Telluride, Colorado was named after a mineral that was never mined there. Though mines in the area did produce zinc, lead, copper, silver, and other gold ores, the gold telluride itself was never found here. But that's okay; today, Telluride is known for something far more alluring than some minor ore.
The small ski resort town is nestled in a beautiful valley a couple of hours north of Durango and east of Moab, Utah, looking for all the world like one of those snow-covered Christmas village centerpieces come to life. Butch Cassidy robbed a bank here 100 years ago and created a name for himself in the process. Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Cruise all bought homes amongst its jaw-dropping peaks. Quentin Tarantino enjoyed it so much he filmed The Hateful Eight here. Still, I expected Telluride to be similar to other Colorado ski resorts I've visited. But a recent visit proved me wrong.
Telluride oozes personality all its own, and is one the most breathtaking ski towns I've ever seen in my travels. And although it was my first time visiting, something seemed oddly familiar about the place. Wilson Peak is part of the mountain range that frames the town and you—like me—may find yourself thinking you've seen that somewhere mountain before. It turns out that you probably have—if you're a beer drinker. It's the logo on the Coors bottle. Wilson Peak is so spectacular that Coors used it instead of their own mountains in Golden, Colorado where the beer is actually brewed. That's not it? You've seen it somewhere else too? Jeep also uses the peak as a background for many of its commercials. Bottom line: you won't find a more scenic place to ski.
Still, skiing isn't exactly what brought me to Telluride. I was here for the second annual Fire Festival. Now, the second annual anything is usually not that big of a draw, being, well, the second, but the festival had a respectable lineup of talent for such a new event—and, of course, anything with fire is welcome on a cold night in Colorado. Inspired by Burning Man, the festival offers an alternative location in which to witness amazing artists and fire displays. And there was fire in abundance: a fire organ, fire performers, strange blazing contraptions that looked like they belonged in a Mad Max film, and even fireball shots in the nearby bar. Knowing what I know now, I can say without reservation that the third annual Fire Festival—taking place this January 20 through 22—will be just as hot.
For those who aren't skiers or snowboarders, Telluride is very receptive to promoting festivals and has developed a reputation for having some of the finest in the west. Most of the Fire Festival takes place in Mountain Village, a companion city to Telluride, and a short ride up the gondola, though there's something happening almost every week all year long in Telluride, including a film festival, horror festival, comedy festival, even a hot air balloon festival.
Even more alien than snow for a Houstonian is the fact that you can walk across most of Telluride in less than 10 minutes. Too cold for a Texan? A free shuttle bus will whisk you around the town, while the free gondola offers a stunningly beautiful ride up the mountain. At the midway station at 10,550 feet, you can grab a drink or dine at Allred's, one of the area's most famous restaurants. Not only is the view staggering as you look down over the town, but the restaurant has an award-winning wine list and a great menu.
One of the most surprising things I discovered about Telluride, in fact, was the quality of the restaurants. For such a small community, there was a large range of choices: Japanese, fondue, French, Italian, or pretty much anything else you might be craving. These restaurants don't look like the kind of restaurants you find in a small town, either; they've learned to cater to clients with a taste for finer things.
Naturally, the skiing was fantastic too. It didn't hurt that it was the perfect day: fresh powdery snow, sunshine, a Snickers bar in my pocket and lots of ski lifts and runs for all skill levels. There were so many choices, I never took the same run twice. Telluride possesses 45 percent expert-level trails with the rest is evenly balanced between beginner and amateur options. It's also one of the highest-rated resorts in Colorado by websites such as onthesnow.com and powderhounds.com. Now, I don't how such things are decided, but I know that I've never seen such a beautiful view (except maybe Cortina in the Italian Alps), the snow was fluffy and powdery, and I never fell down (okay, maybe once), so I tend to agree with the websites.
The nearest airport is in Montrose and is serviced by Southwest Airlines, Delta and several other smaller airlines. You could drive from Denver, but that can take six to eight hours depending on weather conditions. After all, Telluride is on the other side of the mountains, though it's precisely this remote location that keeps the crowds at a manageable level and makes the village into one of the great hidden gems of the Rocky Mountains.