I really struggled trying to find a catchy way to start this literary masterpiece. Ultimately, I failed. So here’s what I decided to tell you: I just had one of my best February months, ever. Before you even ask why, let me say I was privileged to ski two of my favorite mountains in back-to-back weeks: Sun Valley, Idaho, and Telluride, Colorado. There, I’ve said it.
I like these two superlative resorts for many reasons, and as I thought about it, I realized they have many similarities as well as some differences. Here’s my snapshot version.
Let’s start with the towns. Each has an authentic town at its core: Ketchum in Idaho and the old Telluride mining community in Colorado. This advantage is an important distinction when comparing to resorts that were created from scratch, such as Whistler or Vail. I won’t say it makes them better, but it does keep them real, and many snow sliders value that benefit.
Both resorts contain about the same amount of skiable acres (2000), and have lift served vertical drops above 3,400 feet. Their lift systems are world class, no question about it. Telluride gets more natural snowfall, but Sun Valley has the planet’s most accomplished snow-making, though neither gets the amount of snow depths that Whistler, Mt. Baker or some Utah resorts do. But whatever amount there is, you can count on it being groomed to perfection.
Each has a unique history that is celebrated. Butch Cassidy robbed the Bank of Telluride before he joined up with that Sundance guy, and Sun Valley was the site of North America’s first chairlift (1936). At each resort you have a good chance of skiing into some of the Hollywood crowd; several so-called stars have homes at these resorts, and even a glitz-adverse guy like me has seen Eastwood or Cruise wandering around. (Clint is taller than Tom and has less hair.)
The mountains of SW Colorado are by far that state’s most gorgeous, and they provide the backdrop to all that Telluride offers. In this respect it is different from SV’s Bald Mountain, which has nothing towering above it, but both resorts sport fabulous views into the surrounding mountains and down into town. Looking down into the town of Telluride from the mountaintop can almost produce vertigo; it is amazing.
This is probably a good time to mention that among the differences, Telluride has a much greater variety of terrain, including the runs down into the town that are true double-diamonds, and some really benign terrain well-suited to the numerous Texans who visit there. Sun Valley definitely has a more consistent pitch and less chances to scare yourself. Also, the top of Sun Valley’s mountain is lower than the base village at Telluride, meaning that the top of Telluride is way up there near 12,000 feet. It does take awhile for flat-landers to acclimate to the Rocky Mountain high.
The Telluride resort really encompasses two specific areas: the original town and the mountain village, which are conveniently connected by a free gondola that acts as the town’s transportation system. In Ketchum/Sun Valley, the regional KART bus system provides excellent, on-time free service to both sides of the mountain and the base areas. In Telluride, having a car is a nuisance, though in Idaho it can sometimes be useful in getting around, but it isn’t necessary.
Lodging is amazingly first class in Telluride’s mountain village, though there is a greater variety of options in Telluride itself; in that regard it is like Ketchum. Because both resorts attract such a high-end crowd, the number of outstanding restaurant options means you would never have to eat in the same place twice. That’s actually a shame, because Allred’s (accessed only by Telluride’s gondola) probably has the finest high altitude food I’ve ever tasted. Telluride also has an on-mountain lunch spot called Alpino Vino, which is North America’s highest restaurant at 11,966 feet.
How would I decide at which of these two gems to lay down some ski tracks? Ultimately, it’s probably about accessibility: although both have airports close by, there is no denying it is easier for Islanders to get to Sun Valley. In fact, I’ve never been there when I didn’t run into somebody from the Rock, and this February it was Sam and Melinda LeClercq, Rob Philbrick, Steve Gwinn and Sarah and Kent Rowe. All these people can’t be wrong.
But for my money, Telluride is by far the best that Colorado can offer a snowsports enthusiast. I would go to Telluride 10 times before trying Aspen or Vail even once. If you’ve got the urge, I can’t recommend it more highly. If not this spring, then calendar it for next season.
John Naye is a Mercer Island resident and the past president of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Mercer Island Reporter Columnist John Naye at email@example.com.