beyond the slopes

View Gallery 7 Photos

In Telluride, there’s and outdoor experience in every season, for every adventurer

by Amy Gross

Despite having lived in Vermont and now residing in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I’m no skier. Disdainful of snow, and increasingly fearful of heights, I’ve come to terms with mountains offering more allure these days as distant, picturesque vistas and fodder for terrible landscape art of my own making. Which is why I never thought I would get to visit Telluride, Colorado. My skier friends rave about its beauty and challenging slopes. But what would this elevation- and weather-challenged lass do in a land famous for its abundant snow and fourteeners?

Thanks to a gracious invitation from The Hotel Telluride, I got to find out, smack dab in the middle of a glorious summer, the only snow visible decoratively arranged atop mountain peaks in the far, far distance. From Albuquerque I flew into Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ) with a stop in Denver, and enjoyed a comfortable, 80-minute shuttle ride directly to the hotel via Telluride Express. The same drive would have taken about five and a half hours (six from Santa Fe), but the road leading into Telluride is a winding one, with a long, westerly detour through the mountains. By all accounts it can be rather daunting in inclement weather. Save yourself the stress and fly.

The Hotel Telluride calls itself “European alpine ski lodge meets Rocky Mountain rustic chic,” and I’d be hard-pressed to do better. The award-winning, 59-room boutique hotel is a mere five-minute stroll from Telluride’s charming, easily walkable downtown. Like Telluride itself, the hotel is dog-friendly; lots of pooches bumped noses during my visit. My room, a spacious king, was appointed with rustic chic furnishings, a mini kitchen, delicious linens, and a balcony view that captured the Telluride gondola making its ascent up and over the San Juan Mountains.

We enjoyed pre-dinner cocktails in The Hotel Telluride’s warm, comfy lobby, a fire roaring in the hearth, then stepped over to The West End Bistro for a delicious dinner of fine American- and Colorado-inspired cuisine.

 

looking up

Full disclosure: I’m a bird nerd. And the promise of birding at elevation with an expert guide is what piqued my interest in staying at The Hotel Telluride, which in recent years has been offering a host of adventure packages in conjunction with three-night stays at the hotel. I actually had the option of two adventures: a Via Ferrata and rock climbing experience called “Ropes and Rungs,” which did not work with my fear of heights, or the much more earthbound “Wings Over Telluride,” a half- or whole-day birding excursion led by Eric Hynes, a Telluride resident who is an international guide for Field Guides, Inc. Birding packages are available from June 1 through December 20 (conditions permitting) and include a packed lunch, three nights at The Hotel Telluride, daily breakfast for two, and even some birding swag.

We did a lot of looking up during my half-day birding excursion, spotting 31 species in about five hours of travel by SUV along the San Juan River all the way to Miramonte Reservoir in the Dan Noble State Wildlife Area. Highlights included a pair of peregrine falcons, Lewis’s woodpeckers, a colony of cliff swallows, a host of shore birds, and bald and gold eagles. I was in heaven.

With free time in the afternoon, I shook off my fear of heights by jumping aboard the free gondola that connects Telluride to Mountain Village. The 360-degree mountain and city views are nothing short of astonishing, and I can only imagine how much more so when the aspens turn; the gondola flies straight through them. At the mid-point of the eight-mile ride is Allred’s, a sophisticated Italian restaurant with enviable views. It’s a great spot for dinner or cocktails. This evening we dined in town at The Cosmopolitan, where my pan-roasted duck breast with scallops, a sweet potato puree, and oyster mushrooms was swoony.

 

looking down

Telluride is famous for its nearly weekly festivals celebrating everything from bluegrass and chamber music to film and yoga. The annual Telluride Mushroom Festival is held annually in mid-August, so our timing was perfect to experience The Hotel Telluride’s “Mountains & Morels” alpine mushroom foraging and hiking package, guided by Tara Butson of San Juan Outdoor Adventures. Starting at 10,300 feet, we hiked slowly up a mountain trail to just shy of 11,000 feet, stopping periodically along the way to search for ’shrooms.

My experience with mycology (mushroom and fungi) was minimal, but Butson patiently demonstrated how to differentiate between nonedible and edible mushrooms—admittedly, a pretty handy thing to know. We scored a number of varieties with fabulous names: shingled hedgehog, orange brown milky, and the coveted king bolete, a big, meaty mushroom with a silken texture that our chef at the hotel grilled up for us the next morning with breakfast.

After a half day of foraging I strolled the lovely downtown area with its numerous bistros, coffee houses, boutiques, and yes, pot shops. On Gregory Avenue the Telluride Historical Museum, Telluride’s former hospital, tells the story of how this tiny mountain town reinvented itself from hardscrabble mining area to luxury ski resort. A late afternoon appointment at Pure Beauty & Wellness Spa was my first introduction to a salt cave; a relaxing, rejuvenative treatment that turned me into an instant devotee. 221 Oak was our dinner destination, a lovely bistro serving elegant Continental cuisine and a menu well dotted with venison, elk, and other Rocky Mountain delicacies.

 

looking ahead

Whether you happen to be sipping a latte outdoors at The Coffee Cowboy, window shopping, or tucking into a blackberry chocolate cone at Telluride Truffle, Telluride’s famously, almost unspeakably, beautiful mountain views are just a glance upward. The grandeur of the landscape surrounds the town like an embrace; there is not one place where you cannot appreciate the scenery. Even in the summer, snow artfully decorates the highest peaks, and every soul from nine to 90 is eagerly planning their next hike on one of the area’s myriad trails.

As a non-skier who never figured she’d see the famed beauty of this area, I learned that there is no “off season” in Telluride, and no shortage of adventure for those of us for whom snow has no siren call. Ask for adventure, and ye shall receive it in Telluride.

The Hotel Telluride, thehoteltelluride.com

Online exclusive! Read about editor Amy Gross’s complete Telluride adventure at SuCasaMagazine.com.