Small-Town Nirvana is Found in Telluride
Leah Walker March 10, 2013

It’s difficult for me to fathom, but I’ve resided in a city of over four million as long as I lived in a town of 1,000. Although I’ve lived in cities my entire adult life, I still associate myself with a small town; it shaped who I am. Houston isn’t home. It’s simply where my stuff is. No matter how many miles I fly or five-star hotels I sleep in, at heart, I’m still that eight-year-old girl that learned to drive on West Texas dirt roads. Yet, for some reason she’s gotten pushed aside–that is until a recent trip to Telluride.

Colorado Rocky Mountains

At first glance, Telluride, the former mining town and current ski mecca in the mountains of southwest Colorado, is nothing like my flat, farming community on the South Plains of West Texas. Telluride is visually impressive and a place where the Rocky Mountains stand on their tippy toes as if trying to reach the heavens. In Telluride, the concentration of 13,000+ foot peaks is a source of pride. Locals are quick to tell you that in North America, they have more of these massive mountains than any other place. And then if you listen very closely, “But Alaska has the tallest” is begrudgingly muttered.

Rocky Mountains Colorado

On the contrary, the highest point in my hometown is the white cross that looms over Burlington Avenue. I grew up with the occasional snowfall, but more often than not, it was red-dirt sand storms, tumbleweeds, and tornadoes that tormented my town. Telluride is the antithesis of where I grew up, so why then did it feel so much the same?

Throughout my four nights in the mountains I felt pangs of familiarity, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. My parents loved the Rockies and they passed that feeling on to me. Though, before a trip to Keystone last June, it’d been nearly 20 years since I’d visited Colorado. Throughout my childhood, I spent countless summers and spring breaks in small towns throughout the state, but never Telluride. It wasn’t until I was leaving on the road to the Montrose airport that it hit me. I knew exactly why everything felt so recognizable.

Colorado Rocky Mountains

In Telluride, traditional Main Street still exists. A hand-crafted boot shop, an actual independent book store, and an olive oil shop proudly display “OPEN” signs. It’s only fitting that a town famous for its bluegrass festival has a place that sells musical instruments. There’s not a big-box store or hint of a chain in sight. Cafes and coffee shops dot both sides of the street, and when you walk into either, nobody stares at you as if you’re an outsider. Everyone is welcome in Telluride.

In Telluride, people say “good morning” and “good evening.” And when they ask how you’re doing, there’s a sincere want to know. Weather talk is not just silence filler; it’s a genuine conversation. During ski season, the mere mention of snowfall excites locals beyond measure. It’s like money is about to pour from the sky. And, in a way, it is for this resort town.

Main Street Colorado

In Telluride, cars actually stop for pedestrians despite a jaywalking offense. Neighbors holler and wave at one another from across the street. Hands are extended in both greetings and departures. Hats are tipped or even removed. Smiles are broad and authentic.

Gay Ski Week Colorado

In Telluride, folks take pride in their town’s history and painstakingly have tried to preserve it. The former ice house is now a French restaurant, but still retains some of its 19th century character. Rows of lovely Victorian homes, some with gingerbread touches, are painted in blue, purple, yellow, and green hues and laid out on the grid-like streets. Front porches offer a place to sip local beers and chat with passersby. Icy skis and snowboards sit in plain site outside of houses; there’s no need to keep them under lock and key. After all, you’re in Telluride.

Colorado Gondola

In Telluride, dogs are kings and are as fit as their owners. Dropped gloves are lovingly placed on hydrants in case the owner returns. Patagonia and North Face are just as much high fashion as Armani and Ralph Lauren, who also owns a ranch just outside of town. Giant balls of snow are sculpted by artists into garden gnomes, sharks, and frogs, then serve as temporary art in town.

Telluride Colorado

In Telluride, visitors often turn into permanent residents. The place is just that good. People from all over the country converge on this tiny town perhaps with nothing more in common than their adoration for Telluride. There’s enough room for everyone in this beautiful boat. In Telluride, a hometown boy done good is a superstar and glad-handed everywhere he goes. In turn, he knows the names of each person’s hand he shakes. He could have gone anywhere, but instead chose to stay in his beloved hometown.

Rocky Mountains Colorado

In Telluride, a free gondola whisks you to another equally wonderful world in a matter of minutes. As you ascend the mountain in the daytime, the colorful houses and roads begin to blur together. And at night, street and porch lights cast a warm, golden glow across the town. Once the gondola reaches its pinnacle, it begins its descent into Mountain Village, the place that makes Telluride tick. As a world-class ski resort, Telluride’s Mountain Village still retains the friendly, small-town feel of its sister, despite the mega multi-million dollar second and third homes that dot the landscape.

Colorado Mountain Sunset

From someone on the outside looking in, Telluride is easily seen as perfect. With it’s incredible vistas and sheer natural beauty, it’s hard not to look at the town through rose-colored glasses. There’s so much to this place that stars on tourism’s stage, but you’re not going to find it in a guide book, a Website, or a trail map. Instead, it can be found by chatting on the gondola to Mountain Village, sipping coffee at a Main Street diner, and watching the parade of dogs walking their owners.

The Telluride trip prompted me to look back on my small-town youth with loving sentimentality. It certainly was an emotion I wasn’t prepared for. As an avid traveler, I often feel sadness, almost a depression, when leaving locales that I’ve grown to love. But what set Telluride apart from New Zealand, Paris, Switzerland, and all the other places that I’ve dreaded leaving, is that in departing Telluride, I felt like I was leaving home.

I know that Telluride isn’t perfect. No place is. But for me, I was able to find five days of perfection there.

Telluride Colorado

I was an invited guest of Telluride Ski Resort, but in no way was I swayed to write a positive review by their pure mountain air, picturesque landscapes, or over-the-top friendly nature. As always, the opinions are mine.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

37 Comments

  1. Wow, what a place! I have never skied in the USA and have always been very curious.. Telluride seems amazing, and love the “small town” feeling of the place you have described so well!

    1. Well, Mrs O, we’ll have to change that next year. You’ll adore the food and the shopping is fabulous… such great boutiques. You showed me skiing in Switzerland, so it’s only fair I show you Colorado. Deal?

    1. It does look like a husky, but it’s actually half domesticated wolf and shed like crazy. He was such a loveable guy though.

  2. Leah — As someone who came to Telluride for a weekend (8 years ago) and never left, you hit the nail on the head with this post. It’s a true community of people who really care for one and other. There’s much spirituality in both the place and the people… I am so happy happy that you really “felt” this place as I did — Come Home Again Soon!

    1. Hahaha… So, you’re one of the ones who never left, huh? I love it! I’m happy that I was able to paint an accurate picture of Telluride in your eyes. Thank you for your comment.

  3. Well, Telluride would be a great place to store your things while you continue to travel. Why not move here? 🙂
    Nice article as well. See you in the summer!

  4. Leah, I’ve lived here for 20 years and I think a piece of my soul lives here and keeps from leaving for good, but always welcomes me back with wide open arms. I love that it brought you back to your childhood; and I know Telluride will welcome you back again one day soon, with wide open arms.

    1. I’m so happy that you’ve found such happiness there. I’m eager to return if only to see if I have the same feelings as the first time. I certainly hope it’s the case. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Sounds awesome…for the last several years MJ and I have talked about doing a real winter vacation out west somewhere. You know, ski lodge with a fireplace in the lobby kind of thing. Perhaps Telluride will fit the bill…

    1. I think it would be a great place for you, Deej. They have great restaurants, hotels, and of course, winter activities. Get out of Florida, will ya?

  6. we were following your trip on instagram, but the photos in this post top all. looks AMAZING! i wish people in new york placed dropped belongings on fire hydrants…

    1. The thing is that all but two of these photos are from my iPhone. I couldn’t ski with my DSLR as I’d either break it or kill myself. These pics don’t do the surroundings justice. I wish people in Houston would place dropped things on hydrants, too. 🙁

  7. I have been to a few places in Colorado but not Teluride. It reminds me of Steamboat. So many great places to see in Colorado!

    1. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Steamboat, Raul. And even then, I think it was in the summer. You’re right, so much to explore in Colorado. I need to make myself a little road trip around the various ski towns. You’re welcome to come!

    1. I did have a wonderful time, Lauren. Maybe you and I should hit up the Bluegrass Festival when it’s a bit warmer. I know how you love the sun.

  8. I have only been to Telluride in summer. I went for the Bluegrass Festival. What amazed me about this place is two block from Main St. is a trailhead that goes straight up into the mountains and within an hour from leaving town I was in the most picturesque setting imaginable. I could only imagine how perfect it is in the winter.

    1. I’ve heard great things about the Bluegrass Festival. I’m bound and determined to make it to Telluride this summer. I’d love to do some exploring, Traveling Ted-style…sans the fanny pack. You know how I am.

    1. I find that sometimes the best places are the one’s that everyone else doesn’t know about. They remain unspoiled.

  9. Leah, I went there in the early 80s when it was much different than it is now, development wise. I fell in love with the area and bought a place there in 1988. I have been going there ever since. It is truly an escape for me and I love to go anytime of year. I go to ski and try to go in the Fall or early summer which are lower tourist times. i will be there in May and maybe Fall to enjoy the Spring run off and the Fall color. It is a special place for me. It is also adjacent to some wonderful areas, Moab, Durango, and multiple mountain passes and villages. I am also a native of West Texas.

    1. I think it’s rare to find a place you truly love, at least for me it is. The fact that you did and regularly revisit it is special. I love Colorado in the fall, winter, and summer, but I’ve yet to see it in the spring. I would imagine it’s beautiful to see the mountains reemerge from winter.

  10. Not sure if my last actually made it online. Came for one night in 1985 and was hooked. Was able to convince my now-wife to move to Telluride from Manhattan a few years later. We now have an online magazine based in Telluride so you can know what’s happening when you’re not here (or when you are!).

    1. I’m happy to know that Telluride is not just intoxicating for me. One night is all it took for you? Well done! And to convince your wife to leave Manhattan for the mountains must have been a monumental task. I’ll make sure and check out your site as I know I’ll return.

  11. You have described with such accuracy why I moved to Telluride 8 yrs. ago, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I am am a volunteer with our Adaptive Sports program here, and it added another dimension to my life in this wonderful place.

    1. So many people just imagine living in a place that they love. Kudos to you for actually picking up and moving there. And extra props for volunteering!

  12. Thinking about moving here and would love to get in touch with you about the community and the feel of living there. If I moved I would not know anyone. I’m 23, and I’m wondering if this town is only for tourists and whether there will be many people my age here. Let me know! Thanks,
    Sarah

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