For sheer thrills, Telluride's sheer descents are something special

People compare Telluride, in the spectacular San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, to the Aspen of 20 years ago. It sits at the end of one of the most magnificent box canyons in the Rockies. And a number of glitz-weary Aspenites, seeking solitude more than chic, indeed have moved there, trading in a now ``discovered'' old mining town and steep mountain for a more remote, less ``discovered'' old mining town and steep mountain. About those steeps.... Telluride has a lot of skiers who are young, male, and very good. They come for the challenge. Women do, too, but the males predominate. Never mind that there are acres of intermediate and novice terrain in Gorrono Basin. And disregard ``the world's longest super quad'' ski lift, which some locals brand ``the world's most boring chairlift.'' It was built a couple of years ago to service two endless novice trails, which in turn were cut in the hopes of selling land to Southwesterners who are more at home on a golf course than on a ski run.

What the young thrill-seekers want, however, are those steeps with huge moguls that drive your knees into your chest; one of these is Spiral Stairs, on the skiable cliff that overhangs the town. The trouble is, by the time those young guys accumulate enough money to spend it on discretionary stuff, like land, they are like I am. They don't want to drive their knees into their chests.

Technology to the rescue. Until very recently, steeps like Spiral Stairs, Coonskin, and the famous Plunge on the front face were too precipitous to be groomed by any snowcat. What other skiers left behind was what you got, namely bumps. But in the last year or so, ``winch cats'' have appeared at a few areas. These are massive alpine tractors that can groom a near-vertical chute bottom to top, shaving off moguls to near-billiard-table smoothness. How? They are hauled up the mountain via huge winches.

This season for the first time, you can have your choice on that front face of Telluride: the bumps of Spiral Stairs - and indeed most of the runs - or the steep but now fairly smooth Plunge, Coonskin, and Lookout. Each night from the ex-mining town's streets, you can look up and see the lights of the winch cats somewhere just below the stars.

I joined the thrill-seekers for my last run down to town each day at Telluride. I would ski to the edge of See Forever, let my tips dangle over the lip of the Plunge or Coonskin. The town was directly below me about 2,000 feet straight down. Too hard a push-off, and I would land in somebody's chimney.

Then I would dive down into my own version of free fall, one swooping giant slalom turn following another in that great no-ice Colorado snow (even though the mountain needed more of it). Gasping for breath at one pit stop, another tourist and I grinned at each other. ``Some last run, huh?'' he said. I could only nod.

Make no mistake. The true experts were on the black diamond bump runs. And just to make sure the rest of us stay humble, management has discovered the perfect put-down for presumptuous intermediates. Instead of carrying the prestigious black diamond symbol, even the most steeply groomed runs, like the infamous Plunge, are now ``double blue squares.''

How humiliating! You conquer the Plunge and learn you're a double intermediate - as if you didn't know it all along. Anyway, it's the steepest ``blue square'' you'll ever ski. Odds and ends

Amid clouds of carbon dioxide, Stratton (Vt.) dramatically unveiled two 12-passenger cabins of a first-in-North America, high-capacity gondola at the black-tie ball it held for the annual meeting of the United States Ski Writers Association last weekend. The more-than-$5-million lift is planned for next year, but not all permits have been obtained.

Downhiller Pam Fletcher, whose season ended with a bizarre injury in a training run just before the Olympic downhill, outpolled freestyle veteran Jan Bucher, silver medalist in the ballet demonstration at the Calgary Olympics, and Melanie Palenik, gold medalist in the aerial demonstration, to win the ski writers' 1988 outstanding-competitor award.

Tyrolia's recall of 450,000 ski bindings in the US (11 models made between 1982 and '86) has left many ski shops temporarily without replacements. Potentially dangerous toe and heel lug breakage caused the recall. Affected bindings turned in to authorized dealers by April 30 will be replaced at no charge.

The shakeout of the US Ski Team's management following the poor showing at Calgary continues. John McMurtry, who was heading development (and who coached Tamara McKinney to her World Cup championship in 1983), replaces Harald Schonhaar as Alpine director. John Bower, Principia College athletic director, returns to the ski team as Nordic director, the post the former Olympian held during much of the '70s.

Would you be a wee bit upset if you arrived at Stowe, Vt., ``Ski Capital of the East,'' in your trusty Toyota (or Chevy or Ford), shelled out $33 for a day ticket, and found that Audi drivers had to pay only half price midweek this month - and got a special parking lot besides? The amazing thing is that the only complaints, according to a resort spokesman, have come from Audi drivers who didn't see the sign in time. Seems Stowe and the car importer, which has supplied major dollars toward Stowe's shuttle bus system, are both appealing to their well-heeled version of ``the quality skier.'' Stowe even sent out press releases this winter announcing that an increase to $35 in its holiday lift rate had succeeded in significantly limiting crowds. Gosh! Just think what a quality bunch a $50 lift ticket could produce.

Veteran ski film maker Warren Miller, who won the 1988 AT&T Skiing Award for commitment to excellence in 38 feature ski films (and more than 400 sport films), says, ``The one thing I try to sell or say is freedom.''

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