36 Hours in Telluride, Colorado

New York Times By CHRISTOPHER SOLOMON DEC. 10, 2015

Besides its natural beauty and uncrowded slopes, this “skier’s mountain” has a quirky culture of friendly, relaxed fans of the great outdoors.

There are steeper ski resorts than Telluride. There are ski resorts that get more snow. But few places are more friendly and prettier than this town at the end of a box canyon in the tall San Juan Mountains, a place so cinematic that Quentin Tarantino was here last winter filming his forthcoming western, “The Hateful Eight.” Beauty and great skiing keep pulling the money here, and that keeps refreshing the scene. But it’s the people who make this place interesting — a quirky stew of Patagonia-clad men who look as if they came straight from base camp; flushed women direct from their 10-mile runs; still others reciting poetry in bordello-wear at a Colorado Avenue bar; and gray-ponytailed hippies who play “Sugar Magnolia” so often you’d think Jerry Garcia never went to that great jam fest in the sky. Telluride isn’t just a ski area; it’s a way of life.

Friday

  1. ­A Ski Is Born, 3 p.m.

A dozen years ago, Pete Wagner, an engineer who designed better ways to fit golf clubs to golfers, wondered why skis were basically an off-the-shelf purchase. So in 2006 Mr. Wagner opened Wagner Custom Skis, in Placerville, a rough little mining burg 15 miles downstream from Telluride. (“We’re the only ski factory that’s located in a trailer park,” he quips.) During tours of the house-size factory, Mr. Wagner demonstrates how his company customizes everything from a ski’s base material to the central core — maple? white ash? — to the graphics you see in the lift line. Tours are free (weekday afternoons by appointment), but skis start at $1,750. They’re said to be worth every penny.

  1. ­Après-Ski at Altitude, 5 p.m.

Mountain Village, the affluent stepchild of Telluride that sits above town, at 9,540 feet, has never achieved liftoff; despite its amenities, the place remains as beige as its name. The best thing about this second base area is that the gondola to town runs until midnight. A bright spot has been the opening last winter of Siam’s Talay Grille, offshoot of the popular Siam-Telluride. Dip into the alpine pagoda-décor bar when the lifts shut down for a quick hand roll and an elk steam bun, or a small Sapporo, a thimble of sake and a crispy duck hand roll (snacks generally under $10).

  1. ­Good, Fresh Mexican, 8 p.m.

Follow the locals to La Cocina de Luz on the main drag, Colorado Avenue. This casual joint with sunshine-colored walls housed in an old bank, replete with vault door, uses mostly organic ingredients and also offers some vegan and gluten-free options. Step up to the counter and order the combo with a chile relleno ($16) — order it “Christmas” (with both red and green chile) — with a side of refried Anasazi beans. The food here is simple, fresh and bright, and the margaritas are strong.

Saturday

  1. ­Fuel Up, 7:30 a.m.

There is nothing extravagant about the Butcher and Baker Cafe, a locals’ favorite. It’s a clean, well-lighted place, a one-time pool hall with worn wood floors and big storefront windows through which floods the morning sun — so welcome on a winter morning in this deep, dark valley. They make their own breads here, and pastries, sauces and pickles. Place your order at the counter. Take a billiard ball as your number. Feast on the good, simple fare — a huge breakfast sandwich, or eggs just as sunny as ordered, beside a track of deeply tanned bacon. Breakfast: $4.50 to $12, plus coffee.

  1. ­Hit the Slopes, 9 a.m.

“Telluride really is a skier’s mountain,” the ski-maker Pete Wagner recently told me. “Great terrain, and there’s never anyone on it.” In good snow conditions, experts often head for the billy-goat descents in Prospect Bowl; those who want a mellower day shouldn’t miss See Forever, a meandering ridgetop groomer with views into adjoining Utah. Once you’re warmed up, try Bushwacker, a black diamond that is groomed almost nightly; divebombing the run is vintage Telluride. You can rest those oxygen-deprived legs on Chair 9, one of the few lifts that aren’t high-speed.

  1. ­Lunch at Treeline, Noon

Tucked among the subalpine fir at 11,966 feet, Alpino Vino lays claim to being the highest fine-dining restaurant in North America. The thick-walled stone hut and its outside deck recall an Alpine rifugio. On a still, sunny day, with the toothy San Juans smiling all around, it feels like the best of Europe — with Gstaad prices: $25 for the grilled cheese and tomato soup, though, to be fair, the sandwich with double-cream Colorado cheese and pesto and arugula might be the most savory you’ve tasted. (You can have dinner here via snowcat coach, too.) While you’re blowing the kids’ college fund, wash away the guilt with a $25 glass of ’08 Brunello di Montalcino.

  1. ­Bike to Beer, 2 p.m.

Fat bikes, those two-wheelers with cartoonishly big tires and names like the Moonlander that are able to cruise atop the snow, are the ride du jour in ski towns. On Paragon Outdoors’ guided fat-bike tour ($99; reservations required) participants ride for three-and-a-half miles along the flat, groomed snow trails of the box canyon’s scenic floor, skirting aspen, Engelmann spruce and the winter trickle of the San Miguel River. Go in the afternoon and visit the exceptional Telluride Brewing Company. “Beer doesn’t travel, so it’s better that you travel to the beer,” said a Paragon manager. The brewery makes 16 different beers, including a Face Down Brown Ale that won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2012. Don’t sample too many — you’ve still got to ride back.

  1. ­Après-Ski, High and Low, 5 p.m.

Perhaps the best view in Telluride is from the bar at Palmyra at the Peaks in Mountain Village, with its fireplaces and big deck facing Wilson Peak. The cocktails are pricey; ask about happy hour specials. In town, locals love the Oak, at the base of Lift 8 and the gondola. Its carpet is dirty, the barbecue meh, but you can plunge right down Mine Shaft to a pint of cheap, local brew.

  1. ­Alpine Passeggiata, , 6:30 p.m.

Historic Colorado Avenue, though just a few blocks long, is one of the great main streets in the West. Strolling the wide sidewalks in an alpine passeggiata as the alpenglow fades is a singular pleasure. Skip the stores selling silk-screened onesies and check out the fashions at CashmereRED. Caci Grinspan works with a 150-year-old Scottish mill to create some of the most cloudlike sweaters, scarves and blankets you’ve ever touched. Try the men’s best-selling cashmere hoodie (a mere $645) or the Passport, a garment that converts from scarf to tunic to cocktail dress ($450).

  1. ­Williamsburg, at 8,750 Feet, 8 p.m.

The buzziest new restaurant in town, There, has all the marks of Brooklyn hipsterdom: On my visit, the drinks list was like a bookmark in a tattered copy of Orwell’s “1984,” and the menu looked like a page torn from a comic book, the conversation bubbles exclaiming $4 pork rillette tostadas and crispy spicy duck steamed buns. But the pop-up-like There, by the founders of Nobu 57, pulls it off, in no small part because of the two charismatic bartenders who are the small room’s workhorses, entertainers and maître d’s. There may be better food in town, but there’s no place you’d rather be.

Sunday

  1. ­Short Ribs for Breakfast, 8 a.m.

The New Sheridan Hotel, on West Colorado Avenue, is a classic brick hotel that dates from the town’s mining days. (The place was renovated in 2008, though many of the original fixtures are still here.) To get you out the door and keep your fires stoked on a Rocky Mountain morning, the hotel’s Chop House Restaurant serves brunch from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. with options like a pistachio-encrusted trout spinach salad with a poached egg and sherry-vinaigrette ($16).

  1. ­Kick and Glide, 10 a.m.

Most come for the downhill thrills, but the Telluride area has six Nordic ski areas, with about 20 miles of groomed trails. Flag down the free Galloping Goose town bus and take it to the trailhead of the valley floor, where trails wend beside the San Miguel River. If you’ve got a car, drive about 13 miles to the (free) trails at Priest and Trout lakes by the scenic 10,200-foot Lizard Head Pass, with the most varied terrain and best snow conditions. If you rent gear at Telluride Nordic Center at Town Park ($24; kids $12) your money helps maintain the trails you use.

  1. ­Another Favorite Pastime, 4:30 p.m.

In a testament to townsfolk’s longstanding interest in the plant, Telluride now offers a marijuana walking tour. Telluride Green Tours started last fall, with tours departing daily at 4:30 p.m. from Gondola Plaza (custom tours available). On the two-hour, $50 guided walkabout, participants learn about the area’s history, the newly legal cannabis dispensaries, edibles, their potency and different strains, from local “budtenders.” Tour members can also get discounts for that Maui Wowie they buy on the tour.

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