Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Telluride, CO: 01/29 - 01/31/2015
As much as I consider myself an East Coast skier to the core, there’s something about the snow, the terrain and the scenery out West that calls to me as a skier. In recent years I’ve enjoyed great skiing at Big Sky, Montana and Alta / Snowbird, Utah; this year I was lucky enough to be included in a trip to Telluride, Colorado.
While I’ve done some skiing in Colorado in the past (A-Basin, Breckenridge, Vail, and a bunch of the 10th Mountain Division huts), I had never visited Telluride. Known for its spectacular setting in the San Juan mountains and its diverse collection of steeps, trees and bowls, Telluride is right up my alley.
At home prior to departure, the Blizzard of ’15 threatened to disrupt our travel plans, but some creative shuffling got us to Telluride on schedule. We had booked a 4-bedroom condo for our group of 7 in the Mountain Village at the base of the ski area. The Mountain Village is connected to the “real” town of Telluride by a free gondola that runs 7am to midnight. Additionally, some of ski slopes descend directly to the town of Telluride, creating a very cool connectedness between the ski area and the town that I haven’t experienced outside of Europe.
Telluride hadn’t seen any new snow for at least a week prior to our arrival. On top of that, temperatures had been unseasonably warm. But with cooling temperatures and snow in the forecast for our 3-day stay, I felt pretty confident I’d be able to work Telluride’s various aspects and elevations to find the best snow.
Day 1 definitely favored the groomers. While ungroomed trails were firm packed powder, the groomers were a delight, perfect for crusing around the mountain and getting to know the lay of the land. We found the best combination of terrain and snow on the “frontside,” a north facing pod of black diamond trails that descend steeply to town, more than 3,000 vertical feet below the top of the Plunge triple chair. Since the gondi rises from town at the foot of the frontside trails, we ended our day here and then rode the gondi back home, a pattern that we repeated all 3 days.
Although Day 1 was overcast, it was the best visibility we had during our stay. But clouds mean snow, and Day 2 kicked off with a couple inches of new snow. Despite sketchy visibility, I had one thing on my mind: Telluride’s double black diamond hike-to terrain. Based on our Day 1 exploration along with some beta from Ski Patrol, Black Iron Bowl seemed the most likely destination for the terrain and snow I was seeking, so I set out from the top of the Prospect lift for the 30-minute hike to Mountain Quail. Between the exertion from climbing 500 verts at 12,000 feet, sketchy visibility, and being solo, I’ll admit to being a little nervous about the terrain ahead as I climbed. But Quail turned out to be a delight – moderately steep, beautiful cliffs to skier’s right, and fantastic snow.
At the foot of the cliffs, I paused to watch a Ski Patroller and another skier descending an adjacent line, Dihedral Chute. They skied over to me, and I half expected the patroller to give me grief for skiing solo. Instead, he told me Dihedral Chute was in great shape and well worth skiing, and then offered to show me some off-the-beaten-path lines on the run-out to the lifts. It’s always great to get a tour from an in-the-know local.
At lunch, I connected with a semi-local, Dennis, the brother-in-law of one of the guys on our trip and a fellow telemarker. We immediately made plans to hike up to Dihedral Chute. With Mountain Quail already under my belt, the hike to Dihedral Chute seemed like a piece of cake. Any double-black with the word “chute” in its name automatically appeals to me, and Dihedral Chute proved to be my favorite line in Telluride, a long, steep pitch with a few constrictions. Lines like Dihedral Chute and Mountain Quail bring together all of the elements that I love about skiing out west: great snow, interesting and challenging terrain, beautiful scenery. I’d happily travel the 1500 miles to Colorado just to ski these and then head home.
Day 3 was something of a repeat of Day 2: another inch or two of new snow overnight with on-and-off snow all day. Since I had found the best snow and terrain in the Black Iron Bowl hike-to terrain, I repeated my runs down Mountain Quail and Dihedral Chute. Why mess with success?
The snowfall over the two days had made a real difference all over the mountain, softening up the trees and the trails. The Logpile Trees over on the frontside were a highlight, along with a thigh-burning descent with Dennis down what must have been 1500 vertical feet of unrelenting moguls on Mammoth – right after having hiked Black Iron Bowl no less.
As luck would have it, we departed Telluride under bluebird skies. While it would have been nice to ski under sunny skies and soak in the surrounding scenery, I’m more than happy with the snow that we got over our 3 days. More snow would have opened even more hike-to terrain, but I still found plenty of challenge and excitement. Guess I’ll have to return some day.