Prospecting in Telluride
ASPEN The signs weren’t good on my first chairlift ride last weekend in Telluride. Friday afternoon’s slush had frozen solid overnight, and the few intrepid tourists skiing the front side of the mountain flailed violently against the ice. The clouds had settled in, lowering the likelihood of a nice afternoon thaw, and the inch or 2 of fresh snow hid a hard, mean minefield. My initial strategy was simply to go as high as possible, but a ride to the top of the high-speed Gold Hill Chair landed me in a double-diamond bump field at 12,000 feet – no different than the bulletproof stuff at the bottom.On my next chair, however, I sat next to a mountain ambassador with a helmet and fat skis.”So where’s the soft snow today?” I asked.”You mind hiking?” he asked back.And so I came to know the Prospect Bowl, where I would spend most of my weekend. Geographically speaking, the Prospect basin encompasses probably a square mile or more of San Juan real estate, but the juicy in-bounds ski terrain is uphill from the Prospect Bowl chair – steep, due north-facing and less skied because of the hike involved – right at the base of 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak.It doesn’t have the depth and variety of Highland Bowl, but Prospect Bowl is similar. The skiing and the very feeling of hiking the ridge make for an experience utterly apart from the rest of the resort.On my first day, I stair-stepped my way up, skiing a different and higher line with each lap – Westlake, Lakeview and finally the uppermost chute, Mountain Quail. Fresh tracks some of the time and soft, creamy snow every time.The next day, I worked in the opposite direction, starting at the top with Mountain Quail and working downward through Dihedral Chute, La Rosa and Confidence. I finished the day with a hike up Bald Mountain, on the western edge of the basin, and fresh tracks down a run called Jackpot.Moral of the story? The skiing’s still great if you look in the right places.