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EPIC ski trip: Telluride mountain, Colorado

Written by Fiona

March 08 2020

Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado, US, had long been on my bucket list. Several times over the past 10 years, I’ve heard other people mention this gem of a resort. But it is not easy to get to, and I had been told it is a pricey mountain town.

When I spotted Telluride was part of the EPIC season pass collection of resorts, Hubby G and I decided we should try to include it as part of our month-long trip.

We reached Colorado in the final week of the holiday. Leaving Salt Lake City we drove to Moab for a night. A day spent at the amazing national parks of the Arches and Canyonlands gave us a much-needed day off the skis.  (Skiing for weeks leaves the legs tired.)

Arches National Park.
Canyonlands National Park.

Moab broke the long journey in half – it’s about four hours of driving from SLC to Moab and less than three hours from Moab to Telluride – and I would highly recommend a visit to the town and the surrounding parks.

Top tip: An annual pass to many of the national parks in the Moab area is $55 per vehicle. Because we were visiting two parks it made sense to buy this annual pass rather than an entry fee for each park. 

Telluride Ski Resort

Telluride is a former Victorian mining town in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It is located in a box canyon surrounded by forested peaks.

When the mining industry went into decline, an abundance of snow in the winter was the key to a new proposition for Telluride. Almost 40 years after the mining went bust, an entrepreneur from Beverly Hills, Joe Zoline, decided that the town could be the focus of a ski resort.

In 1972, Telluride Ski Resort opened with five lifts and a day lodge. Six years later, two Colorado natives, Ron Allred and Jim Wells, bought the ski area and began to transform Telluride into a world-class resort through mountain upgrades, the development of Mountain Village and the creation the gondola and a “chondola”.

If you come to the resort to ski, you have the choice of staying in Telluride town or in the Mountain Village, which was developed in 1985. 

Looking over Telluride town.
The slopes to the Mountain Village.

Where Is Telluride?

Telluride is located about 330 miles south-west of Denver, Colorado. It can be reached via the small airport of Montrose Regional Airport (MTG), 65 miles away, or, closer still, Telluride Regional Airport (TEX). The closest international airport in Colorado is Denver. The drive from Denver would take around seven hours.

More about Telluride

Once dubbed “To-Hell-You-Ride” from its mining town days, Telluride was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

Telluride Ski Resort offers incredible views of the San Juan Mountains and it is home to more than 2000 acres of lift-accessible terrain. 

There is a significant 4425ft (1348m) of vertical and 148 runs reached by 19 lifts.

The lift-served elevation is 12,515ft (3814m) and the maximum elevation is 13,150ft (4008m). The longest run is 4.6 miles. There are also three terrain parks.

Average annual snowfall  is 280 inches (more than 7m) of average snowfall.

There is skiing terrain to suit all, including 16% beginner runs, 30% intermediate, 21% advanced and 34% expert.

There are also four hike-to terrain areas for advanced and expert skiers. 

Read Hubby G’s report of bootpacking and skiing the highest peak in Telluride:

After the lifts close, the town offers a lively apes-ski atmosphere. It’s a very busy small town set in a stunning location. It’s rather like Chamonix in France, to give you a further idea.

Plenty of independent shops, bars and restarts are keen to serve visitors but be warned, prices are high.

Our accommodation was the most expensive of the trip and also the smallest and most basic. We had set a budget for nightly costs and we easily blew it in Telluride.

Telluride at night.

Things to know about Telluride

The town is situated at an elevation of 2667m. The resort rises to 4008m at Palmyra Peak. The altitude can be felt when trying to exercise. Even a short walk up a flight of stairs left G and I out of breath on the first day.

Thankfully, other resorts during our trip had been fairly high so we acclimatised relatively quickly but if you were arriving from lower altitude you might be affected more.

We noticed the altitude effects most when bootpacking high in the resort to reach off-piste bowls. The solution was to slow down, take plenty of rests and to have a buff that you can place over your moth to reduce the feelings of high, cold air on the throat.

Pioneer Express.

What we most liked about Telluride Ski Resort

The mountain had plenty of steeps to amuse us. We mostly skied in Revelation Bowl, Prospect Bowl and Black Iron Bowl.

The lifts were generally fairly swift.

There is plenty of sunshine in Colorado, even in winter.

We like to bootpack to fresh snow and Black Iron Bowl was ideal. The walk starts at the top of the Prospect Express. You can hike upwards for as long as you wish to enjoy different off-piste routes.

My favourite was the double diamond Mountain Quail, which takes about 20 minutes to reach (remember that most people hike slower due to the altitude). The drop off into the bowl was rather daunting but I managed it. The soft snow in the steep bowl offered lovely skiing.

I also enjoyed practising my mogul skiing in Revelation Bowl. While my skiing is now good enough to “survive” on most ski runs, I am keen to progress my technique to be able to more fluidly – and stylishly! – ski moguls. This is no easy feat.

The views in Telluride are superb, taking in the San Juan Mountains, the wider Rocky Mountains and looking across to magnificent Mt Sneffels, one of Colorado’s 53 “fourteeners” (14,000ft peaks).

Colorado boasts of 300 annual days of sunshine and we certainly benefitted from that. Skiing under a blue sky is always spirit lifting.

Telluride town is also lively and entertaining.

What was not so good about Telluride

As I have mentioned, Telluride is rather expensive. A day lift pass is $149. It is $763 for a six-day pass. A season pass is $2250.

It made sense to ski Telluride as part of our EPIC Pass. The EPIC season pass offers seven days skiing at Telluride as part of a collection of  resorts worldwide. At full price on-line, the EPIC pass is $979. You can make good savings by buying at a discount before the season starts. 

Some of the locals and regulars seemed none too pleased with the rise in the number of skiers due to the EPIC pass. We were told this twice when chatting to skiers on the chairlifts.

They say that the EPIC pass has hugely increased the number of skiers. They said that accommodation prices have also increased.

I get this but I can see that there are other benefits of bringing more skiers, such as more trade for bars, shops and restaurants.

We did not experience packed slopes or lifts but we did ski in the week rather than at the weekend. I think it must be a difficult balance: To maintain an exclusivity with fewer skiers or to maximise profits.

We did find that food, drink and accommodation is pricey in Telluride. 

Telluride was in need of new snow while we were there. There had been a few inches of snowfall just before we arrived and this meant we got a taste of what the fresh dry powder is like.

By the end of our few days, there were still some off-piste runs of powder if you knew were to go and you were happy to bootpack, but the groomed slopes had become smooth and slippery. 

The best snow was above gondola level.

We were told that the pisted runs back towards the town are usually some of the best. Sadly, during our trip there were some of the trickiest to descend. The runs are steep blues and mogul led in places.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a challenging resort. We loved it because of that and there are many kilometres of lowly flowing blue runs but I think it’s a destination that best suit intermediates and above.

Swinging bar chairs at Ouray Brewery.
A ski bench in Ouray.

A few tips

Stay in Ouray, 50-minute drive from Telluride. It’s much cheaper and it is far more peaceful. The bars and restaurants were really friendly and we particularly enjoyed the two brewery pubs, Ouray Brewery and Red Mountain Brewing.

Ridgeway is another town between Telluride and Ouray and that could be a good place to stay as well.

Ouray has a world-class outdoor ice climbing park and hot springs.

We stayed two nights at the lovely Alp Lily Inn in the Box Canyon Room. It was a beautiful room with lots of great features and extra touches. The room was one of the cheapest, but also one of the nicest, of our month trip.

A scenic drive between Telluride and Ouray.

Even if you don’t stay in Ouray, make sure you take the drive between Telluride and Ouray. The views are spectacular.

Eat breakfast in your room and take a packed lunch to reduce your spending each day.

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