Travel & Leisure Snow Daze
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Excerpt from December 2017 Travel & Leisure
As the plane began its descent into Telluride one afternoon, I pressed my face to the window, giddy with anticipation. For years, I had been only dimly aware of this southwestern Colorado town tucked into a remote canyon in the San Juan Mountains, a skier's haven where Oprah Winfrey owns one of her many homes. And then, the way these things happen, Telluride began to exert a gravitational pull over various close friends, a normally jaded lot who started speaking about it with a vaguely cultish fervor, like techies talking about Burning Man.
One particularly zealous proselytizer went so far as to compare his first encounter with its savage beauty to dropping acid.
From the plane window, however, I saw nothing. No mountains, no snow, no hallucinatory alpine utopia. A dense cloud system had gathered in the region, shrouding everything
in a fog so blinding that the runway-the highest commercial strip in North America, perilously bookended by 1,000-foot cliffs-was visible only a split-second before the tiny prop plane touched down. On the taxi ride from the airport, instead of marveling at the canyon of sawtooth peaks that frame the destination like a colossal amphitheater, I saw only more of the static white murk. My driver, a benevolent old beatnik in a frayed leather cowboy hat, explained how unusual this was, how winters here tended to vacillate, with metronomic reliability, between skies that dump more than 300 inches of glorious powder and skies that shine a crystalline blue.
"But Telluride," he then noted cryptically,"is about way more than just mountains."
You get a lot of this talk here, quasi-mystical murmurings that make sense only if you know the town's improbable history. Founded in 1878 as a mining colony, Telluride had, by the turn of the century, minted more millionaires per capita than Manhattan. It had also earned a reputation as a bawdy, half-civilized outpost
of saloons and bordellos and wistful prospectors. (This is, after all, where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank.) By the late 1960s, with the mining industry verging on collapse, the town was claimed by hippies, who found in it an idyll where they could get weird, 8,750 feet above sea level. Radical hedonism alone, however, was not enough to revive the economy. In 1972, the first ski lifts opened, and Telluride was reborn as a winter never-never land with an untamed, frontiersman sensibility.
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