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36 Hours in Telluride

Published: February 28, 2010

TELLURIDE almost begs comparisons with Aspen. A Colorado mining town affixed to a world-class ski resort; rugged locals brushing elbows with the occasional celebrity; white tablecloth restaurants serving up foie gras next to taco dives. “It’s like Aspen was back in the ’70s, but less pretentious,” said Bo Bedford, a self-described Aspen refugee who is a manager at the New Sheridan Hotel. “It hasn’t gone Hollywood yet.” There is, of course, a certain star-studded film festival. And Telluride does count Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Cruise among its regulars. Yet, the town stays true to its hardscrabble roots. Dogs roam off-leash, folks rummage for freebies at a so-called Free Box, and residents zip up in flannel instead of fur coats.

Friday

4 p.m.
1) DAS BOOT

Ski shops are often staffed by workers straight out of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Not Boot Doctors (650 Mountain Village Boulevard; 970-728-8954; bootdoctors.com), where Bob Gleason and his team of “surgeons” run a kind of operating room for your ill-fitting equipment. But don’t expect a sterile ward — it looks more like a torture chamber, with pinchers and clawlike tools to stretch, squeeze and custom-shape any size boots (prices range from $20 for a boot stretch to $175 for a custom-molded sole).

6 p.m.
2) BROADWAY MEETS OPRY

Film and theater buffs will take comfort in Telluride’s abundance of preserved art-house theaters. Take the intricately stenciled balcony and the maple floors of the Sheridan Opera House (110 North Oak Street; 970-728-6363; sheridanoperahouse.com), which dates from 1913. Part ’30s vaudeville, part Grand Ole Opry, the stage has been graced with everything from Broadway musicals to bluegrass bands, and is the hub of the Telluride Film Festival, in its 37th year (held Sept. 3 to 6 this year).

8:30 p.m.
3) HIGH STEAKS

If the New Sheridan feels like the kind of joint with a secret poker game going on in a smoky backroom, well, that’s because it is (H. Norman Schwarzkopf is said to be among the regulars). But the real draw of this Victorian hotel is its newly refurbished Chop House Restaurant (233 West Colorado Avenue; 970-728-9100; newsheridan.com), which serves large platters of prime steaks (starting at $26). Like the hotel, which was reopened in 2008 after extensive renovations, the musty dining room has been spiffed up with plush booths and crystal chandeliers. After dinner, sneak away next door (there’s a secret passage in the back) to the New Sheridan bar, which looks much as it did in 1895 — with its crackling fire and carved mahogany bar — but has added a billiard room in back and, yup, a poker table.

Saturday

7:30 a.m.
4) BISCUITS AND GRAVY

With its red-checkered tablecloths and folksy service, Maggie’s Bakery (300 West Colorado Avenue; 970-728-3334) holds its own against any ski town greasy spoon. A healthy-size biscuit and gravy goes for $7.45. Another popular spot, Baked in Telluride, burned down in early February, though its big, red barn is expected to be rebuilt.

9 a.m.
5) GOLD RUSH

Telluride feels as though it belongs in the Alps — with its 2,000-plus acres of backcountrylike terrain and above-the-tree-line chutes, European-style chalets and snowy peaks framed by boxy canyons and craggy rock formations. Throw in thin crowds and short lift lines, and what’s not to like? To warm up, take the Prospect Bowl Express over to Madison or Magnolia — gentle runs that weave through trees below the gaze of Bald Mountain. Or hop on the Gold Hill Express lift to find the mountain’s newest expert terrain: Revelation Bowl. Hang a left off the top of the Revelation Lift to the Gold Hill Chutes (Nos. 2 to 5), recently opened to skiers and said to be some of the steepest terrain in North America.

Noon
6) WINE AND CHEESE

Telluride does not believe in summit cafeterias, at least not the traditional kind with long tables and with deep fryers in the kitchen. Its hilltop restaurants come the size of tree forts. Case in point is Alpino Vino (970-708-1120), a new spot just off the Gold Hill Express Lift that resembles a chalet airlifted from the Italian Alps. Diners in ski helmets huddle around cherry-wood tables and a roaring fireplace, sipping Tuscan reds ($15), while neatly groomed waiters bring plates of cured meats and fine cheeses ($15). Arrive by noon, as this place fills up fast. For more casual grub, swing by Giuseppe’s (970-728-7503) at the top of Lift 9, which stacks two shelves of Tabasco sauce and a refrigerator full of Fat Tire beer ($5) to go with home-style dishes like chicken and chorizo gumbo ($8.99). After lunch, glide down See Forever, a long, winding trail that snakes all the way back to the village. Detour to Lift 9 if you want to burn off a few more calories.

5:30 p.m.
7) FULL PINT OR HALFPIPE?

A free gondola links the historic town of Telluride with the faux-European base area known as Mountain Village. Just before sunset, hop off at the gondola’s midstation, situated atop a ridge. For a civilized drink without cover bands, you’ll find Allred’s (970-728-7474; allredsrestaurant.com), a rustic-chic lodge with craft beers on tap ($7). Grab a window seat for sunset views of the San Juan Mountains, or relax by the stone fireplace to the soothing sounds of Bob Israel on his piano. Shaun White wannabes, however, will want to continue down to a new terrain park with an 18-foot-high halfpipe. Illuminated by klieg lights until 8 p.m., it is one of Colorado’s few halfpipes where you can flip a McTwist under the stars ($25 entrance fee).

8 p.m.
8) NO VEGANS

Carnivores should feel at home in Telluride. At some spots, steak knives look like machetes and the beef is said to come from Ralph Lauren’s nearby ranch. For tasty Colorado lamb chops ($28), try the new Palmyra Restaurant (136 Country Club Drive; 970-728-6800; thepeaksresort.com). Opened last December at the Peaks Resort & Spa in Mountain Village, the glass-walled restaurant has dazzling fire features and romantic valley views. Or, for hearty grub you might find at a firehouse, head into town and loosen your belt at Fat Alley BBQ (122 South Oak Street; 970-728-3985), a no-frills joint with old, wooden tables and a counter where you can order Texas-style barbecued spareribs and breaded-to-order fried chicken. Most items run $10 to $15, except the Schlitz beer, which is $1.

10 p.m.
9) GETTING HIGH

If the high altitude and lack of oxygen leave you winded — and they probably will — pull up a bar stool at the Bubble Lounge (200 West Colorado Avenue; 970-728-9653; telluridebubblelounge.com), a grungy bar that serves craft beers, Champagne and, yes, oxygen. Choose from a two dozen scents (cherry and lemon grass, among others) served in bubbling beakers that light up like DayGlo bulbs and look like a mad scientist’s lab ($10 for 12 minutes).

Sunday

10 a.m.
10) STOMPING GROUNDS

The snow-carpeted trails that roll past wide meadows and frozen waterfalls in this pocket of southwest Colorado are ideal for snowshoeing. Stock up on snacks and water before riding to the top of Lift 10, where you’ll find a warming teepee run by Eco Adventures (565 Mountain Village Boulevard; 970-728-7300). Eco offers guided snowshoe tours, with ecological lessons thrown in, for $45, including equipment.

2 p.m.
11) OUTLAW TOUR

Did you know that Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank on Main Street in 1889? Or that the town’s red-light district once had 29 bordellos? These and other historical tidbits give Telluride an added sense of place that’s missing from newer, corporate-run resorts. For an entertaining tour, call up Ashley Boling (970-728-6639), a D.J., actor and self-appointed guide who offers 90-minute tours that are encyclopedic and long on stories ($20 a person). He’s hard to miss: he’s the one walking around with cascading blond hair under a cowboy hat, stopping every few minutes to say hello to friends — unless it’s a powder day, in which case Telluride turns into a ghost town.

IF YOU GO

The closest commercial airport is Telluride Regional Airport, about seven miles from town. There are daily (turboprop) connections from Phoenix and Denver, but the airport closes often because of bad weather. It can be easier and more reliable to fly into Montrose Regional Airport, a larger airport about 90 minutes away by car. Continental flies nonstop from Newark to Montrose (from $347 in March, according to a recent search), but only on Saturdays. A car is not needed to get around. A free gondola connects the town of Telluride to the Mountain Village till midnight.

In Telluride, the New Sheridan Hotel (231 West Colorado Avenue; 970-728-4351; newsheridan.com) reopened in 2008 with 26 renovated rooms that kept the Victorian touches, like the old-style light switches. Doubles start at $199.

In Mountain Village, lumière (970-369-0400; www.lumierehotels.com), a modern boutique hotel, opened in 2008. Each of the 29 chocolate-carpeted units offers a steam shower, and a few come with balconies with breathtaking mountain views. Doubles start at $349.