Easy Escapes: Skiing in Colorado, USA

Wondering where to hit the slopes this winter? Caroline Garland discovers the snowy thrills of Crested Butte and Telluride

Wondering where to hit the slopes this winter? Caroline Garland discovers the snowy thrills of Crested Butte and Telluride

Wondering where to hit the slopes this winter? Caroline Garland discovers the snowy thrills of Crested Butte and Telluride

Why go? Skiing in the USA is a completely different experience to Europe – you get wide open spaces and endless off-piste, there are no lift queues and there's a friendly, can-do attitude that means you feel at home whatever your ability. Both these resorts, which you can reach by flying into Denver, are big on personality with a Wild West and mining town heritage that's mixed with terrific scenery and skiing as challenging as you dare. Crested Butte is the smaller of the two, while Telluride has star appeal having recently served as a location for Quentin Tarantino's next film, The Hateful Eight, which should hit screens in the UK in early January. See a taster here.

Paint the town red: the Wild West lives on in Crested Butte © Chris Segal/Crested Butte Mountain Resort

When? Both resorts are open from 26 November 2015 to 3 April 2016.

Stay at: Crested Butte Mountain Resort (skicb.com) is set at the foot of the mountain so you can hit the slopes as soon as the lifts open at 9am. Everything is here – you can pick up all your skis, boots and passes and there's lots of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Accommodation choices include the central Mountaineer Square hotel (doubles from £160, skicb.com) with large, plain rooms, pool and fitness centre.

For something with character head out to Gunnison National Forest and the Pioneer Guest Cabins (doubles from £215 for two nights, pioneerguestcabins.com). A 15 minute drive from downtown, these eight historic two and three-bedroom cabins are exactly how you would want them to be, truly in the wilderness surrounded by spruce, fir and aspen trees. Staying here is very much a personal experience with hosts Matt and Leah Whiting toasting s’mores (marshmallow snacks) for guests on a huge outdoor open fire.

In Telluride, head for the luxe Lumière Telluride (doubles from £314 with breakfast, lumieretelluride.com) in Mountain Village, a boutique mix of 11 hotel rooms and residences with one to five bedrooms that's set at the top of the mountain with panoramic views. Here there's an in-house ski valet rental and equipment service run by Black Tie Ski Rentals to make skiing in and out as effortless as possible.

For somewhere downtown, check into the New Sheridan Hotel (doubles from £152, newsheridan.com). This is a more traditional hotel with bedroom interiors by Nina Campbell and lots of stories about people riding into the main lobby on horseback which gives you an idea of the fun that’s been had here down the years.

Love in a cold climate: snuggle up in the Double Top Cabin at Pioneer Guest Cabins near Crested Butte

On the slopes: Lifts in both resorts are open daily 9am-4pm. See here for prices of passes and rentals in Crested Butte, and here for passes and rentals in Telluride. In the latter, snowmobiling can be arranged through Telluride Outfitters (tellurideoutfitters.com). If you're a beginner, or need to brush up, book some lessons at the Crested Butte Ski and Ride School.

Dine at: Crested Butte Mountain Resort offers every level of dining from an all-you-can-eat buffet at Woodstone Grille (skicb.com/woodstone) to fine dining at Uley’s Cabin (skicb.com/uleys). In Telluride. Allred's (tellurideskiresort.com) is hidden behind a non-descript door inside the gondola lift – it’s not until you walk in and see the mountain views that you realise you’re in for a treat. The menu is varied with dishes such as Columbia River salmon and Colorado rack of lamb – if you've had a great day flying down the mountains, you deserve this. For daytime fuel there are many options, including truffle fries with burgers at Tomboy Tavern in Mountain Village.

White stripes: head to Telluride for some thrills in the snow © Gus Gusciora/Telluride Ski Resort

On the town: Crested Butte's not too big – just one high street, Elk Avenue – lined with cowboy-style buildings covered in snow to remind you you’re in the old Wild West. It’s full of inviting independent bars and restaurants all serving big hearty and healthy meals, such as Ginger Café (thegingercafe.com) with Thai, Indian and their own fusions – just what you want when it’s five foot deep in snow outside. Don't miss the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin (309 3rd St) offering house-infused cocktails – The Beetnik is practically healthy with beets, ginger and lemon (and a good slug of vodka), and the place also serves lovely plates of food so you could easily stay all night. If you want some outlaw history head to Kochevar’s Saloon Bar and Gaming Hall where Butch Cassidy once hid – the people on his tail caught him by surprise so he ran out the back and left his gun on the bar which the Kochevar family still have to this day. It’s a genuine local pool-shooting bar and you’ll hear some great stories.

Downtown Telluride has a main street lined with Western-style saloon bars, hotels and shops. The people are as charming as the town itself and it’s got a decadent streak dating back to the Victorian mining days when the men hit the saloons after a week underground. Head to Smugglers (smugglersbrewpub.com) for tasty local beers and food to match, while live music venues include Fly Me To The Moon Saloon (flymetothemoonsaloon.com) where the music is mostly guitar-based with occasional DJs.

Roof with a view: the hot tub in the five-bedroom penthouse at Lumière Telluride

Bring home? The ultimate finale to a skiing trip here would be to bring back a pair of custom-made skis. Brothers Caleb and Morgan Weinberg are the people to speak to in Crested Butte (rompskis.com), or in Telluride Pete Wagner (wagnerskis.com). Shops worth a visit in the latter are Garden Store Home (gardenstorehome.com), with lots of treats for body and home, and T. Karn (tkarn.com) which is full of beautiful items from around the world.

Book now: British Airways (ba.com) flies direct from London Heathrow to Denver, from £562 return in December. You’ll need a visa-style authorization (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/). From here you can then fly on to Telluride-Montrose Airport, 65 miles northwest of Telluride, or to Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport, 31 miles south of Crested Butte Mountain Village.

For shuttle services from the airport, and between the two resorts, see alpineexpressshuttle.com and tellurideexpress.com; or hire a car from Alamo (alamo.co.uk). The two resorts are around three hours' drive apart.

Info: See skicb.com, tellurideskiresort.com and coloradoski.com.

Lead image © Ben Eng/Telluride Ski Resort; thumbnail © Tom Stillo/Crested Butte Mountain Resort