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Slope Specs: Telluride, Jewel of Southwestern Colorado

Hippies, millionaires, and light-as-air powder: What to expect from a drop-dead luxury resort in a dead-end southwestern Colorado canyon.

Tucked at the head of a dead-end canyon in the snow-loaded San Juan Mountains is Telluride. It's a town (tel. 888/605-2578;, a ski area (tel. 970/728-6900; and a state of mind. It hangs onto its mining past and its laid-back '70s hippie heritage, even as it is home (or more likely, vacation home) to millionaires with their own mountain retreats. Well-heeled vacationers also stay in drop-dead luxurious lodging, dine in splendor, and set their skis on some of the most abundant, lightest powder in the land.

The ski area got its start when steep trails were cut and lifts were strung right at the western edge of Telluride's historic downtown. Those lifts still directly serve some of its gnarliest terrain, but the ski domain has spread into adjacent valleys. While the old town remains the favorite place to shop, dine, and party, the heart of the ski terrain now centers around a broad valley containing an upscale slopeside development called Mountain Village with lifts in all directions.

Below Mountain Village is a sweet beginner area served by a unique Chondola, a chairlift that also offers easy-to-use, skis-off gondola cabins that are especially convenient for small children. The Sunshine Express, originally called Chair 10, rises in another direction to longer novice trails, exclusive ski-in, ski-out homes and TopAten, Telluride's cleverly named and totally beguiling on-mountain cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. In yet another direction, the Village Express directly serves sinuous intermediate runs and is the conduit to the resort's high bowls, glades and powder stashes for which Telluride is famous Finally, an up-and-over gondola both serves a ski lift and as free public transportation for foot passengers between the old town and the new resort.

In the last several years, Telluride has expanded and upgraded its lift system and added acres upon acres of spectacular terrain. The first major expansion of the 21st century was Prospect Bowl, with sinuous trails threaded through the trees that draw intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders. It has been followed by the addition of the lift-served, rock-rimmed Gold Hill chutes, and hike-to Black Iron Bowl (a short hike) and 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak's steeps (a more demanding hike). These lure high experts and present terrifying challenges to lesser snow mortals. The brand new Revelation chairlift unloads at 12,570 feet, the resort's highest point without hiking, and accesses the gorgeous, European-style above-the-treeline skiing of Revelation Bowl.

Telluride Helitrax (tel. 866/435-4754;, Colorado's only heli-ski operator, has been flying snow-riders into the magnificent backcountry since 1982. It accommodates no more than 12 people a day on guided trips into 250 square miles of untracked powder.

Visitors who don't dip a toe of curiosity into Telluride's past are missing a big part of local color. The Telluride Historical Museum (tel. 970/728-4047; was once the local miners' hospital. Its fine displays of the area's natural and cultural history provide insight into a community that remains close-knit despite gloss of world-class resorthood, and its 1½-hour Historic Walking Tour of town includes the site of the bank where Butch Cassidy and Sundance made their first withdrawal. Telluride Snowmobile Adventures (tel. 970/728-4475; has been guiding visitors to the well preserved ghost town of Alta for 20 years.

Where to Stay

Capella (tel. 970/728-8768; in Mountain Village is an ultra-luxurious condo-hotel with spacious rooms and suites, first-rate spa and high-touch services opening this season. Nearby Lumière (tel. 866/530-9466;, another new boutique hotel, has upscale amenities and services. Other popular Mountain Village properties are the large Fairmont Franz Klammer Lodge (tel. 888/778-0355; and the intimate and charming Inn at Lost Creek (tel. 888/601-5678; The New Sheridan Hotel (tel. 800/200-1891;, a downtown landmark, was built in 1895, replacing the 1891 original that burned. Its 26 luxurious rooms and public spaces have just been renovated. The 35-room Camel's Garden (tel. 888/772-2635; at the base of the gondola also was given an off-season makeover.

Mountain Stats

Lifts: 2 high-speed gondolas, 7 high-speed quads, 1 fixed-grip quad, 2 triples, 2 doubles, 2 surface lifts and 2 moving carpets; uphill capacity, 22,386 per hour
Vertical: 3,845 feet (lift-served), 4,425 feet (hike-to)
Skiable Acres: 2,000 acres (220 with snowmaking). Average annual snowfall, 309 inches
Trails: 115 (23% beginner, 36% intermediate, 41% advanced/expert)
Terrain Parks: 3