Jan 24, 2018
The unpretentious Colorado ski town is packed with history—and is a direct flight away from Charlotte
THE SNOW STARTS just as I arrive, fine specks of icy glitter that turn to heavy, fat flakes within an hour. I grab a cinnamon-sugar doughnut from a busy bakery and sit at a picnic table on the covered front porch, watching excited locals and wide-eyed tourists relish in the winter weather.
Telluride, an old silver mining town in southwest Colorado that’s now home to fewer than 2,500 full-time residents and an exceptional ski resort, is magical when it snows. Set at 8,750 feet, it has the edge of a place that refused to obey prohibition (the miners raised hell and the county sheriff agreed to look the other way) blended with the comforts of a luxury ski enclave. This winter, Charlotte became the 12th city to run a direct flight to the area, part of an effort to attract more East Coast visitors to a place many have heard of but few have visited.
Although residents are careful to avoid pandering, Telluride does appeal to a broad group of visitors. During my stay, for three nights in early January, I ran into college kids on a party weekend, retirees sipping wine, and Australian families who’d decamped to Colorado for a month-long vacation.
As the clouds dump snow at more than an inch an hour, I wander the compact downtown, which is filled with touches of the past: an opera house built in 1913 as a vaudeville theater, a plaque that marks the site of Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery.
Eventually, I find my way inside the historic bar at the New Sheridan Hotel. The barroom is dark and warm—a fireplace at the far end and copper light from old glass fixtures take the chill off of the blue, snowy twilight outside. I grab a seat on the corner, lean my elbows on mahogany paneling that dates back to 1895, and take a pull from a pint of Tempter, a popular local IPA. All around me, it seems everyone is having the same conversation: Tomorrow is going to be a powder day.
SURE ENOUGH, I wake in the morning to the sight of nearly a foot of fresh, fluffy snow. The temperature is in the low teens, and I quickly layer up and head for the ski resort, which is actually based out of Mountain Village, a separate municipality above the valley floor. It is connected to Telluride by a free gondola, which takes 13 minutes and delights riders with a view of snow-covered evergreens below and 14,000-foot peaks on the horizon.
Even with the collective enthusiasm about new snow, the ski resort doesn’t feel crowded. Lift lines are delightfully short and the runs—there are plentiful options for all experience levels—don’t get jammed up. I ski for six hours, with a quick break for lunch, before joining the sunglassed-and-fleeced crowd at a mountainside tavern for après-ski beers. Bt the time I’ve showered and changed, my legs are a little sore, and I’m ready for dinner at Allred’s, an upscale space with antler-adorned chandeliers and sweeping views of the valley. A juicy beef tenderloin, earthy sauteed mushrooms, smooth potato purée, and a cocktail take the edge off of a full day. The sun has long set by the time I’m finished eating, but I can’t help but linger against the windows, staring through the glass at the lights from Telluride below.
MY BOUNCY BIKE TIRES crunch their way along a narrow path of packed powder, beside the San Miguel River and through a thicket of evergreens. It’s the next afternoon, and a band of heavy snow has settled overhead. Every few minutes, my guide and I brush our arms—or hit a bump—and watch the flakes shake from our bodies.
Fat-biking, on modified mountain bikes with nearly five-inch-wide tires, is a popular activity here; as you walk through downtown Telluride, you’ll spot the rigs parked outside of homes and businesses.
We make slow progress along portions of the trail covered in fresh snow that riders have yet to pack. At one point, after I build up some speed, I hit a drift too deep to ride through—the bike stops, I don’t, and I sail over the handlebars into a pile of knee-deep snow with a laugh. (The specter of falling into pillowy snow, albeit cold, eases any anxiety unfamiliar mountain bikers have about giving this adventure a try.)
It’s a four-mile ride from downtown to Telluride Brewing Company, distance we cover in about 90 minutes thanks to the thick snow and my propensity to fall off the bike. When we finally arrive, we open the door and feel the humid air blast us in the face. I order a pint of Tempter and catch my breath. Even after a few days of adjusting, the thin air (and, I’ll admit, the fact that I’m a touch out of shape) has me sucking wind. We shed our gloves and hats and jackets, push up our sleeves.
By the time we finish our beers, the snow has stopped falling and the low clouds obscuring the rocky peaks that Telluride in on three sides have lifted. We bundle up, climb onto our bikes, and point the fat tires toward town.
GO: American Airlines flies once a week, on Saturdays, direct from Charlotte to Montrose, Colorado. From there, it’s a 67-mile drive to Telluride. Arrange transportation up the mountain through Telluride Express—you won’t need a car when you get to town. The direct flight will run through the end of March and resume, likely with more frequent trips from CLT, in the fall.
The Hotel Telluride has a European vibe.
Stay: The Hotel Telluride is conveniently located within walking distance of downtown restaurants and shopping, as well as the free gondola to Mountain Village.
Eat: Allred’s, a fine dining concept at 10,551 feet, is the town’s signature restaurant. Have an early dinner and watch the sunset against a wall of windows.
Grab a doughnut or pastry from Baked in Telluride on the way to the ski lift.
Cosmopolitan, located near the gondola, is elegant without being stuffy.
New Sheridan Chop House, located in the historic New Sheridan Hotel, serves New American fare—and a great brunch.
Bistro fare at 221 South Oak includes elk, venison, and seafood prepared by chef/owner (and Top Chef alum) Eliza Gavin.
The best (or certainly the most fun) lunch in town is at Taco del Gnar, a street food-inspired concept with affordable tacos and rich queso.
Do: Rent a fat bike from BootDoctors’ downtown shop and you’ll be a couple of blocks away from the San Miguel River trail. There’s also a paved bike path that leaves town and runs across the valley floor, if you prefer a less strenuous ride.
Telluride Distilling Company makes a smooth vodka, delightful peppermint schnapps, and limited quantities of whiskey. Stop by for a tasting or a mule, made with the company’s own ginger beer.