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The slope less taken

A Telluride, Colo., resort has more than 2,000 skiable acres, room to hike, small crowds - and quirky character.

By Kyle Wagner
Denver Post

TELLURIDE, Colo. Find great skiing in winter - but not a horde of typical tourists any time of the year. That's what Telluride Ski Resort founder Joe Zoline was banking on when he put in the first ski lift in 1972. In 2002, the next owner doubled the skiable terrain by adding Prospect Bowl. The private investment group that took over in 2003 added Black Iron Bowl in 2007 and Revelation Bowl last year.

Now the ski area in southwestern Colorado has more than 2,000 skiable acres and, at 13,150 feet, has the highest skiable terrain in the United States that you can hike to (its highest lift-served skiable terrain sits at 12,570 feet).Plus, the area has some of the most sought-after terrain. Freestyle skiers from all over the world come to practice for their sport's World Cup events and compete in the qualifiers held there annually.

But for the most part, the resort, like the town, has retained its quirky character. The former silver town, tucked up against the San Juan Mountains, still has a population of 2,500 - even as celebrities (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, makeup mogul Bobbi Brown, diplomat Richard Holbrooke and Ralph Lauren with his mega-ranch up the road) followed the hippies who followed the miners in discovering Telluride's isolated charms.

Thrown into the mix is an ever-increasing number of festivals - possibly the most festivals per capita in the country. They include the world-famous Telluride Film Festival, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the Blues and Brews and the Mountainfilm Fest. It reached a point that the town added a Nothing Festival in 1991 as a half-hearted protest.

Alicia Nogueira considers herself to be more of a hippie type. She owns Bali Dog, a shop that sells hand-painted yoga pants from Brazil. In San Francisco, she had been a computer graphic artist but also a yoga instructor. She was looking for a calmer way of life but one that also incorporated her love of skiing and the outdoors.

"I had skied since I was 16, in Switzerland, and when I visited Telluride, some friends said, 'You should move here and teach,' and I thought, 'You guys are crazy,'" she says. "Then I decided I would just come and spend a winter and just hang out."

In short order, she stayed a summer and bought a house. Nogueira started teaching yoga, became a ski instructor and taught ski school for Telluride Ski Resort.

She and her 12-year-old daughter explore Telluride together, reveling in the outdoor activities that a town nestled in a glacier-carved box canyon have to offer.

"We go snowshoeing in the full moon on the valley floor," Nogueira says. "My daughter loves doing that. There's so much to do here year-round, but winter is a magical time; it's just so pretty, and the mountain is so diverse and challenging. The fact that we don't have lift lines or crowds here means you can get a lot of time up there and really explore, get a good workout."

A self-described "laid-back skier," Nogueira says she seeks out the gentler runs. "I don't go into the bush too much," she says. "I don't do trees that much. I'm kind of conservative."

She likes Bushwacker, an easier black-diamond run off the Plunge Lift. It's steep, groomed every few days, and ideal for strong intermediates who want to push themselves.

"The new terrain is fantastic," Nogueira says, referring to the runs on Prospect Bowl. "I love Gold Hill, which has these stunning views, and it's wide-open and steep."

This year, there's actually more to love, because the resort added another four chutes on the double-black Gold Hill.

The new terrain drops 1,600 vertical feet into Prospect Basin (Chute 1 is right off Revelation Lift; chutes 2-10 require hiking). It has a variety of features - including couloirs, rocks, faces and chutes - all above tree line.

"It's not easy skiing, but it's very straightforward," Nogueira says. "You can see everything from there."

'It feels safe and special'

James Kleinert would not describe himself as a conservative skier.

"I prefer to be out of bounds," says the former member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. "I like the quietness, being out away from the resort. You can hear a pin drop. It's just beautiful."

Kleinert was captivated by Telluride decades ago as a competitive skier, but it wasn't until May 2007 when his other passions - documentary filmmaking and horses - brought him back to the area. He moved to Telluride for good the following February.

"The mountain resort itself is wonderful, but the backcountry here - now that's something else," Kleinert says. "I've skied many mountains around the world, after skiing the World Cup for almost 10 years - Japan, Europe, North America. But there's something about the San Juans, their jagged ruggedness. There's a wildness and a remoteness to it all. You really feel like you're in the mountains there.

"I really enjoy the cardio workout you get from putting on skins (on his skis) and climbing," he says.

Then he'll refuel at some of the exceptional dining Telluride has to offer.

"When you live here and are working, it's hard to get out much, and it gets expensive," he says. "But my favorite place is this little Mexican place called La Cocina. They make this amazing fresh homemade salsa, four or five flavors. If you get their chips and salsa and a beer, it's great. I think its $3.50. If you're on a budget, it's the best cheap meal you'll ever have."

La Cocina is one of Nogueira's favorites, too. She also likes the pad Thai at Siam and the fresh seafood at Honga's Lotus Petal.

"It's funny that these are places that we all run into each other at," Nogueira says. "But that's what I like about Telluride. I like it that everyone knows everyone else, and that it feels safe and special.

"Sometimes I think, 'Ah, it's too small, too closed-in and I have to get out of here' - but that's crazy. It's amazing to live here."