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How Telluride Taught Me to Love Skiing

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Photo by Matt Kisiday

A sun-seeking Californian discovers a whole new world of adventure travel in the snow.

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I decided to hate broccoli when I was seven. It wasn’t the taste or the texture; I choose to hate broccoli for no reason at all. Similarly, I once made up my mind to hate all snow sports. It wasn’t a completely baseless decision, but it only took two failed attempts at snowboarding to crush my competitive ego and sour me to all snow-related activities. While I eventually came around to broccoli, I’ve remained adamant that any mountain-based travel has to take place in the summer.

So when my editor told me I was going to Telluride—a destination that makes ski enthusiasts salivate—I was baffled. “You know I hate snow, right?” There must be some mistake. As it turns out, youthful stubbornness doesn’t matter much in the workplace, and I packed my bags for a snowy adventure.

Despite my certainty that I would never like snow, I found the local enthusiasm for skiing infectious from the moment I boarded the cramped flight from Denver International to Montrose airport (one of the four airports serving Telluride). David and Doris in seats 16 B and C called it the most beautiful place on earth. “The great thing about Telluride,” David assured me, “is that it’s not just for experts. They have double greens and double blues . . . everything. No matter what your level, you can find something on that mountain.”

On the shuttle to Telluride, strangers repeated the refrain: “You’re going to love it.” The mountains? Sure, I could already see that. The town of Telluride is nestled in a box canyon, and the majestic San Juan Mountains scale up on all sides. From the top of the ski lift, you’re among geological gods, looking out on a rugged, peak-filled horizon. It’s a heady view, but taking in the sight of 13,000-foot mountains is not the same thing as hurtling down them.

What most people refer to simply as “Telluride” is actually two different towns: Telluride and Mountain Village, home to the Telluride Ski Resort. A free gondola connecting the two makes everything in the area ski-adjacent, but when we pulled up to the Madeline Hotel and Residences in Mountain Village, it became clear that I would be practically sleeping on the slopes.

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I prepared for a day of face planting by layering two pairs of Point6 socks, a SmartWool base layer, and fleece leggings under my snow pants. “Actually, the only thing you want inside your boot is your sock—one sock,” the expert at the Bootdoctors rental shop laughed as he handed me a pair of boots to try on.

“You shouldn’t have to ski in pain,” he explained, demonstrating the boots’ progressive buckles. “That’s what turns many people off from skiing on their first try.” Sure, but I seemed to remember my aversion to snow sports had less to do with my feet and more to do with my backside. I stomped around the store and practiced bending my knees while he grabbed the finishing touch: a beautiful pair of magenta Wagner skis made just down the street.

“Have you ever skied before?” my instructor, Steve, asked as we stood in the fenced-off lesson area. “Once, when I was three,” I replied, glaring around at the toddler-aged pupils who seemed more comfortable on skis than I ever could be. With a genuine enthusiasm that I tried to match, Steve began at the very beginning—how to step into skis. All my suspicions were confirmed as I bounced up and down on my bindings, repeatedly failing to click in. This might be more difficult than Steve had expected.

But despite my early reservations, skiing turned out to be surprisingly easy to pick up. Steve was a patient and methodical instructor, and I was gliding back and forth across the learner’s area in no time. We took on the short hill between Mountain Village and the base of the run and, miraculously, I stayed upright. Next, we followed an easy trail past the nearby Madeline Hotel, and the change of scenery made me feel like I’d graduated to the next level.

Everywhere was blissfully empty. All my fears of somersaulting down bunny slopes, taking out everyone around me, and creating a massive pile-up of angry snowboarders quickly dissipated. As we shuffled through a lift line only two people deep, Steve explained that this lack of crowds was normal and that, in fact, January was actually one of the busiest times of year. I felt immediately protective, worrying that my newly discovered secret spot would soon be found out and become overcrowded. But I later found out that both the town and the resort are intentionally small, and—thanks to low-development zoning and the ski-loving resort owners—are going to stay that way.

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We’d been crisscrossing under the chairlift on my third or fourth time down the small slope when Steve looked over at me, smiling. “Wanna try some powder?” We veered off into the deep inches of fresh powder. Suddenly I felt like I was floating. Everything went quiet: My skis merely whispered against the snow and even the shouts coming from over the world’s smallest hill were muted. Filled with a bubble of exhilaration and joy, I finally “got” skiing. I understood why people around the world don a ridiculous amount of clothing, schlep unwieldy gear, battle traffic, and brave inclement weather for a few days of skiing. That feeling of flying is worth chasing.

Expert skiers love Telluride because everywhere you look is skiable terrain. But even as an absolute beginner, I found a wealth of territory to enjoy, especially once I started doing real runs down the mountain. We’d start with an easy green circle trail, and then branch off onto a short double green with some simple bumps or drops to experiment on—or in my case, fall on. Once, we even veered onto a short blue square—yes, a blue square on my second day of skiing! I was elated and every new section of trail boosted my confidence and adrenaline. I couldn’t believe that I was skiing just like—well, just like people who actually ski.

Every time I hit the bottom of the hill, I’d rush to the chairlift to go back up again. But learning a new sport is exhausting, and I was grateful that the ski resort was so close to the town. It was easy to take a break and hop the gondola down to Telluride to refuel with a pork belly taco at the heaven-sent Tacos del Gnar before hitting the mountain once again. (I really liked skiing, but the easy access to great tacos may have been what convinced this California girl that this was love.)

Almost as rewarding as this newfound addiction was my official introduction to the age-old tradition of après-ski. When the lifts shut down at 4 p.m. the doors of the bars and restaurants swing open. It’s finally time to kick back, raise a well-deserved glass of local craft beer or spiked hot cocoa, and toast to this heaven for people who love skiing—even if they don’t know it quite yet.

>>Next: Which Snow Getaway Is Right for You?

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