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Snow Resort

Galavante Confidential - Rocky Mountain High: Vail vs. Telluride
February 29, 2012
By , Founder and Editor-in-chief

Follow the snow to Rocky Mountain High, where the powder is unrivaled. Vail and Telluride couldn’t be more different, but both are equally epic gnarl. Vail is the younger sibling, eager to impress with its outward displays of luxury, but also with a down-to-earth après-ski scene. For expert skiers, Vail can’t be beat, with Blue Sky Basin and the back bowls, where CHINA doesn’t mean the country, but an exhilarating rush. As for getting here: Vail is a well-connected hub, with plenty of direct flights and a central location that puts it within driving distance of Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper, and A-Basin.  

Chic Sleeps

Vail’s newest addition is the much-needed, full-service luxe Four Seasons. While it’s not a ski-in, ski-out property, their ski concierge at the Vista Bahn chairlift will do all the dirty work of ski storage, rentals, and lessons. For beginners, this is a welcome 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. You’ll have a rockin’ good time at each of its dining options, including Block 16, Market for casual fare, and Frost bar with over 75 scotch selections. A hotel very focused on its art and wine, look out for vintners’ dinners and other receptions in the library room, where you’re invited to make yourself at home. 

For more traditional, opt for Austria Haus, part of theSonnenalp, and Tivoli, both of which are charming and gently priced (for Vail). Service is pleasant at maximum but perfectly adequate for what you pay.

 White Nights

Après-ski and nightlife rule in Vail, with the Red Lion as our pick for down-home fun. Here, the beer will be flowing, the live music will be cranking, and the boys will be boys and dancing up a storm. If you’re here during a holiday weekend, reserve a table far in advance and arrive as early as you can. When it’s busy, they bounce harder here than clubs in New York. The Tap Room is a distant second in the after-dark scene. For highbrow sophistication, relax at the civilized The Arrabelle’s Tavern on the Square. As for night bites: Refuel on fondue and hot spiced wine at Swiss Chalet.

The late crowd always ends 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 fifth round of cocktails will have you enjoying yourself no matter what music is thumping through the club.

Cuisine Scene

Food in Vail is hearty, to keep you juiced for the outdoors. This is a hardcore skiing town, where you’ll mostly eat on the mountain for lunch. If you want to stop by the bunny hills, munch on the raved-about burger at Larkspur in Golden Peak. For a quick lunch of crepes or take-out, pop into the inexpensive Marketplace on Meadow Drive. Sweet Basil is the high-end favorite for romantic dinners à deux and groups alike. New on the scene is the très chic Block 16, with an extensive wine collection and organic, fresh cuisine. For upscale Italian carbs, hit up the cozy La Bottega. We’re certainly not above casual, though, like the delish pizza at classic Vendetta’s.

Fur Her & Him

Shopping in Vail is all about high-end, where the ladies and gents love their fur. Most of the fur shops sport the more traditional, big mama bear styles, though the retail landscape has changed with the arrival of Dennis Basso in the Four Seasons. Other popular shops include Manrico forplush cashmere; Luca Bruno for upscale threads; and Gorsuch, Vail’s version of Harrod’s. In Lionshead, browse Avalon, which has items that you’d actually wear outside of a ski resort. We also like to take a spin through Tommy Bowers Ski for chic ski gear and Vail Village Antiques for cool household finds.

Pamper Time

To recuperate from the slopes, head to the spa at The Arrabelle for the highest quality massages and mani-pedis in town. For a full day of pampering, enjoy the pool, hot tub, and on-site restaurants at the Ritz Carlton spa in Bachelor Gulch or the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek. Or you can just stay local and check out the new Solaris complex for a movie at Cinebistro, which is like an LA private screening room, complete with Stags’ Leap on the menu. Whether you hit the slopes, the spas, or the après-ski (or all three, which we recommend), Vail serves it up in style.


Telluride chairlift

Telluride, by contrast, is like the older sister you’ve had a crush on for years. Set in a country-western town, this is a destination for the discreetly wealthy. It’s the town itself that makes Telluride so unique – this is one of the last places in the US that has not succumbed to massive overdevelopment. There’s a whole lot of heart in this town, with no McDonald’s in sight and lots of locals along with people who came, but never left. The same thing may happen to you.

Telluride is not an easy destination to reach. Your options are to fly commercial into Montrose, an hour and a half away, or go private and land in Telluride’s unforgettably unique airport – the world’s second-highest – set precariously on the mountaintop. Your private plane will daringly, and seemingly impossibly, land on a cliff. Miss it by a few yards, and let’s just say that it’s a long way down.

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 toasty. 

Haute Hotels

Hands down, the best way to stay in Telluride is in your own multi-million-dollar home. In Telluride, the homes are gorgeous compounds, unlike anything city folk have probably ever seen. If that’s not in your budget yet, then the option in town is the Peaks in Mountain Village, where the higher-end hotels reside. Sadly, the best hotel in town, Hotel Madeline Telluride, may be sitting it out the rest of the season, as it works through the real estate restructuring process. In the meantime, the Fairmont Franz Klammer ranks a very distant second. 

Fresh Powder

The powder in Telluride is incredible, though stats indicate that they get less snow than Vail. From a beginner’s perspective, Telluride is a better option since the runs are wide and it’s easier 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, 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 (or five) will be on draft.

With some of the best food of any domestic ski resort, dining out in Telluride brings the western influence full circle.  Steak, elk, and game are the mountain specialties, although many places also offer 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 it’s all about chilling out with friends over a leisurely lunch. Check out Fat Alley, the best BBQ joint in town, where you can wash down juicy ribs with a bourbon. Floradora is a local favorite for big burgers and beer, as well as a French onion soup with duck confit. In Mountain Village, fill up on pub grub at Poachers and tasty slice at La Pizzeria.

Dinners are exceptional in Telluride: Our favorite romantic spot is Cosmopolitan, where we start with a beet salad and move onto an aromatic fish stew. A close second, if not a tie, is the casual The Chop House at the New Sheridan Hotel, with some of the finest game and meat, and a seasonal scallop dish. A reservation in the dining room is key, but the bar will also do. For an earlier dinner to watch the sunset, head to Allred’s via the gondola, and order the steak, which comes with a wide choice of sauces and sides. To satiate your Italian craving, feast at La Piazza in Mountain Village, which has an incredible wine list, and Rustico Ristorante, with solid pastas and a very good osso bucco.

If you want to tear up the town, post-dinner activities abound. 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 you head off to the Llama for the Telluride version of clubbing. Instead of stilettos, you’ll be wearing Uggs, but really won’t give a damn as you rock out to the music.

Shopping in Telluride

Whereas the shopping in Vail is all about glitz, in Telluride it’s a full-on country-western experience. The old-fashioned storefronts sell exactly what they look like they should sell. For cowboy boots, gear, and even a toilet seat cover imprinted with a six-shooter, head to the Appaloosa Trading Company. For plush rugs to decorate your future Telluride home, head to Heir Looms, which specializes in Zapateca Indian designs. Between the Covers Bookshop, a great holdout of a dying breed, is the local 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. Stop in to Julee Hutchison for art and jewelry; Home and Old World Flowers for gifts for those lucky ducks at home; and Cashmere RED, for the softest cashmere in town. At  Elinoff & Co, the fine jewelry store, you’ll realize just 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.  

Whether you’re Team Vail, Team Telluride or both, skiing out west is the way to roll.