The Mountain Lodge in Telluride.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

If you haven’t discovered Telluride, it’s probably time you did. Tucked away in a canyon less than three hours from Moab, Utah, and Durango, Colorado, this gem of a town has world-class skiing without the mobs of visitors or ski lines of Aspen or Vail.

Surrounded by pristine mountains and waterfalls, Telluride has the distinction of being the locale where Butch Cassidy started his life of crime. It’s also the home of the first AC power plant in the US. Do you know that beautiful mountain featured in the Coors logo? It’s Wilson Mountain in Telluride. Besides that, there’s a ton of fun things to do. Here are my favorite half dozen.

Like a cat tearing up a couch.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Ice climbing 

I was intrigued when I discovered that I could actually climb a frozen waterfall with zero previous experience. Mountain Trip got my gear together and drove me and a couple other thrill-seekers to Alta Falls to make our first ascent. We were outfitted with crampons that basically turned my feet into superhero snow claws, as well as a couple ice tools with hook-shaped blades. Suddenly I was like a cat-climbing up a leather couch. The method is pretty straightforward: You kick your crampons into the ice, sink the ice tool into the frozen waterfall, and take a step up. Repeat.

It’s a definite thrill and makes you feel über-human as you get further and further up the frozen ice. There’s a spotter below connected to you and hooks above so you can’t hurt yourself. After you’ve made it to the top, you can repel back down as your guide lowers you at whatever speed feels comfortable.

Fat tire biking at altitude.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Fat tire biking

Silly me, all this time I thought a fat tire was just a brand of beer. It turns out that if you take a mountain bike and equip it with 3.5-inch wide tires, you get a cool two-wheeled contraption that rides great on snow. My original plan was to ride the trails all the way to the brewery outside of town. About halfway there, the altitude caught up with me and forced me to lower my level of commitment, but the experience was still awesome. Riding through snow is fun no matter how far you get. You can rent a fat tire bike right on Main Street at Boot Doctors.

Snowmobiles are fast and fun.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Snowmobiling

There’s not a lot of things more fun than riding a snowmobile. Telluride Outfitters takes you to some great trails where you can zip through a national forest and even check out the remains of an old mining village. Just riding through the beautiful trails is awesome enough. The vehicles are super fast and have hand-warming handles, and your guide gives you some history of the area to put the whole experience in perspective.

Telluride has 120 runs.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Skiing

Telluride has only one ski resort, but there are 120 runs and you can find anything from easy bunny trails to challenging black diamonds. The snow was a perfect powder as I warmed up my ski-lls on Telluride’s longest run, The Galloping Goose. The resort is huge so I never waited more than a few moments to catch a lift. After a few runs, we warmed up with some epic chili and a 420 beer at the 19th-century sheep-farm-turned Gorrono Saloon, a mid-mountain bar with live music and a hip vibe. My less-experienced friends took lessons at the bottom of the mountain while we celebrated our altitude.

Prohibition dinner  

I don’t want to give away any spoilers of this unique venue, but I truly enjoyed my speakeasy chef tasting at The Tunnel in downtown Telluride. The restaurant only serves 12 people maximum per sitting, and it’s a unique dining experience that you won’t find elsewhere. Chef Mark Krasik conceived the idea as an extension of his catering business, and he’s made it a great interactive experience for diners—you have to find a password and locate the hidden dining room, and then you can relax and enjoy his six-course meal. We booked his Creole dinner, and I wasn’t expecting to be overwhelmed so far away from New Orleans, but Chef Mark pulled it off with flying colors. The wine pairings made for a nice touch and a great evening was had. Reserve early to get your spot.

Gnar's tacos.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Honorable mentions  

Sheridan’s 125-year-old bar is a great watering hole to sample Telluride’s official drink, the Flatliner. For fusion tacos, Gnar’s interesting combinations of ingredients make their tacos about the most un-Mexican food you’ve ever had. Local hangout, there, defies both restaurant and capitalization rules and is renowned for its shotskis (group shots served on a ski) and interesting shared plates. You’ll be hard pressed to find a cooler or trendier restaurant than The National. You’ll also find 50+ other restaurants in the area—the dining scene has some of the best choices in Colorado.

Where to stay 

The Mountain Lodge has beautiful suites with postcard-perfect views, a sport shop in the hotel and a ski storage rack right outside the rooms. You can literally walk outside the hotel and do a run straight to the lift. There’s also a free gondola to transport you to Mountain Village or downtown Telluride, so there's no need to rent a car.

 The View is the hotel’s restaurant and bar with the San Juan mountain range just beyond the windows (hence the name) and features fantastic tequilas and whiskies as well as a creative menu and all-day service. The lodge's comfy, giant fireplace and hot tub are available to any restaurant visitors, regardless of whether they’re staying or not. There’s also free doggie snacks at the desk for your canine companion.

Getting there

Telluride can be most easily reached by flying into it’s regional airport via Denver or directly to Montrose (90 minutes away) from Houston with United Airlines.

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