Snow or sun, head for year-round fun in Telluride, Colorado

A ride on the free gondola lifts riders high above the Telluride valley.

Back in the late 1870s, the rush was on to Colorado for the gold, silver, copper and zinc running in rich veins beneath the snow-capped mountains. Those days are long gone, but the majestic ranges remain as alluring as ever for visitors to Telluride. Whether they’re looking for a bit of that boomtown history, ski runs or a bucolic setting where they can escape the daily grind, they find that Telluride offers a range of activities, from the get-out and go to the kick-back-and-veg.

Getting to the historic town in a remote southwest corner of Colorado does take a bit of maneuvering. The tiny, local landing strip on the side of a mountain is open only to private planes, so if you’re not chartering a Cessna, the best route is through Denver. From there, hop a commuter flight to the Montrose-Telluride Regional Airport, then prepare for an 80-minute ride to the heart of town. It’s tempting to take a snooze during that last leg, but alert riders will be charmed by the area’s natural beauty— the rippling creeks at the edge of the road, the snowy peaks, perhaps a glimpse of elk feeding on a hillside.

The ski valet at the Madeline Hotel has your gear ready when you are.

Once in Telluride, travelers will find activities are dictated by the time of year. During the cold months, tourists and skiers swell the population beyond its usual 2,400 to almost 20,000. Sixteen ski lifts ferry folks to some of the steepest mountainsides in the country, the highest being Palmyra Peak, 13,150 feet high. Winter time also lends itself to just about any fun that starts with “snow” (mobiles, boards, sleds and shoes) or “ice” (fishing, climbing, skating).

Though this is a destination dominated by winter, the warmer season has just as much to offer. In early September, it’s awash with Hollywood glitterati as the Telluride Film Festival gives viewers a glimpse of upcoming showstoppers. In 2016, the lineup included La La Land, Arrival and Manchester by the Sea, as well as workshops and discussions with directors and actors. The rest of the off-ski season teems with festivals around literary arts, beer, hot air balloons, bluegrass, wine and more.

Mountain Village, home to the Madeline Hotel and Residences, is built around a town square lined with boutiques and restaurants.

Hiking, biking and driving through the surrounding San Juan mountains reveal jaw-dropping landscapes dotted with natural waterfalls, green meadows, peaks covered with melting snow and a variety of wildlife. No one would blink if Julie Andrews appeared and started singing, “The hills are alive …”

History buffs can hop a ride on an oversized 4×4 that will take them high into the hills where the remains of deserted mining camps are haunting reminders of the past. Building foundations, shuttered mine entrances and an odd collection of rusting equipment offer a hint to the area’s prosperous industrial past. There’s also plenty to see along Colorado Avenue, the main street downtown where refurbished stores and restaurants date back to the late 1800s. Check out the gleaming wood-and-brass bar of the New Sheridan Hotel or snap a selfie in front of the old bank building with the distinction of having been held up by the infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy. And since this is Colorado, visitors will also find a few shops selling marijuana in both smoking and eating varieties. (Be forewarned: It is illegal to bring it back to Georgia!)

Beyond the downtown canyon is Mountain Village, a contemporary resort area home to about 1,000 year-rounders and anchored by the Madeline Hotel and Residences. The property features a town square with shops and restaurants; the hotel itself boasts a luxurious spa and an outdoor bar terrace with panoramic mountain views, fire pits, hot tubs and a heated, outdoor pool. The hotel also offers skiers an area to dry out and store their gear after a day on the slopes, as well as a “ski valet” who has your equipment ready when you are.

One of the town’s must-see attractions is the free gondola that ferries visitors from the Mountain Village to the historic heart of town. Operating from early morning to midnight, the gondola is worth riding for the views alone, even after the sun goes down and the town’s twinkling lights form a carpet below the cars. Riders can step off at the midway point and visit Allred’s Restaurant, where visitors pack in for the sunset views over cocktails and food.

After a few days surrounded by Telluride’s incomparable natural beauty, the most challenging part of the trip is making that 80-minute drive back to the rest of the world.

IF YOU GO…

Where to Stay

Madeline Hotel and Residences
568 Mountain Village Blvd.
Telluride 81435
970.369.0880
madelinetelluride.com

New Sheridan Hotel
221 W. Colorado Ave.
Telluride 81435
970.728.4351
newsheridan.com

Where to Eat

Allred’s Restaurant
Top of the gondola
Mountain Village 81435
970.728.7474
telluride.com/allreds-restaurant

STORY: H.M. Cauley