Like a fly-fisherman reluctant to reveal his favorite secret fishing hole, Telluride was conspicuously absent from my list of ski destinations to write about. But an email from a Telluride-based pilot and AOPA member caused me to re-think that omission. As he pointed out, Telluride Regional is surely one of the most beautiful airports to fly in to, and super friendly, with low fees. If a pilot’s skills and equipment can handle the 9,070-foot elevation and surrounding terrain, Telluride is also one of the most convenient resort destinations for general aviation pilots—no car needed. The town, tucked into a box canyon and home to about 2,500 of possibly the luckiest residents anywhere, is blessed with pristine mountain scenery in every direction. And Telluride’s city leaders intend to keep it that way. The town and resort are intentionally small, the result of environmentally responsible zoning and ski-loving resort owners. So go ahead—visit Telluride for the winter skiing, the summer festivals, the vast array of really good restaurants at every price range, the Wild West ambiance—you can’t spoil it.
Like Aspen, Crested Butte, and Steamboat Springs, Telluride is a former mining town, although it’s nestled in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, not the Rockies. Butch Cassidy pulled off his first major heist here in 1889, robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank of $24,580. The landmark New Sheridan Hotel (the “old” one burned down) was built in 1895. One of the many great things about Telluride is how city planners located the contemporary and pedestrianized Mountain Village, where you’ll find the ski resort, spas, and golf course, up on a mountain and away from town. Thus, downtown Telluride retains its Victorian Old West architecture and vibe. Yet the two areas are connected by a free gondola that runs from 6:30 a.m. to midnight.
Another Telluride perk: the best in ski gear. Established in 1986, BootDoctors maintains a lofty reputation for quality and expertise at three locations: two in downtown Telluride and another in Mountain Village. Plus, you can order Wagner skis, custom-engineered and crafted for you in Mountain Village.
Surrounded by peaks up to 14,246 feet msl, Telluride Regional Airport (TEX) sits atop a mesa six nautical miles west of town. The 7,111-foot-long Runway 9/27 is perched at 9,070 feet elevation, 1,000 feet above the San Miguel River. A major renovation in 2009 smoothed out the runway’s notorious dip, yet landing and tiedown fees remain low ($8 and $7, respectively, for a Cessna 210). Photo courtesy Telluride Regional Airport.
Fuggetaboutit—they’re nonexistent. And if you really want to get away, try heli-skiing with Helitrax. But Telluride’s ski genius is the balanced assortment of terrain: long, interesting beginner’s trails; intermediate glades; great mogul runs; plus extreme skiing, so everyone can have a great ski experience. And for breaks or overnight, rather than lugging your gear, just store it safely at the Telluride Ski Resort’s ski valet.
With a variety of ski-in restaurants and rest areas, it’s easy to take a break. Ride the gondola or ski down to Telluride to refuel with tuna carpaccio tacos at Taco del Gnar. Warm up with a soba noodle bowl at Tomboy Tavern. Relax with a massage at the Madeline Hotel’s spa in Mountain Village and be back on the slopes in no time. To venture further afield, try a snowmobile or horseback ride. And great fly-fishing is available year-round.
When the lifts stop at 4 p.m., it’s time to kick back and raise a glass to your good fortune. The Madeline Hotel is literally steps away from the chairlift. You can “après ski” in the rooftop pool and hot tub and gaze at the Milky Way or catch snowflakes on your tongue, depending on the weather. Meet the locals at the New Sheridan’s historic bar or at There, known for its global fusion snacks and jam cocktails.
With its gorgeous runway approach; convenient transportation; lack of crowds; and quality of skiing, lodging, and food, Telluride may be the perfect mountain getaway for pilots. There. I said it.
Telluride and Mountain Village are connected by a free, scenic gondola—the only transportation system of its kind in North America. Electricity for the gondola’s operation comes from wind power purchased from San Miguel Power Association. In the winter, ski and snowboard racks are mounted on the exterior of cabins, while in summer, the gondolas sport bike racks. Gondola attendants help load ski gear or bikes. Photo courtesy Visit Telluride.