After months of X-ing out calendar days, performing snow rituals and geeking out on the monstrous El Niño predictions, it’s time to strap on the planks and hit the slopes in Telluride. The 2016 season kicks off November 23 as it always does—with Donation Day, a day of cheap skiing to benefit the local ski club.
The first chair on Lift 4 will pick up its enthusiastic passengers at 9 am for the inaugural lap of winter. Thanksgiving is Telluride Ski and Golf Company’s official opening day; and for opening weekend Saturday and Sunday, the ski area is giving a special gift to the community: Locals’ favorite Lift 9 will be open.
With a notable amount of snow already on the ground and predictions calling for epic storms, it could be a season for the books. Here are seven things you should do this ski season in Telluride: Consider it your winter 2016-17 bucket list.
1. Do Donation Day.
Here’s the deal with the annual tradition: You pay $25 for a lift ticket regardless if you have a pass or not, spend the day schralping the groomers around Lift 4, and support a good cause. Proceeds benefit the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club, which coaches scores of young Telluride skiers in disciplines that range from big-mountain skiing to alpine racing and slopestyle snowboarding. Lift 1 and 4 and the Magic Carpets will be running, and don't miss the kickoff party at Gorrono Ranch to celebrate the start of the season.
2. Stand in powder line.
Powder days in Telluride are events . Shops close, offices are empty and the streets are quiet— everyone gets on the mountain. The best way to start it off is in powder line at the base of Lift 8. Rabid skiers and snowboarders show up early to secure first turns of the day and queue up in a sort of pre-pow party. There, you can sip coffee, chat with your neighbors, strategize your day, and make sure you get the goods before those slow-pokes who couldn’t pry themselves out of bed.
3. Climb the Stairway to Heaven.
In 2010, Telski added some serious high-alpine infrastructure to the mountain when it installed a staircase on the flank of 13,000-foot Palmyra Peak. The Gold Hill Staircase, a steel structure that consists of a bridge and two flights of stairs, offers a top-of-the-world walkway from Gold Hill Ridge to the entrance of Chute 9, a narrow chute with a killer apron that offers some of the best turns on the mountain.
It’s a bit of a haul to get there—you have to hike from the top of Revelation up and out the ridge before getting to the stairs—but it’s a surreal experience to be climbing stairs that are attached to a mountain. And the turns in the advanced chute usually make it well worth the effort.
4. Soak up some San Juan sun.
When it’s a sunny day on the mountain and fresh snow is scarce, it calls for a libation or snack in the sun. Luckily, Telluride has its fair share of perches, benches, patios, decks, and other sun-soaking spots. For enormous views into the craggy basin behind resort boundaries, the Revelation Bowl deck is awesome. For 360-degree views, tallboys, and a muffaletta, Giuseppe’s is where it’s at. And for those who prefer their decks easy-to-reach, Gorrono is the best place on the mountain to people watch, drink an après ski cocktail, and fill up on Vitamin D.
5. Try the terrain parks.
It can be intimidating to enter the realm of all those twisting, flying, rail-sliding, baggy-pant-wearing groms, but the terrain parks are a fun alternative to the slopes when the snow isn’t prime. Telluride’s terrain parks include more than 100 features—from banked turns to a mini-half pipe, boxes, rails, wall rides, rainbow rails, and big jump lines. Advanced jumpers can head to the Hoot Brown parks under Lift 4, while kids, beginners, and those who are a little intimidated should check out Ute Park. It’s a perfect spot for some sunny day practice in the air.
6. Ski some secret stashes.
With their steep pitches, fantastic tree-skiing, bumpy moguls, and views for days, the upper reaches of the mountain—Revelation Bowl, Gold Hill, The Plunge and Black Iron Bowl — get most of the attention. And they fully deserve it. But on the rare crowded day in Telluride (think holidays and powder days), you can escape the crowds by seeking out lesser-skied gems. The terrain under Lift 7 often gets overlooked, there are surprisingly good trees off of Prospect lift, people seem to forget about Lift 6 and the lower north side of the mountain is great for exploring.
7. Go down to town.
It might be tempting to spend all your time on the ski hill, but don't forget to go down to Telluride, a town rich in history, landscapes and culture. Killer cocktails, delicious food, amazing theater, great live music and a bustling community of artists and athletes make it a special place. So spend some time there.