Telluride Tales

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First, there was the plane crash. The crash that had to happen, really, considering 67 per cent of plane crashes in the United States occur when ice forms on the wings of aeroplanes.

Then there was the hitch-hiker. A lonely kid in snowboard clothes on a lonely, lost highway somewhere in middle America. Strange things happen on the road to Telluride.

This kid wasn’t a kid, nor was he a snowboarder, snowboarders don’t generally carry knives.

Then there was the fat cop, although in Colorado, they call them sheriffs, kind of like Dukes Of Hazard.

Then there was Michael Douglas and Antonio Bandarios in the parking lot. And Kevin Costner skiing like a man possessed in front of me.

I don’t think he cared for snowboarders much.

Then came the homosexuals, on package holiday deals in America’s finest ski resort, dressed to the nines and anxious to meet curious young Australians.

Then there was the tree incident. Not to mention the Offspring, buckets and buckets of the finest Colorado powder money can buy and the Harvard kids in their private Lear Jets.

Yes indeedy, ladies and gents, Hunter S Thompson might well live somewhere around these parts but who needs to find the inventor of gonzo journalism when you’re in the deep heart of the US of A and gonzo journalism comes looking for you?

“Dude, you’re gunna freeze out there!”

No shit, Sherlock.

It’s minus 27 degrees and Denver Airport has received two feet of snow in the past four hours.

We’re an hour late (they didn’t think we’d even get out tonight, the lady at the airport kindly offered me a blanket, a pillow and a corridor) but now we’re moving, slowly.

Led to a narrow corridor, the wind starts howling through a door some airline employee keeps opening for no apparent reason except perhaps to kill me, in minutes we’ll be led out to the plane.

I’m wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.

I’m so numb I can’t feel my arms.

“Okay, listen up folks, you’re gunna go out there in groups of five.”

I’m third in line.

“It’s cold out there son.”

No shit, Sherlock.

“Dude, you should have a sweater or something, man.”

My first real conversation with an American and already I’m cranky (they get better, don’t worry, they’re actually really nice in their own country).

“Duudde, I don’t have a jumper, all right,” I say.

“I was sweating like a truckie when I got on this flight in Sydney, it was 35 degrees, you know that’s like 100 degrees in your measurements, and no-one told me I’d have to walk through a fucken blizzard to get on my plane.”

“Okay dude, I’m just saying you’re gunna freeze, that’s all.”

“Okay, let’s go, first group.”

Led commando-style through knee-deep snow, I run to the plane.

Drops of snow the size of my fist hit me in the face.

I can’t even breathe steam.

The plane is not a sanctuary in any sense of the word.

It’s a propeller plane that seats 28.

I’ve just read a book a friend gave me about plane crashes in America, it contained the last conversations of dead pilots on board wrecked planes and interviews with survivors.

Odd that I think of it now.

It also contains some harrowing statistics about plane crashes in snowy areas, every crash in the book except one occurred when planes had to be de-iced.

“Sorry folks,” the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “We’re gunna be an hour yet, we’ve gotta be de-iced.”


Chris, a young American, sits beside me.

“Dude,” he says. His face is deathly pale. “We shouldn’t be out here in this.”

His confidence does not inspire me.

“It’s not right dude.”

Forty minutes later, we are de-iced, I swear they missed a spot, I decide not to tell Chris.

Fortunately, the air steward, a dweeb called Chuck who fakes a Texan drawl every time he grabs the mike, offers complimentary double rums.

Chris drinks four, I manage three.

Twenty minutes later we’re off through the eye of the storm, the plane rocks and bumps, Chris puts his head between his knees, then suddenly we’re through it and I see stars.

I knew I’d see stars sooner or later on a trip to Aspen, but these ones are mighty comforting.

Forty minutes later, we make it to Montrose.

On the drive to Telluride, a gorgeous old gold mining town that now houses one of North America’s best snow resorts, we pass a village called Ridgeway.

It’s where they filmed a John Wayne western, I can’t remember which one, I didn’t write it down, my hands were still shaky.

Telluride is spectacular, it’s lit up like a Christmas tree, snow covers roofs, driveways, fence posts, dogs, cats and the porter who takes our bags from us as we check in the stately The Peaks Resort.

It’s one in the morning, I’m mentally and physically exhausted, I can’t wait for bed.

I can’t sleep.

I’ve taken two sleeping tablets and still nothing.

I accidentally order porn, ring reception and explain my mistake.

They don’t believe me, but tell me I can change it with a normal movie.

I opt for School Of Rock.

I watch for five minutes and ring and ask if I can change it back to porn.

Four hours later, I still can’t sleep, funny how your brain never works when you’re counting on it, but when you’re overseas, it always remembers what time it is back home.

I finally get into a deep sleep seconds before my wake-up call.

Outside, it’s glorious and sunny.

From my hotel room, I can see forever, the Rocky Mountains are everywhere outside, to the left of me, to the right, and straight ahead, jutting out of the countryside like the Himalayas.

Dressing quickly, I race for the lift and my first taste of Colorado powder (snow, not that you would think anything else).

Minutes later, I’m back. Mental note number one: just because it’s sunny outside doesn’t mean it’s not freezing cold.

Telluride has organised a young Australian girl to show me the mountain.

She’s friendly, she’s also a model, as awe-inspiring as the scenery around me, in fact, as I look out across the never-ending mountains into the blue sky I think I’ve found nirvana and I’m nowhere near Seattle.

That is until she takes me on every double black diamond run at Telluride.

Luckily the snow is soft and dry, so it only hurts a little when I fall.

Opting to acclimatise a little slower, I get her to take me to the top of the mountain.

Up here, there’s a mountain hut that looks out across Colorado, there’s also deck chairs so I order a beer, settle in for a moment and catch some sun.

I drift off into a blissful sleep.

Not for long though because Devil Woman has more in store for me.

I ride long into the afternoon, finding my feet eventually, everywhere looks so pure and squeaky clean, like an episode of the Brady Bunch (when we didn’t know Mike was bonking Mrs Brady), there’s hardly another soul on the mountain and the snow is deep and soft, like riding on clouds.

When the day’s over, the fun only just begins.

You can ride a gondola from your hotel to the town below. It’s the only town in North America that’s actually connected to another one by gondola.

The restaurants here are amazing, and when it’s time to drink, Telluride has some of the quaintest drinking establishments in the US of A.

You’ll feel like an extra in The Unforgiven, in one pub, there’s even a mirror placed strategically at the bar so you can see if the cowboy behind you’s gunna pull out his six-shooter and put a bullet in your back.

With America’s ‘democratic’ gun laws, maybe every bar should have one.

A word of warning for those partaking at altitude, your body can’t handle as many drinks and when you wake up in the morning, you’ll feel pain you’ve never felt before, take it from me.

Fortunately, at The Peaks, you can get pure oxygen pumped up your nose in the resort’s health spa, only then can you face the day.

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Craig Tansley
Craig Tansley is a freelance travel writer based in Queensland but most of the time he seems to be somewhere else. For the past 16 years, he's had no office and spent far too much time on airplanes and in hotel rooms around the world, getting to around 50 countries or so in his quest to see as much of Earth as he possibly can.