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Back in the day, Telluride produced over $60 million of gold, silver, zinc, copper, and lead. Though the last gold was extracted decades ago, it seems wherever you go in Telluride, mining still gets in your face. Riding the gondola, one can scan east to west from the ginormous, treacherously toxic tailings pile to the pickax-stuffed museum in town. Me, I’m over the mining heritage. In the end, it’s just a bunch of rusted metal.
These days, Telluride stands for so many different things. After all, the town was invaded by hippies in the ’70s, elected a libertarian who as sheriff wrote a book condemning the War on Drugs, and voted for legal marijuana in a 4:1 landslide. Weed influences our culture every bit as much as ore. Pot tourism (our little town boasts four dispensaries!) drew thousands of New Mexicans, Arizonans, and Texans here in early 2014, before a dispensary opened two hours south in Durango. No matter. The skiers among them returned this winter, when the resort enjoyed a record 478,000 skier visits.
And why not? Telluride is the most beautiful place you’ll ever ski. The Alps-like San Juan Mountains plummet right down to Victorian architecture so lovely the town’s been designated a National Historic Landmark District. Colorado Avenue, a.k.a. Main Street, bustles with shops, taverns, and restaurants. Wedged tight in a cozy box canyon, Telluride in the ’70s considered, but eventually declined, a motion to follow Zermatt’s lead and forbid automobiles. Still, it’s eminently walkable; the 12-by-eight-block core remains the quaint size it was when Butch Cassidy arrived to rob his first bank.
Stroll the byways between Telluride’s named streets. Alleys are where locals walk when they don’t want to be bothered by traffic…or bosses and relatives. It’s where you’ll find the cutest dogs, funkiest apartments, and most creative found art. If Colorado Avenue is Telluride’s face, the alleys are its soul.
Once the first chairlift started spinning in 1972, Telluride became the ultimate ski town. For one thing, lifts rise directly from town. To be a great ski town one needs great snow, and Telluride’s is perfection. The San Juans are the steepest range in Colorado and among the tallest, with the highest concentration of fourteeners in the Lower 48. On the signature run, See Forever, we peer deep into the red rock canyons surrounding Moab, Utah. The views stun—when they’re not busy astounding.
From the highest lift, at 12,570 feet, we drop 3,845 vertical feet to the gondola plaza—which is, of course, decorated with mining structures. But up here in the mountain village, surrounded by decidedly non-mining-themed cafes, bars, and shops (Siam’s Talay Grille, Swanky Buckle, Dylan’s Candy Bar), it’s actually kind of charming.
>> Miles to the Airport: 5.3
>> Signature Festival: Bluegrass Festival
>> Movie Filmed Here:The Hateful Eight (2015)
>> Famous Resident: Oprah