telluride isn’t easy. No Colorado resort sits farther from Denver’s international airport; in fact, Telluride is closer to Albuquerque.
A two-lane blacktop road winds up into town,8,750 feet above sea level. The scenery along the drive is astounding, as is the length of the fence surrounding Ralph Lauren’s ranch, which follows the road for what seems like miles.
Telluride Regional Airport isn’t just convenient (seven minutes from Telluride and Mountain Village), it’s also astonishing, sitting on a mesa at 9,078 feet, making it one of the highest airports in North America. Fly your own GV there and park it, or take advantage of one of several luxury charter services. If you’re flying commercial, you can also try Montrose Regional Airport, which has more flights and is only 65 miles away.
Park the car and leave it parked. The free gondola connects old Telluride with the newer, more luxurious base town of Mountain Village on the other side of Coonskin Ridge in a mere 12 minutes. The Galloping Goose, Telluride’s free shuttle bus, runs from 6 a.m. to midnight. And, at only eight by 12 blocks, Telluride’s compact size makes walking a viable alternative.
Though it hasn’t yet become a full-on spa destination, Telluride none the less makes it easy to get your indulgence on. The star is The Golden Door Spa at the Peaks Resort in Mountain Village. After a $2 million renovation, it now offers 32 stunning treatment rooms showcasing every conceivable massage (including the Four Hand, with two masseuses), as well as acupuncture treatments and a variety of scrubs. Atmosphere Day Spa, located in town at the base of the gondola in the Camel’s Garden Inn, features a full menu of massage therapies and facial treatments. The nearby Aromatherapy Day Spa, which calls itself a spa, salon, and boutique, is a local favorite for its couples massage. If you’re up for a detour, the rustic-elegant cabins at Dunton Hot Springs, just over an hour away, are known for both their scenery and hospitality, and are worth a vacation all by themselves.
With the possible exception of Christmas-New Year’s week, Telluride never gets so jammed that crowds will mar your social life, or restaurant reservations become impossible. Maître d’s here tend to be helpful youngsters, not entrenched social gatekeepers, and there are usually seats to be had with only short waits— even for walk-in diners.
Really getting in
When visitors or second-home owners of means need special favors, they usually turn to their realtors. Telluride agents know everyone and everything; certain agencies have been known to send private cars to the airport and shops for clients, and have even been known to foot the bill for private jet flights. Here, it actually pays to indulge your mountain home fantasies.
Colorado Avenue (which holds the majority of Telluride’s shops and restaurants) is universally called “Main Street,” though no such street name offcially exists. The Last Dollar Saloon — the town’s most bustling late-night watering hole — is usually called the “Buck” by the same unintentionally misleading locals who nicknamed Colorado Avenue. And if someone says the ski day will be “O.G.,” bring your shovel and avalanche transceiver: “O.G.” means “out the gate” — through the access gate atop Gold Hill and into the back country.
First, live here 20 years. Or get the mountain bike, fat skis, and Labrador puppy (chocolate) with a Guatemalan-weave collar so you can fake longtime residency. Also, buy a house or condo. The real-estate market in Telluride resembled a 1990s tech stock through most of this decade, but has slowed since 2007. Prices haven’t dropped much, however: A two bedroom/two-bath condo near the Coonskin base will run you $700,000 or so, while a four-bedroom house near Town Park will cost more than $2 million.
A coat and tie in Telluride raise suspicions: Most who dress that way are headed to the San Miguel County courthouse. Generally, Telluriders have a live and-let-live approach to fashion, but beware: The county contains dozens of bona-fide ranchers, and they’ll always look better in a cowboy hat than you will.
Along with Daryl Hannah, Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Cruise, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Ralph Lauren, you’ll see well-heeled Texans and Arizonans (who tend to drive here) and Chicagoans (who take the direct flights from O’Hare to Montrose). You may recognize the latter by how silly they look in their cowboy hats.
Popular meteorological mythology would have you believe that the snow in Telluride is lighter because it dries out as it travels over the vast expanses of Southwestern desert. Whether it’s that or just divine providence, the snow here — 309 inches annually, on average — is some of the lightest you’ll find on the planet.
Unless you’re hypoxic, the must-do run at Telluride is See Forever. When you slide off the incredible Gold Hill chair at the 12,515-foot summit, you’ll be significantly higher than at any lift in California,Utah, or Montana. As you drop down this always-groomed intermediate pitch you can see deep into Utah, with the red-rock canyons near Moab and the La Sal mountains emerging from the Great Basin like islands in the sky. Other legendary runs include steep Plunge, which lets you scope out Telluride’s Victorian architecture between your boots ,and fluffy Dynamo, a wind-loaded powder field that narrows to a 10-foot-wide chute in the middle, like an hourglass.
Telluride Helitrax is the only heli-ski operation in Colorado. Since 1982 it has whisked customers to the high reaches (to 13,500 feet) of the peaks surrounding town, dropping them into the dry Southwest powder. Expect about six runs a day along with exclusivity: Helitrax flies only 12 people a day. Book early and pray for powder.
221 South Oak
Known as 221, this bistro on a residential street near the gondola plaza is symbolized by its over stuffed couches, where diners float with Manhattans or cosmopolitans before setting off for tables. Sunday brunch is a must-do: the menu takes on a New Orleans flavor, soft-shell crab eggs Benedict and peach beignets. On your way out, pick up a copy of chef/owner Eliza Gavin’s cheeky book of appetizers, Foreplay.
Chef/owner Mark Reggiannini, a former sous chef for Jean Georges Vonrichten, uses his simple, very French cooking philosophy and a brilliant three-course prix fixe menu to entice gourmands to this century-old brick building, once Telluride’s icehouse. If the duck breast with reduction sauce and black-tru ecrusted scallops vanishes too quickly, there’s always gooey chocolate cake and espresso ice cream for dessert.
Honga’s Lotus Petal
Telluride’s most in-demand table is an Asian fusion bistro specializing in organic Thaiand Japanese cuisine. Tokyo-trained sushi chef Shige Shibuya slices and dices a variety of sashimi-grade fish, complemented by hot dishes such as red and green curries with shrimp or tofu.
La Cocina de Luz
Mexican restaurants in ski towns are almost as plentiful as snowflakes. But there’s a twist to this “kitchen of light,” which uses organic meats and vegetables, flavors them with 12 varieties of chiles, and wraps them up in handmade tortillas. Try the poblano chile relleno, a roasted, peeled, cheese-filled, and batter fried medium-hot chile — and keep an eye out for loyal customer Daryl Hannah. Most diners sit outside on Telluride’s sunniest outdoor patio, as the restaurant’s indoor seating consists of three tiny tables.
Marz Tapas & Wine
One of the town’s coziest spaces, this new eatery just might host the hippest tables and bar stools around. After taking over from a forlorn fondue restaurant in late 2007, Marz darkened the lights, booted the Saint Bernard kitsch, and opened a superb tapas joint and wine bar. Owner David DeRinzy offers previously unknown-in-Telluride delicacies and pours an astounding variety of fine Latin American wines, accompanied by the beat of trance and electronica background music drawn from DJ DeRinzy’s signature show on KOTO-FM.
Allred’s has no street address. Perched at 10,551 feet inthe San Sophia gondola station, it’s too high above anything resembling a street. Alone up there on an alpine ridge, Allred’s has plenty of space to play with, so the chairs are cushier and the tables more private than in town. No other restaurant comes close in the scenery department, either — the bird’s-eye view of the town twinkling happily beneath immense canyon walls is an unparalleled delight. But since you can get the same view just by riding the gondola, Allred’s has to deliver the epicurean goods, and it does, serving up innovative treats like poached apricot vanilla Maine lobster tail, and seared foie gras drizzled with orange-honey sauce.
Diners can see Cosmopolitan’s attention to detail and flavor just by looking at the menu and its litany of ambitious dishes, such as grilled pork porterhouse with vanilla sweet potatoes, bacon-braised Swiss chard, and apple cider gastrique. Cosmo, as the locals call it, seats 70 at the restaurant and a few more at its custom cherry wood bar, and also hosts private dinners for groups of 10 to 35 in its wine cellar, dubbed the Tasting Cellar by renowned chef Chad Scothorn.
Telluride is remarkably resourceful when it comes to finding places for live music. If a hot act is in town it might pull out the seats at the 1913 Sheridan Opera House (National Register of Historic Places listing be damned). It might erect a giant tent on a vacant lot — as it did last winter during the King of the Mountain ski and snowboard tour — to host raucous concerts by Blackalicious and Michael Franti and Spearhead. And most weekends, you can attend shows at Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, Tommy’s, or the Bubble Lounge, all a short stroll from Colorado Avenue.
Telluride’s oldest sports store is locally owned Paragon Ski and Sport. In addition to the cluttered Main Street location, Paragon has two others at the gondola bases in Telluride and Mountain Village. The area’s biggest sports store is Boot Doctors in Mountain Village, and as the name suggests, it is the unquestioned expert in fitting ski boots. Owner and head boot fitter Bob Gleason has been praised in every ski magazine, and sees a constant parade of worried metatarsals, but his sprawling store also offers everything from high-end skis to snowboard demos.
For goods of the nonsporting variety, visit Telluride Trappings & Toggery, the town’s venerable yet clunky-named designer boutique. Thirty-two years after its founding, the Toggery is the place to buy Lucky Jeans, Ugg boots, or a swimsuit for Baja in the off-season or the hot tub tonight.
Between the Covers is Telluride’s only bookstore, specializing in regional works including a wide array of guidebooks to Colorado and the West, with an eclectic magazine rack containing titles from Snowboarder to The Advocate. There’s an espresso bar in the back, and Telluriders have discovered how seamlessly a triple mocha meshes with idle literary perusing. The Mountain Tails pet store recognizes that here, dogs govern the daily schedule of their “masters”; hence the $415 dog bed.
Clichés to avoid
Two things to take a pass on: bluegrass music and the holidays. Bluegrass gets waaay too much play here, thanks to June’s annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival. If you find hillbillies with banjos only occasionally entertaining, bring your own tunes to counter balance local radio’s plethora of pickin’ DJs and the inevitable bluegrass bar bands. As for the Christmas-New Year’s crush, well, the snowfall is undependable, the lift lines are crowded (unlike mid-January through April), and the wind-chill factor routinely dips into the single digits,meaning visiting Arizonans are driving on ice.
A secret space
While the kids room and public computers are always bustling at the Wilkinson Public Library, the Telluride Room usually goes unoccupied. Which is a shame, because it offers a unique and free (we’re looking at you, historical museum) glimpse at artifacts of the town’s gilded heritage, as well as incredible views of the waterfalls lacing the wooded Bear Creek drainage.