Telluride never fails to remind a (wise) skier or boarder that complacency is a big mistake as you stand above the precipitous pitches of the infamous expert runs. Pride can definitely come before a fall here – a fall almost guaranteed to finish at the bottom – says Features Editor Bronwen Gora, who seems to find her way back to Telluride almost every season.
Ski your favourite resort’s black & double black runs enough and eventually the fear factor fades. Yet there’s one particular Colorado ski field where the expert runs stubbornly remain just as tough as they first appeared to this seasoned ski addict, and that’s Telluride.
Just the names of Telluride’s black and double black diamond runs carved into over 40 per cent of the resort’s terrain are warning enough: Mine Shaft, Jaws, Joint Point (!), Kant-Mak-M, Spiral Stairs, Plunge, North Chute – get the picture? And then there are The Drains, East and West (as in as narrow as drains), Power Line (same).
And these are all off just one lift – the local experts’ favourite, Chair 9.
This chair unloads above runs including Mammoth (a huge pitch covered in bumps from which there is no escape) and the well-groomed super steep Bushranger. It also offers one of the most challenging trifectas of runs known to skier-kind: Kant-Mak-M, followed by Spiral Stairs followed by Plunge and Lower Plunge.
The fact the top elevation is a breath sapping 11,800ft (3600m) certainly does not help the average tourist who lives at sea level. But if you’re up to skiing exceptional bumps and steeps then this trifecta is definitely where to lay your bets.
But before going any further and turning every intermediate and beginner skier and boarder off a Telluride visit, it must be made clear this is also an excellent resort for both. There is almost just as much novice terrain here as advanced and expert – 36 per cent compared to 41 per cent to be exact. Just over 20 per cent is devoted to beginners, too.
Almost every run whether green as grass or as black as the ace of spades has spectacular views to boot, actually some of the best in Colorado ski country.
Scenery here is one of the biggest attractions along with Telluride’s eclectic Victorian mining town, prettily dotted with beautifully renovated colourful cottages (now worth millions). Tucked away in the south-eastern corner of Colorado, Telluride stands apart from other ski towns in the state for being surrounded by awe-inspiring 4,000m-plus peaks. The resort is also one of Colorado’s highest, maxing out above 13,000ft and allowing views as far as mountains in neighbouring Utah.
But back to expert terrain: some of the best are found within Telluride’s exceptional hike-to terrain. There are no less than four of these top-rated areas, relatively new additions to this enormously varied resort, and definitely for experts only. It is here a skier can feel far from a resort and enjoy a true alpine ski experience.
Telluride’s highest lift, the Gold Hill Express (about 3800m at the top) accesses 10 chutes, some of which but not all involve a short hike.
Gold Hill holds a fierce concentration of expert terrain. Like Alaska, some runs are so steep it’s possible to see only a few turns ahead. Don’t duck ropes either – they’re generally above deadly cliffs. Gold Hill’s challenging runs also usually have the best inbounds snow – the real fluffy stuff that stays around for days after a storm.
Toughest of the four hike-to areas on offer is found after the 90min (on average) trek to 13,320ft Palmyra Peak. It is just east of another hiking area, Black Iron Bowl, and billed as some of the most spectacular in-bounds terrain in the US. Runs with names like Electric Shock feed back into Black Iron Bowl.
Lower down is Bald Mountain, a local’s favourite involving at 25min hike and that, like Gold Hill, has long-lasting stashes of powder. From the summit it’s possible to see the tiny historic mining town of Alta far below.
Black Iron Bowl has the most runs of all these areas, mostly steep chutes found 10 minutes to 45 minutes hiking from the top of Prospect Lift.
If hiking isn’t your game, then Telluride’s Helitrax helicopter skiing operation is another option. It’s been running continuously since 1982, operates in an about 200sq mile area and prides itself on taking only four skiers or boarders per helicopter and guide. What’s more Helitrax guides in North America’s highest elevations, and also offers terrain suitable for intermediates and novices.
Telluride has all sorts of other surprises on offer too, like North America’s highest wine bar Alpino Vino. This elegantly decked out European-style chalet below the Gold Hill Express is the perfect place to toast your achievements knowing that the terrain here is among the most sought after by advanced skiers worldwide.
Telluride the ticket
Getting to Telluride: Fly to Telluride, only 10 minutes away, or Montrose, 2 hours.