Words and Photos: Matt Hansen
This winter, like so many in the past, I slept on numerous surfaces not resembling a traditional bed. Most of the time, it was on a couch covered in cat and dog hair, while said cats and dogs nervously tap-danced around the tile floor with their long claws and paws, no doubt wondering who the stranger was parked on their couch.
On Christmas Eve, I slept in a tent on a deck. Then I cozied up on an air mattress, then another floor, then back to a couch, then another air mattress. There were a few hotels and Motel 6′s mixed in there, as well as a bunk in a backcountry yurt. In between there were quite a few powder days and lots of hill-banging-by most accounts a positive, often-glorious, and always-beautiful experience despite the chorus of negativity surrounding the Winter of Doom, otherwise known as 2011-12. In my case, things could have been worse, as in having no roof over my head, no friends, no freedom to roam, no sleeping bag, and no skis to use once I got to my destination. Accommodations didn’t even matter so much, even the dirty ones, which are always great for meeting people with the crazy eyes, the dogs with the wild hair, and the cats with the sketchy past.
And then, in the midst of a terrific storm on March 19, the last official day of winter (at least on the calendar), I drove into Telluride. There are still a few crazy eyes and wild hairs of the kind that made Telluride famous for its haven of misfit ski bums, but they are few and far between now. Instead, what you see more often than not…is perfection, either in the Hollywood designer-jeans way, or the picturesque mountain way.
The icicles hang in unison, and each are the same length, as if placed there by Santa’s elves. Quaint Victorian houses snuggle up to the gondola and Chair 8, where bikes-not cars-are parked out front and foretell a better way of life. The lifts go straight up from town, providing access to more than 2,000 acres of some of the world’s finest skiing. The lack of lift lines-and a little hiking-means you can ski bluebird powder at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. In the casual approach reminiscent of springtime in the Alps, there is no frenzied dash to get on the lift. Especially once Daylight Savings hits. For the last three years, Telluride has shifted its operating hours on Daylight Savings to run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. So you get your late nights, late breakfasts, and late afternoons swooshing among the splendid peaks of the San Juans Mountains.
After a season spent mostly on floors and couches-I’ve become quite good at wiping the grit off the bottom of my feet before I put on my socks-it was nice to see how the other side lives. Apparently, they retire to the Hotel Columbia, Suite 32, amazingly fluffy king bed, heated floors, two flat screen TVs, and about as close as you could ever be to 3,845 vertical feet of lift-served skiing (total vert is 4,425 feet, but you have to hike for it). At the Hotel Columbia, no grimy foot-wipe required.
The storm dropped more than a foot in a day and a half, and left a sparkling blue sky in its wake. It wasn’t epic by any means, but whether or not something is epic is not how we should define our skiing experiences. Perhaps one of the reasons we skiers have found ourselves in such a predicament lately is that somehow, somewhere everyone decided that the only skiing worth doing was the kind that left us gasping for air and/or scared to death. While it’s good to test our limits and seek out adventure, we shouldn’t be afraid to pull back on the reins, or god forbid, enjoy a day of variable snow. Plus, I’m tired of being scared. I’m tired of being scared for my friends. And after this winter, I’m especially tired of hearing people complain about having less than amazing snow. Just give me a skin track, a chairlift or two, free parking, and the perspective to see my ridiculous good fortune at being able to ski, period, and I’ll be happy. We shouldn’t have to ask for something to be epic in order for it to be worthy day in the mountains.
The beauty of Telluride is that you can imagine being epically scared while taking in the dramatic views of Bear Creek from the top of several chairlifts. Only instead of being actually scared, you can ski cheerfully over to Bon Vivante for some on-mountain dining of foie gras and duck confit, washed down by a tall Chimay Blue. I’ve skied Bear Creek before, but on this day, in this season, I’d rather save my daring for eating duck liver smeared on mini toasts.
After lunch, we hiked 10 minutes above the Revelations lift to drop into the Gold Hill 2. Chutes 3-10 were closed due to the fresh snow sitting on wicked sun crust, but no matter. To the west we could see Wilson Peak and Lizard Head, to the north was Mount Sneffels, and right behind us the gaping maw of Bear Creek. Getting ready to ski were several middle-aged tourists lacking packs or fat skis, plus a few friendly ski patrollers. They warned us about the rocks at the entrance, and then hit a few themselves.
Gold Hill 2 emptied into the lower stretch of Gold Hill 3, via a low-tide goat path. After another short traverse, we found knee-deep low-angle powder. At that point, I forgot all about what kind of bed I would sleep on that night, and could only hope the season would continue in exactly the same fashion.
Annual Snowfall: 309 inches
Vertical: 4,425 feet (3,845 lift-served)
Lodging: Hotel Columbia, columbiatelluride.com
Best Deal: Telluride Resort Lodging is offering half-off lodging off select places through the end of the season, April 8. Also through the end of the season, friends and family of Season Pass holders can buy lift tickets for $59.