Colorado's Rocky Mountain Resorts

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Relaxing on my balcony in the Mountain Village, high above the 19th-century mining town of Telluride, I remembered why it is one of my favorite places in the Rockies. Telluride’s rivals may have more-lavish hotels and more-sophisticated restaurants, but few, if any, can compete with the drama of its setting. Looking west, I could just make out the ribbon of the airport runway, at an elevation of 9,070 feet, from which private jets would rise lazily into the sky and then swiftly disappear. Ahead of me, on the far side of the valley, stretched an unbroken wall of 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks, a rampart given scale by the toy figure of a paraglider suspended beneath a scarlet canopy. And to the east, fissured cliffs and forested slopes sealed off the box canyon that for decades rendered Telluride virtually inaccessible to the outside world.

Not only are the mountains that surround Telluride some of the highest in the Rockies, but they are also among the most spectacular. In particular, 14,017-foot Wilson Peak, which dominates the landscape to the southwest, is an almost perfect pyramid. At the time of my recent trip, in the waning days of summer, the snow had all melted, even on the highest summits, but the panorama was still grand, and in my mind’s eye, it was not difficult to recall the glistening white slopes of a previous visit in early spring.

Gondolas, Telluride Ski Resort
Gondolas, Telluride Ski Resort - Auberge Resorts Collection

Founded in 1878 as Columbia, the town was renamed Telluride in 1887 for the gold tellurium compounds that had been discovered elsewhere in Colorado. (Telluride’s fame and fortune would be chiefly due to silver, so this change in name seems to have been a case of wishful thinking.) The town experienced a rambunctious early history, and in 1889, Butch Cassidy got his criminal career off to a promising start by robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank of $24,000. (Astonishingly, Google suggests that today this would be equivalent to just over $730,000.) The historic district is exceptionally well preserved and contains numerous large Victorian buildings, including the New Sheridan Hotel and Sheridan Opera House, as well as side streets lined with charming clapboard houses.

Winter sports came late to Telluride. It was not until 1969 that a wealthy Chicago-based lawyer, Joseph T. Zoline, created the Telluride Ski Area and installed the first lift. The development of the Mountain Village, located 900 feet above the town and joined to it by a 13-minute gondola ride, did not begin until 1992. Today, the renamed Telluride Ski Resort has 19 lifts and is known for its steep, challenging slopes and a vertical drop of 4,425 feet (as compared with 3,267 feet at Aspen and 3,450 feet at Vail), as well as numerous trails for novice and intermediate skiers.

Madeline Hotel & Residences

Madeline Hotel & Residences, Telluride
Madeline Hotel & Residences, Telluride - Auberge Resorts Collection

Presumably it was the pandemic that had caused so many people to seek summer refuge in the mountains, for not only was the town of Telluride crowded, the Mountain Village was also bustling. In late August, the outdoor terraces of restaurants were packed; hikers and bikers filled the gondola stations in lieu of skiers; and on my arrival at the Madeline Hotel & Residences, I was warned that fly-fishing guides were in extremely short supply.

Esoteric pursuits such as via ferrata climbs, mountaintop picnics by helicopter and even foraging excursions in search of mushrooms and edible wild greens.

My visit had been prompted by a desire to see the hotel in its new incarnation. The property originally opened in 2009 but was acquired by Auberge Resorts Collection in 2017, which commissioned a Miami-based firm, Rose Ink Workshop, to carry about a comprehensive redesign (completed in January of this year). The exterior of the Madeline is unremarkable and was clearly intended to blend in with the Mountain Village’s prevailing Alpine chalet style, with rough-hewn stone walls topped by a wooden superstructure and a steeply pitched roof. On entering the lobby, however, the property’s recent transformation was immediately evident. The open, uncluttered space was decorated with a palette of cream, beige and chocolate, and had a beautiful hardwood floor, paneled walls and an elegant leather-covered reception counter. A concierge desk stood on a dais to one side, while oatmeal-colored sofas draped with faux-fur rugs were arranged in front of a glass-screened gas log fire. Overall, the design seemed contemporary yet place-specific, owing to decorative details such as a large rack filled with an assortment of antique wooden skis.

Our stay got off to an auspicious start thanks to an effusive welcome from the receptionist. The Madeline comprises 83 rooms and suites, plus 71 one- to four-bedroom condominiums. Our King Balcony Room struck us as tranquil and comfortable, but it seemed rather anonymous and lacking in personality. Perhaps designers of ski resorts assume that guests will regard their rooms as little more than places in which to sleep. We appreciated the large armchair, espresso machine, leather-topped desk and concealed television. However, the quantity of storage and closet space seemed adequate at best. The bath was reasonably spacious but could have been improved by additional shelving and counter space. Aside from a walk-in marble-lined shower, it provided two sinks and a large soaking tub. Unquestionably, our room’s best feature was the stupendous mountain view from its small balcony. On a future occasion, I might well choose the more generous dimensions of a One Bedroom Suite.

King Balcony Room, Madeline Hotel & Residences - Auberge Resorts Collection
Bath of our King Balcony Room - Photo by Andrew Harper editor
Timber Room lounging area - Auberge Resorts Collection
Timber Room bar - Auberge Resorts Collection
Heated pool and hot tub - Auberge Resorts Collection
Elk grazing, Telluride - Auberge Resorts Collection

For dinner, we opted to try the hotel’s Black Iron Kitchen & Bar. Even at an elevation of 9,545 feet, the evening air was warm, so we sat on the restaurant’s terrace, from where there was a view of bustling Heritage Plaza at the center of Mountain Village. The menu featured robust dishes such as Rocky Mountain elk chili, which seemed more appropriate to January than August. So we settled instead for appetizers of smoked trout toast and fried quail eggs with horseradish aioli, followed by rack of lamb with wild herb mustard, grilled garlic scapes and white beans, and roasted duck breast with a cherry reduction, potato gratin and grilled endive. Both main dishes were well prepared, but the presentation lacked finesse. The service was prompt and friendly.

Unlike some mountain resorts that feel as though they are merely biding their time until the return of ski season, Telluride seems like a genuine year-round destination. The list of suggested activities at the Madeline is encyclopedic, and in addition to the expected hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking, there are more esoteric pursuits such as via ferrata climbs, mountaintop picnics by helicopter and even foraging excursions in search of mushrooms and edible wild greens with the Madeline’s executive chef. In winter, these activities are replaced by ice climbing, dog-sledding, snowmobiling and heli-skiing.

The following morning, having little appetite for the rigors of the via ferrata, I opted for a guided fly-fishing trip on the San Miguel River. The adventure guides at the Madeline can book private tours on the Uncompahgre River, as well as several stretches of the Dolores River, but for those with limited time, the South Fork San Miguel is a convenient option, as productive stretches are little more than a 20-minute drive from the hotel.

Downtown Telluride
Downtown Telluride - Auberge Resorts Collection

The San Miguel changes with the seasons, and in late August it proved to be a pretty stream with fast-flowing riffles, interspersed with deeper runs and pools. However, a wide network of dry rocky channels provided abundant evidence of the river’s much larger size and scale during the season of melting snows. Just being in the verdant and forested mountain valley on a sunny summer morning would have been sufficient pleasure. No trout were rising, but sunken nymph patterns deceived a dozen or so fish in little more than three hours. None was particularly large, with 12 inches being about the average, but my guide insisted that the river contained more impressive specimens, even here, just a few miles from town.

Back at the resort, we spent the afternoon taking dips in the hot tub and relaxing on the pool deck, which has an inspiring view of the mountains that line the northern flank of the Telluride Valley. Afterward, we headed to dinner at the Timber Room, the Madeline’s second restaurant, which debuted in January. The stylish space, with its imposing bar, huge fireplace and outdoor terrace, is perhaps the most attractive of the hotel’s remodeled public areas. The menu offers a selection of small plates such as deviled eggs with a selection of toppings — sturgeon caviar and black truffle, crispy pork belly and house-cured Arctic char with char roe and dill ­— as well as elk tartare, halibut carpaccio and buttermilk-fried rabbit with loin and belly confit. Those whose appetites remain unassuaged by such delicacies can migrate to the “Feast” section of the menu, which includes more-challenging items such as a 32-ounce dry-aged bison tomahawk and a 32-ounce wagyu bone-in rib-eye.

Overall, the Madeline is an impressive addition to the Auberge group’s rapidly expanding roster of hotels. It provides an ideal location at the epicenter of Mountain Village, has exceptionally friendly and obliging staff and offers superb mountain views and an inexhaustible list of activities. For either a winter or a summer stay, it is a hotel that I can recommend with confidence.

- Hotels at a Glance -

Madeline Hotel & Residences    92Andrew Harper Bird

Like

The striking new interior design in the public areas; the exceptionally friendly and obliging staff; the stupendous mountain views; the stylish Timber Room restaurant; the location at the center of a web of gondolas.

Dislike

The slightly anonymous and functional décor in our King Balcony Room; the lack of storage and closet space.

Good to Know

Confusingly, to go down to Telluride on the gondola, you must first go up to San Sophia Station at 10,540 feet.


Rates: King Balcony Room, $1,160; One Bedroom Suite, $1,870
Address: 568 Mountain Village Boulevard, Telluride
Telephone: (970) 369-0880

View Madeline Hotel & Residences Listing

The Ranch at Emerald Valley

Colorado's San Juan Mountains
Colorado's San Juan Mountains - Getty Images

Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, with 14 peaks exceeding 14,000 feet, captured my imagination long ago. So I planned a scenic 300-mile drive from Telluride over the mountains to Colorado Springs. The brief first leg of our journey took us to Montrose, where we joined U.S. Route 50, an epic highway that crosses the country from West Sacramento, California, to Ocean City, Maryland. For the next 186 miles, from Montrose to Cañon City (where we would turn north on state Highway 115), the road crossed a succession of high passes, culminating at the 11,312-foot Monarch Pass on the Continental Divide. To the west, rivers like the San Juan, Gunnison and Dolores flow down to join the Colorado, while to the east, the Arkansas River heads to an eventual merger with the Mississippi, and the Rio Grande cuts a furrow through northern New Mexico before defining the Texas border for more than 750 miles.

The road crossed a succession of high passes, culminating at the 11,312-foot Monarch Pass on the Continental Divide.

For most of the way, Route 50 is a two-lane highway, with four-lane stretches on some of the steeper gradients. Even though it dips and weaves through the landscape and has dozens of outrageous bends, the road is not difficult to drive in summer. Winter, however, is a different matter entirely, and numerous signs indicate pull-offs where drivers can stop to attach chains. Although the country is wild and grand year-round, there was no snow in August, even on the summits of the 14ers. I imagine that the ideal time to make the drive would be in late spring, when the road surface is no longer icy, the rivers are running high and fast, and the major peaks are still covered with snow.

Five miles southwest of Colorado Springs, we pulled onto the manicured estate of The Broadmoor, the famous 784-room resort set on 3,000 acres in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain. The original part of The Broadmoor, an Italian Renaissance mansion, opened in 1918, having been the brainchild of mining magnate Spencer Penrose. (Today, The Broadmoor is owned by billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz, whose many investments include several Major League Soccer teams, the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.)

In addition to his grand resort, Penrose built himself a private retreat on the summit of Cheyenne Mountain. After his death, the structure fell into disrepair, but today the site is occupied by Cloud Camp, one of The Broadmoor’s three “Wilderness Experiences.” The other two satellite camps are Fly Fishing Camp, located a 75-minute drive away along a 5-mile stretch of the Tarryall River, and The Ranch at Emerald Valley, a hideaway set at 8,200 feet on Cheyenne Mountain, surrounded by the Pike National Forest and accessible only by a steep and circuitous dirt road. My original intention had been to stay at two, or possibly all three, of the camps, but this being a pandemic summer, during which Americans were mostly denied the pleasures of international travel, I had managed to secure a reservation only at The Ranch at Emerald Valley.

Copper Cabin, The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Colorado Springs
Copper Cabin, The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Colorado Springs - The Broadmoor

Having entrusted our car to valet parking at a side entrance to The Broadmoor, we wandered across to a terrace overlooking the property’s ornamental lake. The only way to reach The Ranch at Emerald Valley is by a dedicated shuttle service, and the next departure was not for another 45 minutes. Transportation into the wilderness turned out to be by Cadillac Escalade. For much of the 30-minute drive there was little to see but trees, but occasionally the landscape would open up, resulting at one point in a panoramic view over the entire city of Colorado Springs. The first part of the road is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, and its surface is uneven, while the final stretch is maintained by the ranch and is in a better state of repair. I suspect that some passengers might feel queasy by the end of the trip. There are no signs, and GPS maps do not work, or so our driver informed me. (At the ranch there is no cell phone service, and the satellite Wi-Fi is rudimentary.) On arrival, despite the brevity of the transfer, we felt a surprisingly long way from civilization.

Despite the brevity of the transfer, we felt a surprisingly long way from civilization. At the ranch there is no cell phone service and the satellite Wi-Fi is rudimentary.

The Ranch at Emerald Valley comprises a 100-year-old main lodge and a cluster of 10 log cabins of various sizes, dating from the 1920s and ’30s. The property is arranged along one side of an artificial pond, fed by a stream, which then connects to a second larger pond at a lower level. From the surrounding lawns, a series of rocky ridges and peaks is visible over the trees.

We were shown to Aspen Cabin, which came with a small sitting area, a gas log fire, a relatively spacious bath with two sinks and a walk-in shower, and a small outdoor terrace. However, it contained only a single queen-size bed and, overall, felt rather cramped. I sought out the manager, Craig Hilton, who turned out to be an affable expatriate New Zealander, to inquire if anything larger was available. We were in luck and transferred without unpacking to Copper Cabin, which had two bedrooms, one with a queen bed and the other with two twins. (If Copper Cabin is unavailable, I suggest that you try to reserve the even larger two-bedroom Lakeside Cabin, or Hill Cabin, which has two principal bedrooms, plus a loft that can accommodate four children.)

Main lodge beside the upper lake, The Ranch at Emerald Valley - The Broadmoor
Piñon Cabin bedroom - The Broadmoor
Piñon Cabin bath - The Broadmoor
Copper Cabin living area - The Broadmoor
Pasture on The Ranch at Emerald Valley - The Broadmoor

The sizable living area of Copper Cabin was traditional and masculine in style, with a leather sofa and armchairs, a wooden floor covered with kilims, a massive river-rock fireplace and Remington paintings of Western scenes. (The paintings were high-quality reproductions, as the originals are apparently owned by Anschutz, or so a member of staff confidently informed me.) The two baths were well appointed, with walk-in showers faced with large stone tiles, but lacked tubs. And beyond a screened door was a peaceful veranda, with rocking chairs and a view down to the lower pond. In general, our accommodations were comfortable, serene and well maintained.

The main lodge has the same traditional Western décor, with a spacious dining room dominated by a huge copper hood over the large log fire, a relaxation area with chess sets and bookshelves, and a cozy bar with armchairs and leather-topped stools. Outside on the deck, more dining tables had been set up beneath a row of large green umbrellas, flanked by flower boxes overflowing with scarlet blooms. As the weather was benign, this was where we decided to have dinner. The menu offered four appetizers, four mains and three desserts. The food was well prepared and sustaining, with dishes such as braised bison short rib with mashed Yukon potatoes, tomato jam and bourbon jus, and seared steelhead trout with braised greens and sweet chile-butter sauce. A Michelin inspector would likely be unimpressed, but in context they were both delicious and appropriate.

Many guests at The Ranch at Emerald Valley begin and end their days beside the fire pit in the courtyard. As a preliminary to breakfast, mugs of “cowboy coffee” — a substance resembling a heavily caffeinated form of light crude — were replenished from a metal pot kept warm by the flames, while in the evening these were replaced by generous glasses of the house Mark West Pinot Noir. The hours in between were mostly spent hiking, fly-fishing or horseback riding on steep forest trails up to mountain lookouts.


The property’s two ponds are quite large, almost small lakes, and the water was so clear that 30 feet out from the bank, we could see trout cruising past. Although the fish are stocked annually, there are plenty of holdovers from previous years, and hence “one or two real Mobys” in the words of an in-house fishing guide. During my stay, the fishing was relatively easy ­­— of course, I might just have been lucky­ — and it was possible to land four or five fish an hour, most around 14 or 15 inches in length. Unusually, especially for lake trout, the most reliable way to catch them was a small caddis dry fly, to which they continued to rise with inexplicable enthusiasm, even in bright midday sunshine, when all normal fish might reasonably have been expected to be hiding from the ultraviolet rays.

More than once it occurred to me that The Ranch at Emerald Valley would be an ideal place in which to teach children to fly-fish. In fact, the ranch is ideally suited to family vacations, being self-contained, miles from any public road or form of habitation, and hence extremely safe. Additional facilities for adults include two hot tubs, but there is no pool, spa or gym.

On my last evening, I caught up with Hilton, the manager, once again. He said that he had previously worked at Cloud Camp, so I asked him to outline the principal differences between the two properties. Cloud Camp, he explained, is built on a steep site, and its main attraction is the spellbinding 360-degree view. Being somewhat larger, it is better suited to corporate retreats and events. And the cuisine is French, rather than Western. Whereas, at Emerald Valley, the emphasis is on the myriad activities, and the ranch’s greatest quality is its atmosphere of deep tranquility born of complete isolation. “The aim at this place is to provide an experience of rustic luxury,” Hilton said. I couldn’t put it better myself.

- Hotels at a Glance -

The Ranch at Emerald Valley    93Andrew Harper Bird

Like

The feeling of profound tranquility; our comfortable and atmospheric Copper Cabin; the hospitable manager and staff; the immaculate stables; the pretty trout lakes.

Dislike

Breakfast is served buffet style, with the result that some dishes, notably the scrambled eggs, seemed rather tired.

Good to Know

Owing to the 8,200-foot elevation, the season runs only from April to October.


Rates: Copper Cabin, $1,180; Lakeside Cabin, $1,570
Address: 1 Lake Avenue, Colorado Springs
Telephone: (866) 334-3693

View The Ranch at Emerald Valley Listing

Read more about our editor’s trip to Colorado

By Andrew Harper Editor Andrew Harper editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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