Telluride: Eye-popping views rival anything in Europe, North America

Taking a hike at Telluride Ski Resort means treading the stairs at 12,000 feet leading to Gold Hill Chutes 9 and 10. The European-inspired stairs and bridge offers access to expert-only terrain and the snowfields of Palmyra Basin.

The lunch deck at Alpino Vino, one of the dining options at Telluride Ski Resort, offers guests a glass of wine at 12,000 feet, possibly North America’s highest wine bar.


This is the second in an occasional series offering an insider’s look at several regional ski resorts. Look for tips on favorite runs, freebies, parking and avoiding the crowds.

TELLURIDE – There are two ways to pass the “locals test” in Telluride.

First, be enjoying an adult beverage in the New Sheridan Hotel Bar when local cowboy Roudy Roudebush rides his horse into the bar for a beer.

Roudy gets the beer, the horse gets water since he’s driving.

Roudebush operates Telluride Horseback Adventures, where he offers year-round horse rides with the motto: “Gentle horses for gentle people; fast horses for fast people. And, for people who don’t like to ride, horses that don’t like to be rode!”

And second, when you refer to the chairlifts by their numbers, not their names.

“Yeah, I don’t think most of the locals even know the names of most of the lifts,” mused longtime resident (and former Telluride resort Chief Operating Officer) Johnny Stevens several years ago. “I guess they don’t figure it’s all that important.”

All this means Telluride, both the town and the eponymous ski area, with their colorful mining history and equally colorful cast of personalities, with ski runs steeper than the nose on Roudebush’s horse and an eye-popping view rivaling anything in North America and Europe, simply isn’t like other ski resorts.

“We’re pretty unique, you have to say that,” said Dave Riley, CEO for Telluride Ski Resort, during a visit last spring. “And we’re trying to keep it that way.”

The skinny – Telluride offers a 3,530-foot vertical on more than 2,000 skiable acres. Its 18 lifts serve 125 trails, with 23 percent beginner terrain, 36 percent intermediate and 41 percent advanced/expert terrain.

Fast getaways – Park in town at the free Carhenge lot near the base of the Coonskin Lift (Chair 7). Jump on that lift or walk a couple of blocks to the free gondola, which drops you at Mountain Village after a 13-minute ride.

Or drive to Mountain Village and park at the multi-deck intercept lot, which this year will cost $5. Grab the gondola for a 5-minute ride across to the Mountain Village base area or ski down to the base of the chondola (Chair 10), where you can get your lift ticket, a cup of hot chocolate and a quick ride to the base area.

The chondola ride puts you at the busy Mountain Village, with its shops, restaurants, lodging, administrative offices, nursery and access to mid- and upper-mountain lifts.

First rides — If you’re a first-time skier or rider and decide to park at Carhenge and ride the Coonskin Lift (this might be the only lift locals refer to by name), the local word is “Don’t look down.”

“It can be a little intimidating at first,” cautioned Tom Watkinson, public relations manager for the resort. “A beginning skier may not be totally comfortable with the ride up Coonskin.”

That’s because Coonskin traverses some of the resort’s steeper runs and offers views of the famed double-black diamond runs a few minutes away.

Don’t worry: There’s plenty of skiing accessible from the top of Coonskin in Goronno Basin with its long intermediate and beginner runs and several terrain parks.

Getting around – Once you’re at Mountain Village, you’ll discover the rest of the mountain is only a lift ride or two away.

“Skiing the mountain is so easy,” said Watkinson. “It’s simple to get around no matter what your ability is and what you’re looking for.”

Advanced skiers can work over from the top of the Coonskin Lift or the Mountain Express to the Plunge Lift (Chair 9) and in two rides you’re near the top of the resort.

“From Chair 9 you can access almost everything on the mountain,” Watkinson said. “You’re never more than two rides away from almost everywhere on the ski resort.”

Intermediates paradise – Perhaps the most-popular lift among intermediate and advanced skiers is the Polar Queen Express (Chair 5) from which you can spend all day exploring a wide variety of mid-level runs.

“Chair 5 is the ultimate intermediate lift in the country,” said Watkinson, only slightly exaggerating. “You can get every type of skiing at the intermediate level from steeper groomers to bumps, powder and tree skiing.”

The lift also gets you to Prospect Bowl, where the Prospect Express (Chair 12) introduces you to the bowl’s 733 expansive acres of well-groomed cruisers, bumped-out steeps and hike-to powder runs.

It’s all in the trees — Back in the day when Telluridians cruised the mountain on 207 Dynastars, the best skiing was in the spaces between the trees, the glades where snow collected and skiers, too, if they weren’t careful.

The long skis pretty much are gone but the tree skiing may be better than ever now that Telluride trimmed trees from five favorite gladed areas and opened them to skiers.

The new runs include Silver Tip Trees and Gold Rush off Chair 5; Prospect Woods off Chair 12; and KANT-MAK-M Trees and Log Pile Trees off Chair 9.

Get out and walk — The installation last year of the Europe-inspired metal staircase and bridge at the top of Revelation Bowl (Chair 15) finally gives expert skiers access to the Gold Hill Chutes 9 and 10. The vertiginous, expert-only chutes dump into Palmyra Basin below.

Other popular hike-to areas off Lift 12 include Black Iron Bowl, Palmyra Peak and Bald Mountain.

It’s lunch — Take a break at Goronno Ranch, the affordable mid-mountain restaurant named for the long-time Basque ranching family that once ran sheep where skiers now frolic. Other popular lunch spots include Giuseppe’s on the mountain and the Hop Garden at Mountain Village.

Let’s splurge – Alpino Vino is a European-style wine bar/restaurant at 12,000 feet offering spectacular views of the Wilson Range. Accessible off the Gold Hill lift (Chair 14) on See Forever. Starting this year, Alpino Vino is offering a nighttime dining experience ($125, limited to guests 21 and over) including travel to the restaurant in an enclosed snow coach. Dinner is a five-course Italian-themed menu with an optional wine pairing.

Information: Tickets, dining and other news at But if you really want to know what’s happening on a near-daily basis, check out Telluride CEO Dave Riley’s lively, entertaining and informative blog at If only all ski resort CEOs did something like this.


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