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Riding high in Telluride

The gondola transportation system in Telluride


Telluride: an old mining town becomes the ski resort of the future

Bench along the path to the gondolas that take you everywhere in this ski resort of the future
Bench along the path to the gondolas that take you everywhere in this ski resort of the future
Judith Nelson
The greatest way to get around!
Judith Nelson

Since we moved to Colorado about 3 years ago, we have been on a quest to find the most beautiful spots, all over the state, and all seasons of the year. This quest has taken us to many spectacular places, but none has surpassed the beauty of Telluride.

We first visited Telluride in May, and found that approaching the old mining town by car was like following the road to the emerald city. Unbelievably green pastures and flatlands lead to the feet of impossibly massive snowcapped mountains. That trip was just a quickie, and we only had time to gape and climb the picturesque mountain at the end of Main Street—at least halfway up. But what a climb it was, and what incredible scenery everywhere we looked.

The plan was to return during foliage season, but those plans were replaced by our trip to Paris. So, we decided we should see the ancient old town and its surrounding majestic mountains in the winter. As it happened, we chose some of the coldest days to stay there, right after a few pretty big snowstorms. But, wow! Even without the colorful aspens and flowering greenery, this place was magic!

Injuries kept us from skiing this trip, but that didn’t put a dent in the adventure. I’ve stayed at most of the best-known ski resorts in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and more, but nothing holds a candle to this old mining town! Telluride is where the quaint past meets the Jetsons’ future. Odd to think of Telluride as a city of the future, but it is.

For whatever reason you come to Telluride, your wish is their command. You are whisked through the skies via a comprehensive gondola network to wherever you want to go. The gondolas, of course, also take you to ski, but who knew they would make cars obsolete—and bothersome?

When we first booked our room at the Mountain Lodge, we didn’t realize that it wasn’t really even in Telluride. The whole Mountain Village is kind of its own town, towering way, way above tiny Telluride. In fact, even our GPS was confused, and we drove around the town several times before bothering to “look up”. Perched on the impossibly high mountains that surround the mining town in the valley, is a self-sufficient and gorgeous village of chalets, restaurants, shops, and of course, gondolas. Driving “all the way” up to the Mountain Lodge the first time, we thought we had made a terrible mistake. You know, you’ve never been somewhere, and that hotel sounded so great. That is, until you arrived and found out it was nowhere near where you wanted to be. We drove the long mountain drive in a panic—we had driven so far, and now we weren’t even staying in Telluride!

Our panic was somewhat allayed when we checked into the Mountain Lodge and found ourselves in a spacious condo with all the comforts of home, a short walk from shops and the gondola station, overlooking a ski run, and what a view! Their sidewalks were all heated so were easy to navigate. We couldn’t wait to dump our car. Fortunately, they have nice warm underground parking, so that the poor thing didn’t freeze as it did when we stayed in sub-zero weather in Gunnison the night before. So, okay, we could get around their fabulous ski-in ski-out complex with its heated pool and three restaurants, but what about Telluride? After all, that was the reason we were there!

Resisting the urge to drive to the nearby gondola station for food and supplies, we found a delightful path with an incredible view of the slopes and the mountain range which meandered between the Mountain Lodge and the gondola square. There was even a bench for gazing out onto the awesome surrounding mountains. Even though it was well below freezing, a very short and pleasant stroll brought us to the gondola station. A “Whole Foods”-type of grocery store had great supplies and pre-prepared food for those of us that are lazy or don’t feel like going out to eat. After all, we were "all the way up there".

As it turns out, everything…I mean EVERYTHING, is just a stunning and comfortable gondola ride away—day or night! We wondered if we really wanted to go "all the way" down to Telluride. But I so wanted to photograph the festive little town at sunset. Get the car out of its comfy heated garage? No, we decided to be adventurous.

Unlike any ski resort we have ever seen, these cozy clear-sided gondola cars are passenger friendly—passengers without passes, skis, snowboards or anything else expected and seen on other ski resort gondolas. These crisscross the skies high above Telluride and deposit you in style. A dressy evening at a nice restaurant? No problem, and no muck or squeezing in amongst the skiers. There are so many gondolas with so many cars that we usually had a gondola to ourselves—all day and into the night, at the height of the ski season! These people are onto something!

So, of course, we had to try to take them all, to see all the places we could go, without ever setting foot into our car. Sure, other ski resorts have bus services where you wait in the cold to be shuttled with throngs of others from one area to the next—but in Telluride, you fly!

We thought we would only go as far as the main Mountain Village gondola station for food and browsing, but we saw how easy it was to walk right across the small square to the other glass-enclosed gondola, and we were on our way to a breathtaking view down the mountain towards Telluride. Their gondolas (gondoli?) are surprisingly quiet, a technological marvel of which they are quite proud. No rough jostling, screeching and grinding whenever the car crosses a pole. These are truly like air taxis, with upholstered seating and crystal clear 360 degree views.

Before we knew it, we were in the gondola square in downtown Telluride—much sooner than had we driven. Just around the corner from all that Main Street has to offer, this gondola was worlds ahead of searching for parking places! We had a lovely dinner in Telluride, took pictures, and window-shopped. Then went back to the gondola as though our ride was waiting. The attendants there are all helpful and friendly and make sure you are able to alight onto the gondola effortlessly. The cars go at a rider-friendly speed, and you never have to rush to get on. Nor do you have to hold on; they are just that smooth. The skies over Telluride and the spectacular surrounding mountains are even more beautiful at night.

Speaking of skies, Telluride has the most convenient airport of any resort I have ever seen. When I didn’t live in Colorado, my winter ski vacations meant sky hopping to some very distant and inconvenient airports. Not so in Telluride. Just across the valley from Mountain Village is the airport, on what looks like a flat mesa of a mountain. It could not be more convenient. Although the gondolas don’t go there (not meant for luggage), the hotels have their vans which shuttle arriving and departing guests. Funny how backwards that seems after taking gondolas all over the area.

But, of course, the gondolas also take you skiing. Even though we didn’t ski, we got off at the top of one mountain and immediately regretted our lack of skis. The runs looked uncrowded, wide, and perfectly groomed. The sun was shining, and there were photo op points at the top that were breathtaking. And, at the end of a perfect ski day, you could ski right into some of the Mountain Village condo complexes, such as Mountain Lodge, where the slopes deposit you right next to our condo. How convenient is that?

But the top of the mountain gondola stop is not just for gawking or skiing. There is an elegant restaurant perched out over the slopes, overlooking Telluride below, and accessible through a plain door near where you descend from the gondola. This restaurant is huge. It has a sweeping fully glassed wall that is wasted after dark. Telluride is so small and so far down that it doesn't offer too much illumination at this height. It is pricey, and we regretted going there after dark. The view is worth the price, however, and lunch or early dinner is the way to go.

For much more selection, we took the gondola down to Telluride for lunch the following day. It turned out to be the day the Denver Broncos were vying for the NFL Championship, so many of the restaurants were crowded with those not skiing. Even so, and even at the height of the ski season, we were able to find a place easily, and stayed to watch the game.

But eating and window shopping aren't all that Telluride has to offer. You would think that, if only out of curiosity, most Coloradans would venture into a now-legal marijuana dispensary. After all, even towns without gas stations all seem to have such dispensaries. But, we never quite had the nerve. Who knew what sorts of stoners would be hanging out there! We were in for a surprise when we came upon an adorable, clean and professional boutique in the center of Telluride—The Green Room. We were at first attracted by their tee shirts, too good to pass up. But as we wandered around the store, we were astonished at the volume of gadgets they carried, from room atomizers/vaporizers in which to put the cannabis, to personal tiny atomizers, candy, and just about everything you could imagine. It was not at all sleazy, but very professional. The well-informed staff answered all our questions and told us the amounts and effects of each delivery system they carried. Even though we went in for the tee shirts, we couldn’t resist the lemon honey hard candies with what was described as the minimum amount of cannabis. She told us how long the cannabis candy would take to work and what to expect when it did. We decided that, since we weren’t driving, we could sample a candy while we waited for lunch and watched the Broncos. While it was a thrill to be legally daring, neither of us noticed any effect. But the experience of seeing a well-stocked, professional, legal cannabis dispensary was priceless. And, we have great tee shirts! I’m sure that, for a lot of vacationers, this was just one more way of riding high in Telluride! However, there were no stoners we could see.

After riding in the skis over Telluride for several days, it was disappointing to be grounded in our mundane vehicle for the trip home. How amazing that what began as an old, isolated mining town has become a ski resort of the future! Talk about green and energy saving (and I don’t mean The Green Room), Telluride has it nailed!

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