Though referred to as the Switzerland of America, one could argue that Telluride—a former mining town dating back to the late 19th century—shouldn’t be compared to anywhere else in the world. With jaw-dropping terrain (Telluride sits in a box canyon among jagged cliffs and mountains) and a rustic authenticity (Old West–style saloons hark back to the region’s mining boom), Telluride lures a crowd of serious skiers who enjoy good food and fine wine, without the pomp and circumstance.
That’s exactly what’s kept outdoor photographer and documentary filmmaker Mat Barlow coming back for more than 25 years. “Telluride is the kind of place where people go to have a good time without making a scene,” says Barlow, a Crested Butte native who regularly travels to the world’s top mountain towns on assignment. “Sure, there are wealthy people and celebrities, but it’s less showy than Aspen. People don’t go around buying shots of Patrón for everyone in the bar, and you won’t see anyone skiing in a gold lamé one-piece or driving a blinged-out Gwagon.”
Instead, Barlow and other loyal visitors prefer the low-key vibe found in places like the New Sheridan Hotel, a 26-room boutique in the heart of downtown built in the 1890s. After a day on the slopes, everyone flocks to the Sheridan’s charming bar, or heads upstairs to its new hangout, The Roof (the only rooftop bar in town).
In Telluride, trendy “hot spots” are few and far between, but in recent years, a handful of new places have opened to much fanfare. There’s The Butcher & Baker, a standout café on East Colorado Avenue serving fresh-baked pastries and breakfast sandwiches for brunch and smoked ribs for dinner; La Cocina de Luz, a Mexican-meets-Southwestern restaurant with tasty organic tacos, margaritas by the pitcher, and a juice bar to reverse the damage; There…, where Nobu alum Andrew Tyler presents delicious Asian tapas and craft cocktails; and Alpino Vino, a fine-dining “hütte” with a massive wine list that, at 11,966 feet, is the highest restaurant in North America.
The robust culinary scene and sophisticated cultural offerings—most notably, the Telluride Film Festival, which attracts major star power each year—are even more impressive when you consider the town’s relatively small size: Telluride has just 2,300 permanent local residents. That small-town feel means you’ll often see familiar faces at the mainstays, like the Last Dollar Saloon (known simply as the Buck), a no-frills bar with live music; La Marmotte, a cozy bistro at the base of the mountain housed in a 19th-century cabin; and Rustico, a classic Italian joint with alfresco seating.
But those who prefer a more solitary Telluride experience would be remiss not to book a night or two at The Observatory at Alta Lakes, just 13 miles outside of town. Guests can cross-country ski or snowshoe right up to the three-bedroom backcountry cabin—but at 11,000 feet, it’s not for the faint of heart. The same can be said about Telluride in general.
“The San Juans are super-rugged, with some of the most extreme peaks in Colorado at crazy-high altitudes, so the people you’ll find in Telluride are definitely hard-core skiers,” say Barlow. “But more than anything, they’re people who want to go somewhere authentic and no-fuss—a place that’s different from where everyone else is going.”