23 Feb 2010, 4:50pm
Colorado Restaurants Skiing & Snowboarding Telluride:
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Playing Tourist in T-ride

Telluride's Famous Steeps

Telluride's Famous Steeps

I read somewhere a week ago that we’re beyond the halfway point of the ski season. My heart sunk. Why do all good things have to go by so fast? The good news is that our snow is piling up (even beyond some of our wildest expectations!) and the best of the season lies before us.

I had been taking my own personal ski inventory these past few weeks and although my number of skier days on the mountain is significant, I still hadn’t had one complete “free ski” day yet this year. Between my ski instructing and training and hours at my desk, I hadn’t been able to block a whole day on the mountain to myself. Sure, I had snatched a couple hours here and there when I wasn’t teaching the skills of a wedge christie or fine tuning my own basic and dynamic parallel, but I hadn’t yet enjoyed a whole day at Telluride Ski Resort for myself. It was time to play tourist on my neighborhood hill.

Plus there was Alpino Vino, a new restaurant on the mountain (which had actually opened last year), that everyone was buzzing about and I hadn’t even poked my head in to check it out. I was way overdue for Bushwacker and Plunge, super long groomed blacks synonymous with Telluride, two of the most epic ski runs in the country. And the idea of delighting in a leisurely mountaintop lunch in a new, happening restaurant made me feel like I was embarking upon a trip to a whole other destination. (Not that I ever tire of T-ride, mind you.)

Certainly the best part of this was that my boyfriend, Steve, was to join me for the whole day. We love skiing a few runs here and there together, but for me to “get him” for an entire day is a real treat. (Not only am I busy, but it’s not every weekend that he wants to dial it down to be content skiing with me. As a Telluride ski instructor, I can hold my own, yet I’m still not the hotshot he is on T-ride’s multitude of black and double black diamond runs.)

We headed straight for Chair 9, a local’s favorite, where virtually every run—black or double black—plummets into town. My first turns felt great but as I approached the super steep pitch of the Plunge, I had a few oh-shit moments that enabled me to better identify with the fear that hits my students as they test their skills on everything from the Magic Carpet to a blue run. Forever the ski instructor, I pushed the play button in my head which told me to maintain a balanced stance, GET FORWARD, tip and turn, flex and extend, angulate and GET FORWARD.

Steve bombed ahead of me, obviously forgetting that I had only skied about two blacks so far this season. “How did I do?” I dared to ask once I caught up to him.

“You can ski better than that,” he answered. So much for positive reinforcement. Then as if in an attempt to make things better he added “you need to get out and free ski more.”

I skied off without comment, highly unusual behavior for me which in itself told him a lot.

He picked up the conversation on the next chairlift ride, in an effort to smooth things over. “Really, hun, all you need to do is ski the tough stuff more.”

“Yes and I also need to write more, read more, stretch more, sleep more, there’s a lot more I need to be doing in my life.” I was almost wishing I had my own ski instructor with me to give me kudos, something most of us are really good at at Telluride Ski and Snowboard School. But I gave Steve a nudge on the chair and a wry smile, determined not to let it ruin our day.

Alpino Vino:  My Refuge

Alpino Vino: My Refuge

We skied Bushwacker, another Plunge and a few other favorites before taking the Gold Hill lift up to See Forever and skiing down to Alpino Vino. It was 1:30 p.m. by now and the restaurant was hopping. And even though it was a snowy day, people were even seated outside on the front deck, clearly having a festive time, warmed by heaters and fine wine. We were lucky to score a table inside right by the window; although after having looked around a bit I realized that every table within this cozy enclave offered spectacular views.

Cathy, the bubbly maîtresse d’hôtel, greeted us warmly. Dressed in elegant alpine attire from Alpen Schatz, Telluride’s exclusive alpine boutique, she proceeded to tell us about the house specialties which include a selection of fine cured meats and cheeses, panini, insalata caprasi and antipasto side accompaniments such as oven roasted yellow tomatoes and garlic and herb marinated Tuscan olives. She also recommended we chose a tasting flight so that we could sample a few different wines. Our day was already looking up!

Andrew, Alpino Vino’s sommelier, quickly presented us with our selection of nectars, Italian Whites for me, Tuscan Reds for Steve. I felt giddy by now, not yet from the wine but simply by just sitting within this tony mountainside nook, complete with white linen napkins and waiters donned in alpine garb, while I watched the snow falling gently outside and skiers powering down the narrow descent at the top of See Forever. Also Steve was finally beginning to let go and it was clear that he was adapting nicely to the idea of taking a hedonistic lunch in the middle of a super ski day. (He usually just grabs a hotdog, coke and a chocolate bar between double black diamond runs.)

A High-Mountain Feast

A High-Mountain Feast

My Italian (the real deal, with family origins in the Dolomites—no wonder he’s such a damn good skier!) sweetheart really perked up when we were served an array of appetizing-looking plates. Our picture-perfect antipasto consisted of fine cheeses and cured meats, fresh bread, grissini, virgin olive oil, dried fruits and nuts, truffle honey, sherry mustard and rosemary chips. We weren’t sure what was wooing us more: the antipasto, the gorgonzola and tomato soup or the gigandes white beans, prepared with garlic and olive oil that we spread on toast like butter. Steve commented that he hadn’t tasted such fine meats since his last trip to the Italian Alps.

Our flight of wines accompanied each dish belllismo. And even though we rarely drink at lunch, we were enjoying all so much that we asked Andrew to serve us up another couple of ounces to finish off the cheese. He presented us with a taste of a thirty-year old Port and a Sauternes. By now we had slipped into full-on Euro mode and Steve and I commented to each other that this sort of wining and dining is standard practice in Europe.

We left an hour and a half later, high on having enjoyed superlative food and drink in the highest restaurant in the United States (elevation: 11,966 feet). Truly one of the best dining experiences offered in Telluride, we expressed great contentment at finally having had the chance to share such a moment together.

We skied off much more relaxed than how we had started our day. My turns felt better than ever, the tapes calmed in my head and we zipped down a half a dozen more favorite trails in the remaining hour of the day. We popped our skis off at 4:10 p.m. at the base of Lift 4 and gave each other a frozen, runny-nosed kiss.

Our last burst of energy warmed us enough to sit outside at the Hop Garden and enjoy a PBR in a plastic up. Steve had moved two of the standing space heaters close to our table and we sat closely together grooving to the musicians that strummed Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd tunes to the delight of the après-ski crowd. We giggled over the contrast between this near festival-like scene and the high-brow presentation of Alpino Vino. Clearly we enjoyed both worlds and all the rest that our glorious mountain provides.

It was fun to play tourist for a day in Telluride. Now I can approach my wedge turning with renewed enthusiasm. And, of course, eagerly await my next opportunity to steal a free ski day. And as always, work on my turns.

Alpino Vino, open daily for lunch and high-end snacks; it’s pricey but worth it.

Alpen Schatz, 307 E. Colorado Avenue; 970-728-4433, www.alpenschatz.com; visit my Shopping Page to find out about the special discount you can receive from Alpen Schatz.

Hop Garden, open daily for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; 970-728-7467.

Thank you to Randy Barnes and Brett Schreckengost for the above images.

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