Skiers stop mid-run at the slopeside Gerrono Ranch near Telluride's Mountain Village.
Skiers stop mid-run at the slopeside Gerrono Ranch near Telluride's Mountain Village.
For The Washington Post

Falling (Hard) For Telluride

(Photos By Doug Berry)
By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005

When it comes to my ski trip in Telluride, everything has to be divided into two categories: Before the Fall and After the Fall.

BTF, I was in a state of innocence, an unspoiled Adam of the slopes, steadily sharpening my edge cuts and S-turns on Telluride's vast mileage of beginner and intermediate trails. On every day of a five-day visit last March, I morphed a little more from tentative green run novice to cocky blue run demon. I started out trembling on the lift, terrified it would spit me out like a hairball in front of Telluride's expert clientele. But by Day Three, I was basking my face in chili bowl steam at the slopeside Gorrono restaurant, lying about my mogul skills, being reckless with the Tabasco and coveting this one dude's totally sick Zeal Detonator goggles.

I would have swaggered, if ski boots didn't make me walk like a penguin with vertigo.

That was me Before the Fall. And after?

A jellyfish in a fleece cap.

Old West Goes Glam

Telluride, in southwest Colorado, is the perfect graduation from the crabbed, day-trip skiing of the mid-Atlantic to the see-forever views and ski-forever trails of the Rocky Mountain West. The town itself sits at the base of the steep slopes like a model train village, an impossibly quaint hamlet of Old West storefronts and gingerbread cottages. Higher in the hills -- a gondola ride away in a ritzy modern development called Mountain Village -- are all the overpriced boutiques, celebrity watering holes and Lincoln Log palaces that any glam magazine gawker or real estate fetishist could ever wish for. Oprah has a house here. So does Tom Cruise.

But Telluride thrives on a rep as a friendlier, lower-key resort than some of its Western fellows. Many of the free shuttle buses pump Marley tunes into the mountain air and are driven by tie-dyed slacker types. Lift line protocol is chatty and polite (to the extent there are any lines -- I never waited more than five minutes). The markets lean toward organic cheese and local bread, and the hot society ticket is an annual AIDS benefit fashion show that this year featured racy yoga babes.

While the town proper retains some of the crunchy, New Age sensibility from its 1970s heyday as a hippie hangout, there's no shortage of that particular CEO ski species that haunts Aspen and Beaver Creek. Almost every lodge and cafe features at least one table headed by a forceful, red-faced man with leonine hair brushed back by wind and gel, surrounded by the jaded, text-messaging offspring of at least two marriages and an impeccably toned "mother," fitter and prettier -- and often younger -- than any of the children. Nothing says trophy wife like ermine-trimmed spandex.

But best of all for us mortals, the 1,700-acre Telluride Ski Resort recently opened a huge new basin of moderate-but-gorgeous trails, giving fledglings some world-class terrain of our own on which to perfect our moves before merging into the hot dog traffic of the main runs. Thanks to the high-speed quad lifts, I got more snow time in one morning on a green called Galloping Goose (nearly five miles from top to bottom) than an entire weekend at Canaan Valley, W.Va.

"What's really remarkable is how much easy stuff we have," says Michael Saftler, a sometime rabbi and part-time ski instructor who's lived in Telluride since 1974. Out of 84 trails, the resort ranks 62 percent of them as suitable for beginners and intermediates. "To have that much terrain that is blue or double green is almost unheard of."

Of course, the rest are advanced or expert runs, killer-steep black diamonds I would have no business getting near. No business at all. Nope, nope, nope.

From Miners to Margaritas

Saftler is also a Realtor. In Telluride, almost everyone is "also a Realtor." Real estate agents take up five of the town's 102 Yellow Pages. Your waiter isn't an aspiring actor -- he's working on his broker's license. With strict historic preservation laws protecting the picturesque HO-gauge of the place and limited room for sprawl, Telluride's booming popularity has produced a real estate bubble that makes Washington listings read like factory housing. There is not a bungalow in town that would go for less than seven figures.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company