View All News

In the News:

The Telluride back country

By Arnie Wilson

Published: December 19 2009 00:00 | Last updated: December 19 2009 00:00

Thanks to the conquistadors, and the native Americans they confronted in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Colorado lexicon is richer than many. Much of the state once belonged to Spain and even the name Colorado means red or ruddy in Spanish, so called because of the ubiquitous red soil, which often gives its rivers a reddish hue.

Last year, I went to what was once the land of the Tabeguache Ute – also known as Nunt’z – Indians in the Uncompahgre National Forest.

Telluride, some 350 miles south-west of Denver, at the west end of San Miguel County, is an old wild-west-cum-mining town turned hip ski resort. Its wide main street was built to allow stage coaches to make U-turns. At the end of the street (speed limit 15mph), which peters out into a box canyon, the majestic San Juan mountains rear up

Telluride features in classic westerns such as True Grit andHow The West Was Won. Thirty miles to the north-west, the small town of Nucla was used for some of the scenes in Thelma & Louise. A legendary local character, Roudy Roudebush, offers horseback adventures for tourists, and skiers who fancy a day off.

Another great local character Johnny Stevens, formerly Telluride’s long-serving mountain manager, rejects the idea that the 2,200 townsfolk are friendly just because they like to stop for a chat. “We’re not friendly – just lonely,” smiles Stevens.

Sometimes his dry wit backfires. Not long ago he caused near panic in some parts of town when he suggested – with a straight face – that each November there should be an election to vote between 200 and 250 people out of the town until the population was back to what it was when the ski area was opened in the 1970s – approximately 450 people.

Stevens has presided over some of the biggest expansions on Telluride’s slopes – agreeably steep and challenging but, in the early days, not as extensive as some of Colorado’s other ski destinations. One expansion doubled the size of the terrain almost overnight, and, more recently, in the winter of 2007/2008 the resort’s website trumpeted the addition of further terrain to the ski area.

Rather more baffling was the statement on that Telluride had opened some “sick hike-to terrain”. (Translation: the resort has some exciting new terrain if you don’t mind walking up to it.)

There is certainly some remarkable back-country skiing here, and one or two of the local extreme skiers have skied descents which are not ski runs at all – more steep “no-fall zones” sometimes entered by rope, where, without question, if you make an error, you die.

Fortunately for recreational skiers, these “runs” are completely separate from the “lace-like trails woven into these spectacular mountains” shown on the trail map. For here, as in any ski resort with spectacular mountains, there are always ways to come to grief if you charge off with over-ambitious plans into the back-country without a guide or sufficient skills.

Not being big on hiking, I decided against the one-hour (or one-and-a-half hours, depending on your fitness and the weather conditions) trek to Palmyra Peak, or even Mountain Quail (which you pass on your way to Palmyra after 30-45 minutes), and took instead the line of least resistance to Genevieve (5-10 minutes). Other options include Bald Mountain (20-25 minutes, with a view from the summit of the historic mining town of Alta) and Gold Hill Chutes 6-10 (45-50 minutes). The latest extension to Telluride’s terrain is the opening of Revelation Bowl, served by a new quad chair.

I skied the less demanding Genevieve with Leslie Woit, an ex-instructor who enjoys skiing without the need to career slavishly up and down the mountain all day at full pelt.