Snow ResortsGalavante Confidential - Rocky Mountain High: Vail vs. Telluride
Follow the snow to Rocky Mountain High, where the powder is unrivaled. Vail and Telluride are siblings who could not be more different, but are equally epic gnarl. Of the two, Vail is the younger sister, eager to impress with outward displays of luxury, but also down-to-earth with its après ski scene. For expert skiers, Vail can’t be beat, with Blue Sky Basin and the back bowls, where China won’t mean the country but rather an exhilarating rush. With direct flights to Vail and its central location within driving distance to Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper and A-Basin, it’s a compelling weekend trip.
Vail has recently been graced with the presence of the Four Seasons, a much needed, full-service luxury addition in town. While not a ski-in, ski-out property, their ski concierge is set up at the Vista Bahn chairlift to do the dirty work of ski storage, rentals and lessons. For beginners, this is a much welcomed change; gone are the days of trudging through the snow for what seems like miles with your skis and boots. For those looking for the boutique option, make way for the Sebastian, a newly renovated hotel also in the heart of the Village. With its modern yet warm take on ski lodge décor, the Sebastian has the hippest scene in town. Every one of its dining options from bloch 16, Market for casual fare and its bar Frost with over 75 scotch selections and mixologist cocktails are refreshing addition to the Vail scene. A hotel very focused on its art and wine, look out for vintners dinners and other receptions in the library room, where you are invited to make yourself at home. If you’re looking for more traditional, the Austria Haus, part of the Sonnenalp, and the Tivoli are charming and more gently priced (for Vail), with central locations in town. Service is pleasant at maximum but perfectly adequate for what you pay.
Après ski and nightlife rule in Vail, with the Red Lion as our favorite for down-home fun. Here, the beer will be flowing, live music will be cranking and the boys will be boys while dancing up a storm. If you are here during a holiday weekend, reserve a table far in advance and arrive as early as you can. They bounce harder here than clubs in New York when it’s busy. The Tap Room is a distant second on the après ski scene. For highbrow sophistication, The Arrabelle’s Tavern on the Square offers a more civilized scene. And for après skiers more interested in food rather than beverages, we’ve snacked on fondue and hot-spiced wine at Swiss Chalet. With all these options, Vail après ski is pick your poison.
Late nights always end up at The George and Samana, where the DJ does his best to spin your favorite tunes. By that time though, the high altitude, long day of skiing and après ski will leave you enjoying yourself no matter what song is playing on the radio. Food in Vail is hearty, to keep you fueled for the winter sports. Vail is hardcore skiing, where you’ll mostly eat on the mountain for lunch. If you want to stop by the bunny hills, Larkspur in Golden Peak has a raved about burger. Any of our dinner options are open for a bite, but for a quick lunch of crepes or other carryout items, the Marketplace on Meadow Drive is an inexpensive option. For full-on meals, Sweet Basil is the high-end food favorite for romantic dinners à deux and group alike. It’s a staple for your first good dinner in town. New on the scene is bloch 16, for its extensive wine collection and focus on organic, fresh food in a tres chic atmosphere. For a high-end Italian carb load, La Bottega is our choice in a cozy, tavern-like room. We’re certainly not above casual though, where we’ve opted for pizza at classic Vendetta’s.
For those days when you may not be tearing up the slopes, shopping in Vail is all about high-end, where the ladies and gents love their fur. There are a lot of fur shops here, sporting the more traditional, big mama bear styles, though with the arrival of Dennis Basso in the Four Seasons, the fashion terrain is forever changed. Aside from fur, favorite shops include Manrico for a new cashmere sweater every year, Luca Bruno for high-end fashion and Gorsuch, Vail’s version of Harrod’s. In Lionshead, Avalon has items you would actually wear outside of a ski resort. We like to always take a spin through Tommy Bowers Ski for chic ski gear, Annies for gifts and Vail Village Antiques for good form.
To recuperate from the slopes, or just indulge in some personal time, head to the spa at The Arrabelle for the highest quality massages and manicure pedicures in town. If you’re going to make a full daytrip of it and enjoy the pool, hot tub and on-site restaurants, head over to the spa at the Ritz Carlton in Bachelor Gulch or the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek. Or you can just stay local, checking out the new Solaris complex and catching a move at Cinebistro, where the theater is like an LA private screening room with decent food and Stags Leap on the menu. Vail is a place that you can come to every year, and make it your own. It provides a little something for everyone, both skiers and non-skiers alike.
Telluride as a destination is the older sister, you’ve had a crush on for years. Set in a country western town, it’s the destination for the discreetly, but clearly wealthy. It’s the town itself that makes Telluride so unique; this is one of the last places in the U.S. that has not succumbed to massive overdevelopment. You will not find a McDonald’s anywhere in sight, and while there are seasonal workers, you’ll find a lot of locals along with people who came, but never left. There’s a whole lot of heart in this town.
Telluride is not an easy destination to reach, for those of us who fly commercial and not private. Your options are to fly commercial into Montrose, an hour and a half away, or fly private and land in one of the most unusual airports in the world. Set precariously on the mountaintop, your private plane will daringly, and almost impossibly, land on the world’s second highest airport, where an imperfect landing means you’re off the cliff. It’s absolutely worth it though once you are there, and even better if you can stay at least five days.
Telluride is split into two areas: the Old Town and Mountain Village, both of which are connected by a free, 13 minute gondola ride complete with blankets at night to keep you warm. Hands down, the best way to stay in Telluride is in your own multi-million dollar home. The homes in Telluride are gorgeous compounds, unlike anything city folk have ever seen before. Check out the houses to remind you of what you’re working so hard to reach. If you’re not at that stage yet, then the option in town is the Peaks in Mountain Village, where the higher-end hotels reside. Besides the Peaks, the Fairmont Franz Klammer ranks a very distant second.
The powder in Telluride is enough to make a grown man weep, though stats indicate they get less snow than Vail. From the beginners/green skiers’ perspective, Telluride is a better option since the runs are wide and the logistics are simpler to reach the green runs. But fear not hardcore skiers—you will be more than challenged on the double blacks, and if you’re seeking that extra thrill, you can kick it up a notch and heli-ski, which is not for the faint of heart. Helitrax is the ski company, that’ll literally drop you in the fattest powder you can imagine with a guide for the most “epic gnarl” experience around.
Wherever you fall on the ski continuum, head to the New Sheridan Saloon and indulge in an après ski scene that rules. Telluride is a chiller scene, but whether at New Sheridan, our favorite all-around saloon, Poachers or the Hop Garden in Mountain Village, a cold beer will be on draft. With some of the best food of any domestic ski resort around, dining out in Telluride brings the western influence full circle. Steak, elk and game are the mountain specialties, although many places represent with local trout, imported lobster and other seasonal fish. The food scene alone is a reason to ski up an appetite. You can eat on the mountain at Giuseppe’s via Chair 9 for lunch, or head to one of the restaurants in Mountain Village or town. Telluride has a laid-back ski philosophy, where you take stop to have a leisurely lunch and chill out with your friends. During your lunch time in Telluride, check out Fat Alley, the best BBQ joint not only in this town, but many, where you wash it down with a bourbon and bacon. Floradora is a local favorite for big burgers and beer, as well as a French onion soup with duck confit. In Mountain Village, Poachers serves pub grub and La Pizzeria brick ovens the best pizza on the mountain.
Dinners are exceptional in Telluride and there are a lot of choices. Our favorite romantic spot is Cosmopolitan, where we start with a beet salad and move onto a gorgeous fish stew. A close second, if not a tie, is the The Chop House at the New Sheridan Hotel, with some of the best game and meat, and a seasonal scallop dish served to you in a very cool, laid-back scene. A reservation in the dining room is key, but the bar will do if there’s no other alternative. For an earlier dinner to watch the sunset, head to Allred’s via the gondola, and order the steak, where you have many a choice of sauces and sides. To satiate your Italian craving, La Piazza in Mountain Village offers an incredible wine list and Rustico Ristorante has solid pastas and a very good osso bucco. You will happily replace all those calories burned on the slopes with the dining options in town.
Post-dinner activities are there, for those who want to tear up the town. On the earlier side, the New Sheridan Bar is the way to go for pool, darts and beer on draft. As the night progresses, Last Dollar Saloon is the requisite dive stop, before heading off to The Llama for the Telluride version of clubbing. Instead of stilettos, you’ll be wearing Uggs, but really won’t give a dam--- by then as you rock out to the music.
Whereas the shopping in Vail was all about glitz, shopping in Telluride is a country western experience. The old-fashioned storefronts sell exactly what they look like they should sell. For hardcore, country western boots, gear and even a toilet seat cover with a six shooter, head to the Appaloosa Trading Co. For gorgeous rugs to decorate your future Telluride home, head to Heir Looms, which specializes in Zapatec Indian rugs. Between the Covers Bookshop is a great holdout of a dying breed, the local-owned bookstore where you can spend hours just reading in their café. It’s not all kitsch though in Telluride; there is quite a bit of glamour. Check out Julee Hutchison for art and jewelry, Home and Old World Flowers for gifts for those lucky ducks, or just yourself, and Cashmere RED, for the best cashmere goods in town. At Elinoff & Co, the fine jewelry store, you will realize how wealthy Telluride is, as they offer a $125,000 necklace to try on. More realistically, if you forget your chic gear at home, or just want to replenish, Two Skirts will keep you in your Marc Jacobs, and the Swanky Buckle in Mountain Village has your Paper Denim jeans.
Along the way, indulge in Telluride’s best hot chocolate at Telluride Truffle, or just soak in the atmosphere over a coffee at the Steaming Bean. Telluride makes the non-ski lover love the ski vacation and makes the ski lover appreciate love life. Whether you are Team Vail, Team Telluride or if you’re smart, a fan of both, skiing out west is the way to roll.