Where the Road Ends - Telluride
by Mitch Kaplan
"Happiness is - two kinds of ice cream...having a sister...getting along!"
The stage at Telluride's Sheridan Opera House was filled wing-to-wing with kids singing. They were celebrating the grande finale of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown and, as the script's final words are spoken (yep - you guessed it - "You're a good man, Charlie Brown!" said Lucy) the audience stood in ovation. This theater has seen the likes of Mel Gibson, Daryl Hanna and, long before any of us were born, Sarah Bernhardt. But it's never been filled more vibrantly than it was on that December Saturday afternoon by the cast of seventh to ninth graders.
I'd come down off the ski hill specifically to watch the show. Why? Because it's the kind of thing you can do in Telluride that you can't do at many ski resorts. I rode the gondola to town (it's free, public transportation) with a pair of fourteen-ish young ladies who were up from nearby Ridgeway to do some shopping. They giggled a lot. Waiting for Charlie Brown to start, I watched a pair of sisters - perhaps aged ten and eight - dash to catch the free, around-town shuttle. I love this silly town. It's a place where middle school-aged children ride public transportation solo. It's quirky and surprising, and so very family-friendly and kid-safe.
You find Telluride where the road ends, hidden at the end of a dramatic box canyon. In town, you're never much more than four blocks from a ski lift - or from ice skating, cross country skiing, indoor soccer, a climbing wall, the library, or even an Opera House.
The people live in a state of almost bizarre paradox. Take the long-bearded, Rastafarian with whom I exchanged pleasantries as he emerged from his front door. How, I had to wonder, does he afford downtown digs in a place where teeny-weeny homes cost more than a million? Posters protesting "no war for oil" caught my eye. They hearkened to a long-lost radical-hippie past. Wasn't it ironic how they were posted amidst an endless collection of realty offices selling upscale properties and time-shares? I dined in some superb restaurants in the company of one-time ski-bum/dropouts who were now raising beautiful, middle-class children.
Even the ski resort itself is schizoid: the old mining town, registered as a National Historic District, exudes nineteenth century charm and a old-west sensibility; over the hill (literally) stands Mountain Village, a mid-mountain, upscale, twenty-first century vacation colony that could be Anywhereville in Resortland, USA. The two are magically connected by that free gondola, and it's all held together by magnificent, jagged-topped mountainscapes and an incredible ski hill.
An incredible hill nicely laid out. Trails for different abilities are generally kept separate from each other - difficult to the left, intermediate (appropriately) in the middle, easy on the right. Novices and little folks are nicely isolated over on The Meadow, and also can run some long, long trails like double-green rated Double Cabin. (Telluride, by the way, is one of the few places that offers double-blue and double-green trail ratings, an amiable way in which to build up the snowsliding challenge without having to make too big a step to get to the next level.)
Very cool indeed, is Thrill Hill, set just above Mountain Village. What Thrills are held at this Hill? Tubing, snowskating and snowbiking. Snowsk8 Park is a new thing, but the folks here tell me that snowskating is really comin' on. Kids who want to hang between runs make it over to the Gravity Garage and, for those who must, the Plaza Arcade has the all latest cool stuff in video games, foosball, air hockey and pinball.
During my most recent visit, the Air Garden Terrain Park was under construction. But, even partially built, I can definitely say this about it: it's big. We're talking a major stream of fun boxes, A-frames, waterfalls, hits, rails, halfpipes and jibs. We're talking 10-plus acres. They've even got hits for beginners and little folk, and a new California-inspired rail garden.
Speaking of big, I ventured into Prospect Bowl, terrain that last season added more than 800 acres to the area. Some of it's pretty gnarly - including one cornice that leads to a pitch of something like 45-degrees (that was luckily closed at the time). But, most of Prospect welcomes intermediate and advanced snowsliders.
Creativity saturates the fabric of Telluride. Witness that Charlie Brown production. Last time I visited I attended no plays, but I did lunch with Otto the river otter. He was starring in the ski school's weekly lunchtime Friday environmental program. Over pizza, hot dogs and pb&j, we learned all about how otters live and why they're endangered, and we learned about prairie dogs, too. How cool was Otto? Well, he owned his own ski pass and was often be seen sliding down the slopes on his back.
Sure, Telluride's a bundle of political and social contradictions, but that's what makes it so much more than just another ski resort. After all, happiness is - watching twelve and fourteen year olds performing after you've skied your brains out, lunched with an otter and snowbiked without killing yourself.
...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate's Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.