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Telluride is why skiers love to ski

Telluride was an unlikely place for this Texas skier.

I have zigzagged and wedged across Colorado ski resorts, from Loveland to Steamboat and from Vail to Breckenridge in seasons past, but never this far west.

This former gold- and silver-mining town snuggled against the San Juan Mountains seemed remote at first. So remote some celebrities, such as Oprah Winfrey, Bob Dylan and Tom Cruise, have had vacation homes here far from the bright lights of the paparazzi. And it seems fitting American fashion designer Ralph Lauren owns a ranch nearby.

But until I boarded a direct flight bound for Montrose Regional Airport, the tiny strip 90 minutes from Telluride, I had no clue how accessible it is or how popular it is with those who supposedly who shun the elitism of other ski resorts.

A woman seated next to me shoved her monstrous full-length fur into an overhead compartment, then bristled at the sight of another passenger positioning his suitcase near it.

So much for elitism.

Another woman seated some rows behind explained loudly, "I love Telluride because there are no lines, no hassles and no fuss." I would soon learn this myself.

The first lift at Telluride Ski Resort was put into motion in 1972 by founder Joe Zoline. Since then, Telluride has grown in size with more than 2,000 acres to ski. And at an elevation of more than 13,100 feet, it also has the highest skiable terrain in the United States that you can hike to.

Even beginner skiers can reach up to 12,000 feet near the highest point on the mountain to catch the majestic views aside more advance skiers.

For me, Telluride's selling point was its scarcity of crowds, especially for hot chocolate at the lodges, and short lift lines. You may wait 5-10 minutes max during peak season.

"Most people laugh at our lines, which are virtually nonexistent," said Tom Watkinson, the resort's communications manager, who was also my ski guide. "I even had one guy tell me he wanted longer lines so he could rest between trails." Even on this day, with skiers from as far south as Colombia and a host of others in for Gay Ski Week, I never waited in line more than a few minutes.

Watkinson said Telluride is closer to Europe than any place he's skied in Colorado for its variety and elevation in trails.

A little more than 60 percent of the ski trails are for beginners and intermediate-level skiers, and the rest are dedicated to advanced levels, with black, double black and extreme trails.

Telluride also offers heli-skiing, which I had envisioned as adrenaline-rushed skiers jumping out of a moving sky-high helicopter onto a dangerous peak. I was certain Tom Cruise was a master at it.

Watkinson laughed at my creative imagination.

In reality, the helicopter settles securely at the top of the trail to drop off skiers, who exit carefully, then descend moderately advanced trails.

If you're looking for a long, wide run, Telluride has it with the 4.6-mile Galloping Goose, a wide open trail with easy turns through some of the mountain's impressive residences, perfect for beginners and those wanting a long run with few stops. It was a nice, breezy run and not nearly as exhausting as the 7-mile trails I encountered at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia a few years ago.

My favorite trails in Telluride were Sundance, Peek-A-Boo and Smuggler.

Most weren't jammed with skiers or snowboaders and had ample room to maneuver, although Watkinson had to coach me down several steep inclines. As I nervously peered over a ledge, questioning my love for skiing, having an expert nearby came in handy. For me, skiing only or twice a year has its limitations. You really never get better, but you never get worse.

In the past few years, Telluride has expanded to include Revelation Bowl, which gives you hiking access to Black Iron Bowl, Palmyra Peak and Gold Hill Chutes 6-10. This season, Telluride opens Gold Hill Chutes 2-5, helping to expand the resort by more than 400 acres in the past three seasons. Gold Hill has terrain dropping 1,600 feet into Prospect Basin.

All that said, Telluride is why skiers love to ski.

c. 2009 Houston Chronicle

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