by Lee Foster
As a traveler seeks to evaluate the merits of various ski destinations in the West, Telluride, Colorado has some special appeals.
The setting in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado ranks as one of the more scenic places to ski in North America. The ski site itself has 1,050 acres of inviting runs for all skill levels in a forest of aspen and pine trees.
Along with skiing, Telluride hosts one of the most complete and visionary spas available anywhere. The spa is at The Peaks Resort, the prime lodging location, right on the ski mountain.
The town of Telluride (population only 1,500) is interesting to explore because of its gold/silver mining history and legacy brick and Victorian architecture. Within the town are many smaller B&B and condo-type lodgings if a traveler does not want to stay at The Peaks.
One negative about Telluride is that it takes some time to get there. The dependable all-weather airport is Montrose, with jet service out of Houston, Denver, Chicago, and Phoenix. Montrose puts you 65 miles, about an hour-and-a-half drive, from Telluride, but the ride is lovely. Shuttle service is available. The small, local Telluride airport can be shut down in bad weather.
Telluride enjoys a Colorado Rockies setting that makes for engaging skiing and breathtaking views.
The view from the top of Lift 9, at 11,890 feet, shows a 360-degree sweep of the local mountains, such as Mt. Wilson, a shark-tooth peak rising to 14,246 feet.
Due to the topography of the area, the Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert runs are segregated from each other, giving each group of skiers an added comfort level.
The Beginner runs start at the top of Lift 10, which the locals believe is the longest quad chair on any mountain in North America. From the top, a Beginner can take a 30-minute run down gentle “green” slopes. This amounts to one of the most engaging Beginner slopes in the West.
Many of the Intermediate runs end at The Peaks Resort area, also known as the Mountain Village, which has ski-in and out access. These Beginner and Intermediate runs are one mountain ridge away from the town of Telluride.
Several of the Expert runs begin at the ridgetop and go down the town side of the mountain into Telluride.
Snowboarding is popular at Telluride. There’s such a luxurious amount of room at this uncrowded locale that snowboarders and skiers can eaily keep out of each other’s way. Lift lines are also short, if they exist at all.
All areas of the ski terrain are tied together with a gondola system that functions also as public transportation, moving skiers and non-skiers alike from the mountain to the town of Telluride. This is one ski area where you don’t need to rent a car. The gondola system is your public transit.
Lift lines are short because Telluride is a remote area. Snow conditions can be extremely good, with a dry powdery snow enjoyable on bright, blue, sunny days in ideal times. The slopes are well groomed and maintained. The ski school has plenty of expert instructors, for both adults and children.
No competing ski area in the West has a spa to compare with The Peaks Spa at Telluride. Guests often ski during the day and hit the spa at 3 p.m. or so for a soak or a treatment. Some of the spa patrons never ski at all. The Spa has become a year-round attraction, open on a complementary basis to guests lodging at The Peaks and available for a daily fee to outsiders. Treatments are available for an additional charge.
The Peaks Spa consistently gets mentioned in Top 10 lists of American spas.
Both the facility and the vision behind The Peaks Spa contribute to its success.
The facility is huge, 42,000 square feet, with 44 individual treatment rooms as well as a lap pool, hot pool and soaking tub indoors and outside, cardiovascular workout area, and a weight training room with Cybex equipment. The spa facilities include squash and racquetball courts, and a rock climbing wall, plus some exotic workout equipment, such as the pilates devices used for abdominal exercises.
Treatments popular with both men and women include various kinds of massages, facials, and body pamperings, such as herbal wraps. If you’re looking for a spa that does these treatments visit this website.
The philosophy of the spa, as articulated by director Gayle Brady, is “to bring the guest to the ‘next level’ of relaxation and rejuvenation by completely integrating activities for the body, mind, and spirit.”
One popular aspect of the spa is the men’s and women’s separate “kivas,” borrowing a Southwest Indian word for an underground ceremonial and cleansing place. In the spa’s kivas the patrons prepare themselves for their treatments and exercises with soaks in hot mineral pools, preceded perhaps with a session in a hot dry sauna or a hot moist eucalyptus-scent room. The local humor asserts that after you’ve passed through these three rituals (dry sauna, eucalyptus steam room, and hot mineral bath), you are a certified tri-bathalete, and your pores are the size of quarters.
Chef Eamonn O’Hara at The Peaks complements the spa with a special spa cuisine emphasizing attractive foods low in calories.
The spa also has an appropriate children’s program, allowing mom and dad to relax, knowing that the kids are supervised, entertained, and immersed in their own beginning spa experience.
The Peaks Resort is the premier hostelry in the region, with 177 luxury rooms and all amenities. Each room looks out on the surrounding mountains with an unobstructed view. Guests at The Peaks gather in the lodge common room, called The Great Room, to witness the pink alpenglow of dawn or the post-sunset kaleidoscope of colors on Mt. Wilson, the dominant mountain. The Great Room is especially cozy in the evening when the huge three-story fireplace is ablaze. The Peaks offers a fully-integrated location with lodging, ski-in-and-out, ski rentals, shops, its famous Spa, and fine dining at two restaurants, Legends and Sundance.
More economical lodgings are also available in Telluride at small B&Bs and inns or rental condos. Most area lodgings are bookable through Telluride Central Reservations.
One appealing restaurant in town is Harmon’s, in the old railroad depot. At Harmon’s you might begin with the grilled quail or squash soup appetizers and proceed to the prime rib or risotto of the day. Harmon’s features its own micro-brewed beer.
Save one evening in Telluride for a sleigh-ride dinner at Skyline Guest Ranch. The ride, perhaps on a crisp and star-filled night, precedes the meal. The horses’ hooves and sleigh runners crunch on the snow. For dinner, you might choose steak or salmon, accompanied by a tasty pesto bread. This family-owned operation still runs cattle with horses and serves as a B&B.
TOWN OF TELLURIDE
The historic gold/silver mining town of Telluride is intriguing to visit. Located in a box canyon, with only one route in, the town now has about 1,500 residents and little room to expand.
Gold and silver mining here flourished especially about 1900-1915 and then gradually declined. There was little else to support the local economy, high in the mountains, until tourism began in the 1970s.
The architectural legacies from the mining boom era include the San Miguel County Courthouse and adjacent New Sheridan Hotel and Opera House, both handsome brick structures from the 19th century. Walking the streets of Telluride acquaints you with modest mining shacks and elegant Victorians that have become fashionable residences.
Along the main street there are cappuccino shops, such as Steaming Bean, and some regional specialty stores, namely Telluride Angler, where you can peruse the dry flies used to hook the numerous trout swimming in area streams. A stroll around town reveals inviting bookstores (Bookworks) and art galleries (Apropos). There is a special local exchange place known as the Free Box, where residents of this mountain town drop off their discards and pick up the cast off property of others, a kind of ongoing flea market.
Getting around the area, between the town of Telluride and the ski area, where The Peaks Resort lies, occurs with a special strategy–a gondola that serves as public transportation. You don’t need a car here because you can travel comfortably around on the gondola. The town itself is only a few blocks square. In fact, the town is so small that there is no postal delivery. Getting your mail at your local PO Box becomes the defining social ritual of each day, with much meeting and greeting at the post office.
After the skiing traffic of winter, Telluride sustains itself in summer with the drive-in tourist, who comes for the outdoor scenery and sports, such as hiking and fishing. Other visitors in summer arrive for the spa, the 18-hole golf course, and the Telluride festivals celebrating jazz, bluegrass, and films.
The one boom industry here, besides tourism, is the building of million dollar homes in the mountains for celebrities and the wealthy. Telluride even boasts a slick city magazine, the kind seen only in metropolises of a half million or more. The magazine is supported by realty ads. About a tenth of the population is in the realty business.
All considered, Telluride competes favorably as a western states ski destination. The skiing and spaing are terrific and the historic mining town is intriguing, though getting there requires a special effort.
TELLURIDE, COLORADO FOR SKI AND SPA: IF YOU GO
The central reservation service assisting travelers is Telluride Visitor Services, PO Box 653, 666 W. Colorado Ave., Telluride, CO 81435, 800-525-2717, 970-728-6265, fax 970-728-9054.
The ski area informs visitors at www.tellurideski.com.
The major resort and spa, located on the ski mountain, is The Peaks at Telluride, 136 Country Club Drive, PO Box 2702, Telluride, CO 81435, 970-728-6800, fax 970-728-6175, reservations 800-789-2220, www.thepeaksresort.com.
One interesting glimpse of the region is through the local newspaper, the Daily Planet. You can look in and witness the local political squabbles (1970s hippies now in control and promoting preservation of the status quo vs developers from the locale and outside interested in growth). The Daily Planet web site, accessible from the Visitor Center web site, also links to the various providers of lodging, dining, and shopping.
The dependable regional airport in all weather is at Montrose, 65 miles north of Telluride. Local shuttle service can take you to Telluride, where you won’t need a car because the public-transit gondola system will carry you around.