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High on Telluride

Jordan Riefe

Feb 27, 2019

This fresh powder paradise awaits

There are two competing theories on how Telluride, Colorado, got its name. The first is based on the number 52 on the periodic table, an element called Tellurium, which is often detected where gold can be found. The other involves the perilous mountain journey to the isolated mining town, a trip so arduous they called it “To Hell You Ride,” shortened to Telluride.

Arriving there, you’re far from hell. In fact, at 8,700 feet above sea level, you could say you’re a little closer to heaven. Stay at the Hotel Telluride, and you’ll be even closer. Situated a few steps from Main Street, this modest establishment with 59 rooms and suites ($299/room, $499/suite), offers views of the slopes over impeccably maintained Victorian houses, their charming conical cupolas and white lace molding preserved by a town writ forbidding alterations to the antique structures.

With over 2,000 acres of terrain, all skiers (and no boarders), are welcome. Whether you’re topping out at over 13,000 feet, where the peaks require rugged hikes to steeps and chutes on cliff-like angles, or carving the groomers in the lower altitudes, ‘exhilarating’ only begins to describe it; add ‘delicious’ with a fresh powder alert.

After you pop the boards into storage at the end of the day, walk a few blocks in this one-of-a-kind cowboy town. Of all this remote redoubt’s rustic charms – incomparable skiing, wilderness and a landscape casually strewn with mining relics, a simple stroll along Main Street feels like a trip into the past. Many of the structures are originals, dating back to Butch Cassidy’s first armed bank robbery at the age of 19. The door is still there, where he and his partner, six-shooters drawn, made off with $22,000 (a whopping $800,000 in today’s money).

Restored in brick after a fire in 1897, the Sheridan Hotel is as charming as ever, made more so by its signature drink, The Flatliner martini, a combination Bailey’s, vodka, espresso, and coffee bean. The stained glass fixtures and woodwork walls are original, and the atmosphere is about as raucous and authentic as the days when the painting of a nude above the bar put some miners in mind of the “soiled doves” in the nearby red light district. Today, a warren of designer label stores, restaurants, coffee shops and an occasional art gallery have changed the character but not the face of the town.

Have another Flatliner to dull the mountain-wrought muscle ache. And if that doesn’t work, a few blocks away, The Green Dragon offers edibles, flower and vapes for a Colorado high. Now, stop in the salt cave. That’s right, it’s a few steps behind the door at Pure Beauty & Wellness Spa on West Colorado Avenue in the heart of town. Go for treatments like the Microcurrent skin tightening facial or the Far Infrared Sauna, and then strip off as much as your modesty allows, and slip on a pair of white cotton socks before entering a small, dimly-lit chamber made of pink Himalayan salt. Underfoot is salt sand, and a salt waterfall sends crystals into the air, coating everything with rejuvenating powers including relief from stress and anxiety, immune system support, detoxification and skin purification.

It’s a short walk from the salt cave to a hole in the wall for dinner. Actually, it’s not a hole but a Tunnel, that’s the name of the joint and you can’t get in unless you have a password, see? Where do you get the password? Those in the know, know to look in the pile of newspapers across the alley. In a box on the front page, one word: “Mangiamo.”

Uttering the magic word, you enter through the backdoor, pass through the kitchen and are seated in a dining room. The Tunnel is a one-table restaurant. Now greet your host, Chef Mark Krasic, whose five-course menu changes each month, like March’s selection of Northern French dishes including Foie Gras Poel, with caramelized shallot sauce and chive, Sous Vide Long Island Duck Leg (it sounds better in French), Smoked Rabbit Sausage Stew, Seafood Crepes (to be savored!) with Monkfish, Blue Crab, Shrimp, Champagne Lobster Sauce and Mushroom Duxelle, Grilled Wagyu (lean Japanese steak), and for dessert, Creme Brulee with D’anjou Pear Beignet, Strawberry Fig Balsamic Glaze and Tuile. It sounds rich, heavy and fattening, but it’s none of those (well, maybe fattening), swaddling the palate in a blanket of bliss, the aftertaste an ephemeral souvenir of Krasic’s culinary dexterity.

The next day, you will ski a 65-degree shoot so narrow that you can only point yourself downhill and hang on for dear life. Should you catch an edge and spill, the rocky ridges whizzing by on your right and left will close their stoney jaws on you and send you rag-dolling a quarter mile to the bottom.


Hop on a snowmobile and follow your guide through a windy forest trail of pines and aspen against a white-blanketed mountain backdrop as you gradually ascend. Along the way, pass an open meadow with ruins from the mines dating back over a hundred years, roofs fallen in on cabins, and a boarding house that used to sleep a dozen miners in six beds, rotating on 12 hour shifts, each returning after work to rouse the other, all for $2.50 per day, minus a dollar for the bed.

Warm up with whiskey at the Telluride Distilling Company, a premium purveyor of spirited potables that only gets better by the glass. And if you don’t try the Peppermint Schnapps then you are the enemy of fun. Available in 50 or 100 percent proof, it’s the Gold Medal Winner at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. And if you’re not impressed, then you’re as stubborn as the Moscow Mule, made from homemade gluten-free vodka, ginger beer, lemon and ginger. Tastes so good, you’ll need another, and another, and…

Wake up! Time to kiss this historical hamlet goodbye and make your way back down the hill to the banality of mini-malls, outlet stores, and fast food restaurants. To Hell You Ride? The hell, you say. Telluride is a slice of cowpoke paradise, only without all the unruly gunslingers and horse apples, just fine cuisine with powder dreams and alluring mountain vistas.

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