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A Snowboarder explores the back bowls of Vail Mountain resort.

A Snowboarder explores the back bowls of Vail Mountain resort.Daniel Milchev/Handout

The pristine powdery slope we stood on top of looked like it was out of a ski documentary shot deep in the backcountry. In reality, my companion and I were just a 15-minute hike out of bounds of the highest chairlift at Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado.

Our run, while steep and rocky at points, was child’s play compared with some of the routes in view on the other side of the valley, deeper in the backcountry. Over there we could see impossibly skinny couloirs: rocky gullies filled with just enough snow for the most daring of skiers to descend through.

Our guide, Allen, pointed to one dizzying route called the San Joaquin Chute. A skier had recently fallen at the top of the run and slid the entire way down – and was lucky to escape with a broken pelvis. Our run wasn’t nearly as dire, but there were cliff faces below us that made me careful to follow our guide’s tracks closely.

It had been many days since the last snowfall, but wind had blown enough snow onto our slope that Allen created tails of white powder as he flew down. When I started snowboarding after him, I was pleasantly surprised at how much fresh snow I could throw around – some of it slashing high enough to hit my face.

For the next couple hours, we rode down a snowy mountainside and a long, gladed gully before another trail led us right into downtown Telluride and a stone’s throw from a bar for après ski. Few backcountry zones that I’ve skied can offer that kind of finish.

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Off the slopes, skiers enjoy the old mining town vibe and architecture of Tellurdie.

Off the slopes, skiers enjoy the old mining town vibe and architecture of Telluride.Handout

The San Juan Range, where the town of Telluride and its ski resort are situated, features an impressive backdrop in the American Rockies not unlike the views in Banff or Canmore in Alberta. The wide-open alpine slopes have a jaw-dropping quality similar to those found in ski areas such as Lake Louise, with large runs and stunning views.

But if you’ve ever lived near a U.S. border, you know about some of the little differences that hit you as you cross into the States: things like the scale of infrastructure, the accents and certainly the larger food portions. In Colorado, those little differences make for a ski experience that’s hard to find in many areas of Canada.

Telluride was once considered a “hidden gem” in the U.S. mostly owing to its location – a six-hour drive from Denver, a city that has countless world-class resorts within a stone’s throw. Telluride only feels hidden because you have to make an effort to get here.

In Canada, ski resorts that are a similar distance from large urban centres are often noted with large asterisks, since the seclusion usually means lacklustre food options, sleepy towns or older ski infrastructure, which can make them less appealing for the average tourist.

This was not the case in Telluride. Despite a population of just over 2,500, the town features a gondola system that transports visitors to the mountain village free of charge (and it’s open until 2 a.m. on weekends for partygoers).

In town, you’ll find local drinking holes with hipster credentials like the New Sheridan Hotel, first built in 1895 when Telluride was a mining town. There’s also fine dining. I often complain that many restaurants in Canadian mountain towns are generally less exciting than culinary offerings in Toronto or Vancouver. That’s not the case in Telluride, where La Marmotte, a French restaurant with rich onion soup and perfectly delightful crème brûlée, is steps away from the slopes.

Expert skiers will be titillated by steep, hike-in terrain that gives British Columbia resorts a run for their money. Some of these ski slopes were inbounds, meaning avalanches are not a worry. I snowboard more than 50 days a year, and these slopes were technical enough to give me serious pause. Telluride does a great job of catering to newer skiers, too. There are beginner runs nearly to the top of the mountain – meaning everyone can take in breathtaking vistas from an altitude higher than 3,600 metres.

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Off the slopes, skiers enjoy the old mining town vibe and architecture of Tellurdie.

Despite a population of just over 2,500, Telluride features a gondola system that transports visitors to the mountain village free of charge.Handout

After a few days exploring Telluride, we flew back to Denver on our way to Vail, the legendary ski area that in many ways is the opposite of Telluride. Skiers in smaller communities consider Vail a sort of Disneyland. The behemoth ski town emphasizes the “resort” in ski resort, but that’s why we chose it – to see the two sides of what Colorado can offer skiers and snowboarders.

The size of Vail is part of its appeal – it’s the fourth biggest ski resort in North America, smaller than Whistler Blackcomb but with more than double the number of lifts. Daily visitor numbers are high, but it doesn’t always feel that way when a network of 31 fast lifts can spread people throughout this massive mountain. The lift numbers are more than double that at Whistler Blackcomb, which is a bigger resort but only has 14 lifts.

I also found it refreshing that, at Vail, I saw many people of colour. Skiing and snowboarding aren’t the most multicultural of sports but I saw more people of colour here than I’ve ever seen at the dozens of ski resorts I’ve visited, except for maybe Blue Mountain, just outside of Toronto.

Vail spans across multiple ridges, and stretches into the horizon as far as the eye can see. More experienced riders can make the long trek over to the resort’s back “bowls,” wide open areas that offer steep open runs with soft snow and fewer crowds.

Vail’s standout feature for us, however, was the sense of luxury and comfort you could sink into off the slopes. The Hythe, where we stayed, whisked guests around town in Lexus SUVs. And if you’re not relaxing in a hot tub, you’re probably out enjoying the rich food on offer.

Dining in the resort’s multiple villages, which use heated walkways to keep them snow and ice-free, was both a fancy and unstuffy experience. Fine wine and caviar were offered in spaces that wouldn’t judge you on what you were wearing. After many days on the slopes, I wandered around in my base layers and unkempt hair at every restaurant and nobody blinked.

If luxury and frills aren’t what you’re after on a ski trip, then you might be better off enjoying the slopes at a Canadian resort. But after more than a week in Colorado (and three straight days of dining indulgence), I returned to the Interior B.C. ski town where I live sporting a few extra pounds. I ski often while at home, but I can tell you with confidence: The resorts in Colorado offer more opportunities to treat yourself once you’re off the slopes.

IF YOU GO

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ail is famous for its skiing, but also for offering luxury amenties, restaurants and shopping in its base village areas.

Vail is famous for its skiing, but also for offering luxury amenties, restaurants and shopping in its base village areas.Chris McLennan/Handout

Canadians with an Epic Pass get unlimited days at Vail and seven days at Telluride. Next season’s pass is now on sale.

Vail From Denver airport, book the Epic Mountain Express shuttle bus to reach the resort in just over two hours.

The Hythe hotel, which opened in 2021, may not be ski-in ski-out, but it’s only a short walk to the main gondola and offers a luxurious and unpretentious experience. Multiple open-air hot tubs and a fantastic filling breakfast buffet at Margie’s Haas meant we could skip lunch to maximize time on the slopes. https://www.thehythevail.com/

For dinner, Fall Line Kitchen and Cocktails offered a meat-forward menu that impressed us with a rich decadent wagyu filet tartare to start, and a perfectly cooked filet mignon for a main.

Telluride Flights from Denver to Telluride Regional Airport operate daily, and the airport is a brief drive from the ski resort.

We stayed at Mountain Lodge, ski-in ski-out accommodation in an area where the slopes are beginner-friendly. An outdoor hot tub gave us fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. www.mountainlodgetelluride.com/

Try Brown Dog Pizza for traditional and Detroit-style pies that are greasy and delicious, and served in a fun sports bar with craft brews and copious amounts of Michigan-related sports memorabilia. Or book a table at La Marmotte, which served me a crème brûlée that I’m still thinking about.

The writer was a guest of Vail Resorts. It did not review or approve the story before publication.

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