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Telluride Ski Resort: Our Expert Visitor's Guide

Since the early ‘70s, when Telluride Ski Resort first opened, Telluride has drawn powder hounds and ski bums — especially those with a penchant for steep terrain and views. I first started skiing the mountain in the ‘90s, when a bus would transport kids from neighboring communities to the slopes for a day of lessons. Now, almost 30 years later, I’m making the same drive and skiing the same mountain — and I still wake up excited to spend the day at Telluride Ski Resort.

In this guide, I'll share everything you need to know about the ski area, including what sort of rider it caters to, when to visit Telluride Ski Resort, and how to get there. I’ll also share some of our favorite off-mountain excursions so you know what to do when your ski legs need a break.

Telluride Excursion Guide

Telluride Ski Resort: What Makes It So Special

There are many reasons why people choose Telluride Ski Resort — and return, year after year. But after almost 30 years of skiing this mountain, this is what I think makes Telluride Ski Resort standout:

Steeps and Hike-to Skiing

stairway up a snowy mountain at Telluride Telluride Ski Resort is by no means the biggest mountain in the U.S. — it boasts over 2,000 acres to Park City Mountain’s 7,300 — but it has some of the nation’s steepest terrain, along with plenty of hike-to-skiing that includes a 13,000-foot mountain you can hike up and ski down without going out of bounds.

Beginner Access to the Top of the Mountain

Advanced and extreme skiers love Telluride, but that’s not to say that beginner and intermediate riders will be out of their depth or quarantined to the other side of the mountain. Part of what makes Telluride Ski Resort so spectacular is the fact that there are green and blue runs sprinkled throughout the ski area, meaning a total newbie can get off the lift at almost 12,000 feet and enjoy a long, view-filled run to the bottom.

The Views

Unlike most ski areas, the mountain views from Telluride Ski Resort aren’t watered down and distant, they’re in your face. It helps that Telluride is surrounded by the highest concentration of 13,000 and 14,000-foot peaks in the U.S.

A favorite ski run for views is See Forever, a single-blue run that meanders along the spine of the ski area. As you ski down, the San Juan Mountains are at eye level and if you look to the west, you can spot the La Sal Mountains in Utah.

For views over the town of Telluride, check-out Milk Run, my springtime go-to.

An Authentic, Ski-town Culture

The mountain views from the ski area are spectacular, but they don’t stop when you dip into town and walk down Telluride’s main street, which ends in a box canyon and is surrounded with snow-covered mountains. It’s been called the most-idyllic ski town in America, and for good reason — the tiny, compact community is buzzing with locally owned shops (no chains allowed) and people waving hello to their neighbors. The ski bum culture is alive and well and there’s even a local Free Box where you can score winter gear — I personally have had some wonderful finds there.

Nonexistent Lift Lines

chairlift on Telluride in winter One of the main reasons people choose to ski Telluride is the lack of lift lines, which translates to more time skiing or snowboarding and less time sitting on the chairlift. Like any mountain, you’ll have to deal with lines over the holidays and on powder days, when everyone is scrambling to get up high — but as a general rule, there is little to no wait to get on the chairlift. Most days, I am able to ski right up to the chairlift and hop on. (Just get ready to feel extra tired from all those added laps.)

Where Is Telluride Ski Resort?

Telluride Ski Resort is located in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. It’s in Colorado, yes, but it’s a six hour drive from Denver. This means you’ll need to either rent a car and drive from Denver or fly into a closer, regional airport (more on that below). It takes some extra effort to get here, but that’s also what makes Telluride Ski Resort so great. You don’t have to battle traffic to get here, or wait in long lines for your chance to ski or snowboard.

[LINK to San Juan Mountains Expert Guide]

The History of Telluride Ski Resort

newspaper clipping of Telluride resort opening in 1972 Telluride Ski Resort officially opened in 1972, a decade after the town’s first official rope tow was moved from Firecracker Hill (in Telluride Town Park) to Kid’s Hill, a run you can still ski today. It quickly became known as “the most beautiful place you’ll ever ski” — and over 50 years later, the tagline remains true.

Local skier William (Bill) Mahoney oversaw the ski resort’s early days, along with Joe Zoline, a skier and developer. Telluride Ski Resort’s small beginnings skyrocketed under the direction of Ron Allred, who believed it could become one of North America’s best ski areas. Ski area expansion ensued, and in 1996, the free gondola that connects the historic town of Telluride with Mountain Village started spinning.

Visiting Telluride Ski Resort Today

The Telluride Ski Resort experience of today is a far cry from its humble beginnings as a rope tow. There are 19 lifts, 149 ski runs, and six on-mountain eateries — including Alpino Vino, the second-highest restaurant in North America at 11,966 feet. The mountain boasts a whopping 4,425 feet of vertical drop, with 41 percent of the mountain considered expert terrain, 36 percent intermediate, and 23 percent beginner.

The terrain off Chair 9 (Plunge Lift), is a favorite among locals. The lift provides access to over 2,000 vertical feet of terrain, and the new lift, which was replaced in spring 2023 is just 7 minutes long. That accounts to lots of vertical feet in a day.

The Difference Between Staying In Telluride and Mountain Village

Telluride Ski Resort has two base areas: the historic town of Telluride at the bottom of the ski area and the newer Mountain Village community mid-mountain. The former is the heart and soul of the area and is the place to stay if you want to enjoy the nightlife and not have to worry about taking the gondola, which is free, but stops running at midnight. Telluride also has more dining and lodging options.

That said, Mountain Village is the center of Telluride’s ski world. Most of the Mountain Village hotels are mere steps from the bottom of the ski area (or are ski-in, ski-out) with easy access to rental shops and restaurants. It’s the best choice for skiers and snowboarders who want to snag the first chair or are traveling with young kids.

Where to Après at Telluride Ski Resort

The most popular on-mountain après spot is easily Gorrono Ranch, a rustic barn with an adjacent deck and “snow beach” under Chair 4 (Village Express). The vibe at Gorrono is boozy and sun-drenched with unobstructed views of the Wilson Mountain Range.

Those looking for a higher-end on-mountain après will find it at Alpino Vino (the second highest restaurant in North America) or at Bon Vivant, an outdoor eatery with stunning 360-degree views near the top of Chair 5 (Polar Queen Express).

When to Visit Telluride Ski Resort

Typically, the ski area opens on Thanksgiving and closes the first Sunday of April. After skiing the mountain for around 30 years, I’d say most of the mountain is open by Christmas and the skiing really ramps up in January. If you want to visit when the entire mountain will be open and well covered with snow, plan your trip in February or March. And if you like spring skiing, like me, come in late March or the first week of April, when the sun is out and the snow is slushy.

When To Visit Telluride

What You'll See When You Arrive at Telluride Ski Resort

The views are the first thing you’ll notice about the area. Take them in, then get oriented. The great thing about Telluride Ski Resort and the communities of Telluride and Mountain Village is the fact that they’re relatively small and full of people who are happy to help you out. Get settled into your hotel, confirm your lift tickets and rental gear, and head to town for your first meal in the Telluride snowglobe.

Staying Safe & Fitting In While Visiting Telluride Ski Resort

a group of locals celebrating International Womens Ski Day

Telluride is home to just over 2,500 people, so the community is extremely safe, even for solo travelers and families. You’ll notice that many people know each other and the vibe is cool and casual. You can dress up all you want, but most locals will be in jeans — even for a nice dinner.

Telluride Ski Resort Weather & Climate

Even though Telluride Ski Resort averages 280 inches of snow a year, it benefits from Colorado’s 300 days of annual sunshine and low humidity. In my experience, most ski days are sunny and relatively warm, but come prepared for a snowstorm (and count yourself lucky if you get to enjoy a Telluride powder day).

Unlike mountains on the east and west coasts, the snow at Telluride Ski Resort tends to be light and fluffy. It’s rare to experience rain or heavy-moisture snow on the mountain.

[LINK to Understanding Telluride’s Weather]

Visiting Telluride Ski Resort In the Summer

When the snow melts, the ski runs are replaced with hiking and biking trails and a high-elevation golf course is unveiled. Summer fun at Telluride Ski Resort includes access to a lift-served bike park, an canopy adventure with five ziplines and two aerial bridges, myriad hiking trails, and an 18-hole golf course tucked among the highest concentration of 13,000 and 14,000-foot peaks in the U.S.

The summer high season in Telluride runs from June to September.

Getting To & Around Telluride Ski Resort

The easiest and most popular way to get to Telluride Ski Resort is to fly into Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ) and book a shuttle to your hotel. The drive between Montrose and Telluride takes around 90 minutes. Once you’re in Telluride or Mountain Village everything is walkable — or accessible via the free gondola and Galloping Goose bus.

Similarly, you can fly into Durango or Grand Junction, which are both around a 3-hour-drive to Telluride, and either book a shuttle or rent a car. If you’re flying into Denver, you’ll need to rent a car for the 6-plus hour journey to Telluride.

Our Favorite Tours & Excursions Near Telluride Ski Resort

If you don’t like to ski or snowboard, or need a rest day, explore the area around Telluride Ski Resort on a local tour or excursion. One way to explore the surrounding area (and rest your legs) is to book a snowmobile tour. Both Telluride Outside and Telluride Outfitters offer full- and half-day tours that transport you to hidden locales like the Alta Lakes ghost town and the historic Lone Cone Cabin.

[LINK to snowmobile guide]

If you’re interested in trying ice climbing, hire a local guide and head to Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado's tallest free-falling waterfall at 365 feet. For ice climbing, we recommend booking your experience with Mountain Trip, Telluride Mountain Guides, or San Juan Outdoor Adventures/ Telluride Adventures.

[LINK to ice climbing guide]

There are also several snowshoe and Nordic ski trails in the area, including loops in Telluride Town Park, the Valley Floor, and Mountain Village. And if you can’t get enough of Telluride’s ski and snowboard terrain, book a helicopter ski trip with Helitrax to further explore the San Juan Mountains.

In the afternoon, join** Telluride Sleighs and Wagons** for a sleigh ride through the historic Aldasoro Sheep Ranch or book their exclusive sleigh ride dinner. Both operations are run by longtime Telluride locals.

Our Favorite Things To Do and See In Telluride

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Evie C
Writer, Editor & Telluride Local
Evie is a Colorado native who lives in a small town in the San Juan Mountains. When she's not skiing or running, she works as a freelance writer and editor for publications like Travel + Leisure, Outside, and SKI. She loves playing in the outdoors, but her real passion is travel — so far, she has visited well over 50 countries and lived in 5 and has no plans to stop.