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Telluride's the West's best-kept ski secret

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- Raise your hand if you've never skied Telluride. You're certainly not alone. Chances are you've never even visited Telluride, and you're not alone there either.

To the locals, that's one of the many reasons it's so great to be among the slightly fewer than 2,400 people living in this former silver mining town tucked against the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.

"It's not one of the drop-in places," says Alicia Nogueira, who moved to Telluride 18 years ago from San Francisco. "You have to plan to come here, and that brings people with a different purpose. They really want to be here, as opposed to, 'Oh, I'm here because that other place was full.' "

That's what Telluride Ski Resort founder Joe Zoline was banking on when he put in the first ski lift in 1972.

Joe Morita bought it from Zoline in 1999, and three years later doubled the skiable terrain by adding Prospect Bowl. A private investment group took over in 2003 and added Black Iron Bowl in 2007 and Revelation Bowl last year. Now the ski area sports more than 2,000 skiable acres and, at 13,150 feet, has the highest skiable terrain in the United States that you can hike (its highest lift-served skiable terrain sits at 12,570 feet).

Plus the area has some of the most sought-after terrain. Freeskiers from all over the world come to practice for World Cup events and compete in the qualifiers held here annually.


But for the most part, the resort, like the town, has retained its quirky character -- 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. They include the world-famous Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, the Blues and Brews and the Mountainfilm Fest. It reached a point in 1991 that a "Nothing Festival" was created as a half-hearted protest.

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.

Nogueira and her daughter, Olivia Nogueira-Wheaton, 12, explore Telluride together, reveling in the outdoor activities of a town nestled in a box canyon and carved by a glacier.

"We go snowshoeing in the full moon on the valley floor," Nogueira says.

A self-described "laid-back skier," Nogueira says she seeks out the gentler runs. 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. With the addition of Chutes 2-5, that means Chutes 1 through 10 are now open to the public in an area avalanche-controlled by two World War II 105mm howitzers.

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

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


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 to work on a film, Saving the American Wild Horse.

He moved to Telluride for good in February 2008. "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 refuels at some of the exceptional dining spots Telluride offers.

"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."

The Denver Post
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