On our last evening in Mountain Village on our recent Telluride trip, we finally got a chance to ride the Gondola. After being closed during shoulder season for maintenance, the Gondola had opened up the day before for the first time that season. According to informational signs posted on the cars, the Gondola between Mountain Village and Telluride is the first and only free public transportation of its kind in the USA. Its owned and operated by the town of Mountain Village. The majority of the funding is provided by the Mountain Village Owners Association and its members, with additional funding from the town of Mountain Village, the town of Telluride, Telluride Ski and golf, and other grants.
The Gondola opened in 1996 and has been ferrying about 2.8 million passengers annually and about 44 million so far since its opening. The Gondola runs between the town of Telluride at the base of the Coonskin Ridge to San Sophia station, which is the highest elevation at 10,540 feet. Not surprising that this is the station to get off for access to trails, ski-runs, a nature center, and the famous Allred restaurant. From here, the Gondola travels down some to the Mountain Village station, where passengers dismount. There is a connecting line that transfers from the central Mountain Village to Market Plaza, where our hotel, Mountain Lodge, was located. There are parking lots available at both Mountain Village as well as the Market Plaza locations. The ride between Mountain Village and Telluride stations is 2.4 miles long and takes twelve minutes approximately. The Gondola is open from 630 am to midnight through mid-October.
We walked next door to the Market Plaza station on a slightly cool evening, where we boarded the cabin. There was hardly any wait, and many cabins were empty. These two stations are almost on the same level, elevation-wise. Per guidelines, we had to wear a mask during the entire trip, even though we were the only family in the car. We also had to leave the windows open on the cabin. We got off at Mountain Village and walked to the other station to board the next car.
The second station was a bit more crowded, and we had to wait a couple of minutes before boarding. From here, the Gondola rose upwards to the San Sophia station, where it made a stop before heading down the ridge of the mountain towards Telluride. The views from the cabin were amazing. The gathering dusk, the orange glow of the setting sun behind the San Juan mountains, the disappearing Mountain Village with the town of Telluride beckoning us as we sped down the incline kept the 12-minute ride interesting. We tried to make out the landmarks in the approaching Telluride township. We spotted a few Christmas decorations still visible, even though it was May. Lights were coming on in homes and businesses across the town.
After getting off at Telluride station, we walked down Colorado Avenue. Many restaurants were busy while several other businesses were already closed for the day. We had considered eating dinner in town, but eventually, we were so hungry after the Bridal Veil Falls hike that we ended up making a simple dinner with leftovers and a quickly hashed meal.
We wanted to explore the plaza further at Mountain Village on our way back, but it was too dark to do much. So we returned the next morning after checking out of the hotel and before leaving for the airport. It was a beautiful morning, with a warm sun shining on us. After taking the Gondola to the Mountain Village station, we walked down the steps to the central Heritage Plaza. The area was lightly crowded when we first got there. It had the feel of a European town, perhaps like a Whistler-vibe.
We relished the feel of the plaza, where we could see yellow “cabins” for dining out. Scattered across the plaza, these were great spaces for enjoying a take-out meal with a family or pod, done safely with social distancing. There was a fire-pit around which people were starting to gather. Madeline Hotel and residences, the Fairmont Heritage Place, and other hotels are located here. There were many coffee shops, restaurants, shops, ski rentals, sports stores around the Village center. We enjoyed the statues that accessorize this plaza and the red telephone booth located at one end. We also saw a climbing wall for kids that was closed at the time of our visit.
Walking to the other side of the Village Center, we crossed Reflection Plaza, which was covered with green turf but is the location for the ski rink in winter. Walking further down on Mountain Village Boulevard, we came across Sunset Plaza with superb views of the surrounding peaks. We could see the Chondola (chairlift) station from here. We chose a corner bench near the plaza, parked ourselves to enjoy the warm sun and the mountain air, and talked about our trip while people watching. After a busy and difficult year, this trip had been a wonderful re-introduction to travel in the COVID era. It had been an entertaining trip, a soothing balm for the soul in the way that only nature can provide, but also engaging and restorative.
Soon it was time to get up and go, and we had a drive to Montrose ahead of us. Grabbing some sandwiches and coffee at the Telluride Coffe Company, we bid adieu to Telluride. We may have left the township, but I do believe we left a small portion of our heart and soul in Telluride. Until next time, then!
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