How do you improve on perfection? My three and a half days at the Southwestern Colorado resort of Telluride were probably the best I have had in 42 years of skiing. I have had the great fortune to ski in some of the best places in America, Europe, and New Zealand.
Everything came together in those few days in Telluride. Others in my group of professional snow writers said the same thing, so it was not just my imagination. There were some who said the conditions were substandard for Colorado skiing, but I think they were being modest.
We came to Telluride for the NASJA Convention -; the North American Snowsports Journalists Association. I am also a member of ESWA -; the Eastern Ski Writers Association. Maybe someday we will change those names, and call ourselves, “People with the Soul of Snow” or something to that effect. All those who make great effort, and spend a bit of money, to go to the snow understand those sentiments.
These sportspeople and journalists are not just playboys or bon vivants. Most have serious jobs at home, in addition to snow writing. Everyone we met cares passionately about the outdoors with an appreciation of the balance needed between development of the mountains and forests and preservation of the natural environment. In fact, many of the fine ski resorts throughout the United States were built by veterans of the famed Tenth Mountain Division, who survived World War II and brought their love of the mountains and country with them when they returned and developed skiing as a sport in the United States. Many of these areas have been developed as a public/private partnership between the U.S. Forest Service or Indian nations and have brought millions of people to the mountains, while preserving the beauty of the region and the purity of the air and sky. The visitors, like myself, could never experience the sheer magnitude of the steep, rugged, snow covered mountains, without these ski areas. At over 11,000 feet in elevation, I could not, or would not, get to them without a modern series of ski lifts and groomed trails! So, as we approach the Memorial Day Anniversary of the World War II “Greatest Generation,” and the Dedication of their Monument, let’s give an added thanks to the 10th Mountain Division, as we enjoy the slopes they helped develop.
Now, on to Telluride. Nature smiled on us. She vindicated the hard work of the Convention planners, who spent over a year planning for the NASJA meeting. When you consider the fact they supervise several major festivals a year, that is a lot of work! But, someone gave us sunny skies and warm weather. On the third day, there was a huge dump of snow in the Utah and Colorado areas. So we skied through occasional whiteout conditions. But thanks to a skilled mountain guide, my husband Charles and I had a blast. The powder was light, fluffy, and easy even for us Easterners. Of course, we stayed on the main trails, and tried to ignore the beautiful bumps. On Sunday, the last day in Telluride (sadly), the sun was out and the powder snow remained. It was agony to break away, but Telluride left most of us wanting more, and wanting to return.
Telluride’s isolation is both its benefit and its drawback. It takes an effort to get there, and means having to leave early. Telluride is a 6- to 8-hour drive from major airports in Albuquerque, New Mexico or Denver, Colorado. But, that is the way to get the cheapest flights from the Washington, D.C. area. We took an easy Southwest Airlines flight for about $99 each way from BWI airport to New Mexico. The flight lasted under six hours, including the check in procedure. We rented a car from Budget at a weekly rate of $150 with unlimited mileage (which is an essential in the West). Tip -; buy a tank of gas with the rental; it’s much cheaper than the cost of filling up outside the airport on return.
There are small airports in Telluride or Montrose, but it costs much more to get flights into them and they are not for those with any fear of flying! Flights to these airports can be cancelled in bad weather. So consider going to a major airport, and then driving a long distance. If you are with a group, perhaps a shuttle bus can be arranged, to ease the burden of driving. In any case, it means losing a day of skiing getting to and from Telluride. On the other hand, passengers will be compensated by spectacular scenery during the drive. The driver however needs eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel. Beware Red Mountain pass -; no guard rail!
Telluride ski resort is a tremendous area, with over 84 listed trails, and many side trails you can create yourself. Several people were hiking and skiing back country, despite signs warning “Impassable” and “avalanche danger.” The base of the resort is 8,725 feet and the highest ski summit is 12,260 feet. Most of the trails we chose were around the 12,000 foot level; we did not hike up to the 13,320 foot Palmyra Peak! I am not certain you could ski down from that anyway, and live to discuss it. What good is a reporter, if they can’t talk about it later?
Telluride lists 30 kilometers of Nordic trails. For the downhill trails, 24% are listed as beginner terrain, 38% intermediate, and 38% advanced/expert, with a 3,530 foot vertical drop. We spent most of the time on the magnificent blues, and danced our way joyously down the mountain. But much time was passed in awe, looking at the rugged, jagged San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains. The best view is from the small, comfortable Giuseppe’s Restaurant, at an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet and a view so magnificent that even Donald Trump could not afford it (although, in fact, the resort has just been sold, but that is another story!)
The best trail is See Forever, a lovely “corduroy cruiser” which snakes around the mountain and does not provide too much challenge. But, you do not want to slide off the catwalk and onto some of the black or double black trails below. And, you’d better be in excellent condition to take the infamous Plunge and Lower Plunge! But, there is such a tremendous variety of trails, it is impossible to list them all. Just come and experience them yourselves. All trails were well groomed and in fast condition, given late spring conditions. And, with the dump of powder we received, they became superb! What a shame we’re right at the end of the ski season.
It is always wise to warn visiting snowpeople about the sun and altitude. Telluride was good about reminding visitors to take water and drink constantly. The resort also provided packets of sunscreen. Even with that, I got my usual Rocky Mountain “burn,” complete with lips that puffed to gigantic proportions. Some Easterners complained about headache, dizziness and slight altitude sickness. But, in most cases we were prepared and overcame it. Skiing is, however, a different matter. Our hearts beat a lot faster during the runs, and my thighs and legs felt the strain at times. Altitude is no joke, and anyone with known heart or lung disease should check with their doctor before traveling. If you can handle regular airline travel (which is the equivalent of 10,000 feet of altitude) you will be fine at rest, but exercise at that altitude will definitely make you huff and puff and your heart rate will feel like aerobic exercise at sea level, even when you’re in bed!
At Telluride, we stayed in the newly developed Mountain Village area at a fine five star hotel, Wyndham Peaks Resort. Mountain Village is connected to the town of Telluride by a spectacular free gondola accessible to both skiers and pedestrians. The gondola ride alone may be worth a trip to Telluride! When we rode down it at night, after a dinner at Allred’s Restaurant, I felt we could reach out and touch the planets above us. I also prayed the Gondola would not fall -; it is a strange sensation riding at night.
The Wyndham is a convenient ski-in and ski-out location, and has all the amenities you would expect in a world-class hotel. It has a Golden Door Spa and even a first-rate dog spa, where your pup can play and be pampered while you ski! (Telluride, by the way, is a dog lover’s paradise, and there were magnificent dogs everyplace, but I did not see too many on the slopes). Wyndham is expensive, but prices can be brought down if you look for a package deal which includes flights, lodging, tickets, and some meals. We had an excellent deal, because we were on a convention. And, with the “Wyndham By Request” plan we got free unlimited domestic long distance calling, 500 frequent flyer miles, and a nice snack and drinks waiting for us in our room.
Valet parking would have cost as much as the car rental each day, but there is free overnight parking in a covered garage about a mile away with its own free gondola to Mountain Village; the scenery from that gondola isn’t quite as spectacular, but it was certainly worth that trip to save some money! On the slopes, everyone knows ski tickets are very expensive. Try to buy package deals in advance, half day, off season, or whatever rates you can get to avoid the full prices. I seem to notice fewer and fewer people paying full fares at the ticket windows now. And, can you really ski for a full 8 hours?
The NASJA Convention was fabulous -; one of the best ever! It is a terrific way to socialize with friends from all over North America. About 300 writers and guests attended. Everyone involved is seriously dedicated to writing about snow sports, and getting out in the snow as much as possible. We are also committed to nature and the environment. During the day, most of us were on the slopes. But there were seminars and meetings early in the morning and in the afternoons and evenings (except for the poor Board Members, who endured hours of meetings during the afternoon. We appreciate their dedication).
We all compare notes and discuss ways to increase our writing and broadcasting during the convention. Most of us do this for the love of the sport -; no one can make a living by just doing this type of work! But, for all of us, there is a higher cause! I was pleased to see most of the members were listed as “freelance.” We all do several types of writing, but ski and snowsports writing is our favorite. We expend the most time, effort, and travel money on that, but it is well worth it. The sports continue to grow, and that is good for the economy and the rest of us.
Finally, I want to make mention of some of the excellent people who made Telluride the great experience it was. Foremost was a skier who is nearly 80 years old, Jack Tarlow. He is one of many skiers who help me with research on articles about senior skiing -; one of the fastest growing sectors of the sport. The retired lawyer taught my husband and I three tips which improved my skiing enormously. In the past, he has taught special senior programs called “Come Smell the Roses.” Special thanks also to Jack’s son-in-law, Ken Stone, of Wyndham Peaks Resort. Two others to thank are Freddy Shapiro (another retired lawyer and judge) who served as our mountain guide the first day and instructor one day; and Tom Watkinson who did so the next day, helping us to survive and navigate during the snowstorm. Always get a mountain guide or host if you can, especially on a big mountain where you do not know the terrain. They will enrich the experience, tell you about the lore and history of the area, and keep you safe. Congratulations to them and all the others who made the financial sacrifice to give up fast paced lives in the cities, and come and make their lives in the mountains. On this trip, I met many people who have lived in the Telluride area for years and decades. I can understand why they made that decision!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.