(Tribune Media Services) -- I'm standing in a bona fide ghost town in the middle of a forest -- in the snow, 10,600 feet above sea level.
Who says all there is to do on a winter trip to a ski resort is hit the slopes?
Max Walker-Silverman, 16, a Telluride, Colorado, native, has a message for visiting teens: "There is just so much more to do than ski and eat." Hint for visiting teens: You'll always find local kids at Baked in Telluride (awesome pizza).
The town of Telluride is so safe that local parents let 10-year-olds run around on their own. Kids routinely hop the free gondola from the mountain village for the 12-minute ride into town where they can go to a movie, get some pizza or a burger and some gummies at The Sweet Life.
"Parents just have to be willing to give them the freedom and you will see them blossom," promises Pam Bennett, whose three children are the fifth generation to be raised here.
Visiting kids might learn a little Western history in the process. The entire town of Telluride -- four blocks long and four blocks wide and nestled in a box canyon -- is a federally designated historic district, and it couldn't be prettier with buildings dating back a century and mountain views in every direction. Resident Ashley Boling pointed out the high points to me during a historic walk with his 7-year-old son, Lochlan.
If you think a trip to a resort like Telluride is too pricey or too hard to reach, think again. There are plenty of flights into Montrose, Colorado, (shuttle from the airport and you won't need to get in a car the rest of your trip) and deals offering free nights and more (www.visittelluride.com) at nearly every kid-friendly resort.
Try The Peaks with its spa and indoor waterslide (we stayed at one of their condos across the road, or check out their log cabins!), or the 32-room Inn at Lost Creek just a few steps from the chairlift, or cozy affordable slope-side condos at Mountain Lodge Telluride, conveniently located next to the Mountain Village grocery.
January, in fact, has been designated Learn a Snow Sport Month with resorts in 23 states -- including here at Telluride -- offering special learn to alpine ski and snowboard packages. Book any 5-night/4-day accommodation and adult lift ticket package with Telluride Resort Lodging and kids, 12 and under, ski free! (Check www.winterfeelsgood.com for deals around the country.)
I took a day off from skiing to snowmobile on winding trails through trees in the San Juan Forest with Telluride Snowmobile Adventures to Alta, Colorado, once a mining town and home to some 350 people. We gape at the few buildings left -- a men's boarding house, a few houses and a cookhouse. According to our guide, John "Wheats" Wheaton, Alta once had more than 50 buildings, even a school.
Too bad I couldn't get my gang to leave Telluride's famous slopes (more than 350 new acres in the past three years) and join me.
But that's OK. In Telluride, as at other ski resorts these days, there's plenty to keep everyone happy, whether you want to play in the snow, eat (everything from luxe gourmet -- at the top of the Gondola, we feasted on steaks in front of the fireplace at Allred's -- to first-rate Mexican at La Cocina de Luz where the Margaritas are made with fresh juices), or hit the spa, as we did our last day at The Peaks Resort Golden Door Spa, the largest in Colorado.
Arizonans Tracy and Chris Becraft and their two daughters spent several days in Telluride just before Christmas having fun in the snow without once setting foot on the mountain. They drove a dog sled, ice-skated, sledded in the town park and rode snowmobiles along with me. "People have been so nice and accommodating to the kids," Tracy said, noting their hotel even had sleds on hand for the girls to use -- complimentary, of course.
"This isn't a glitzy or glamorous or fur coat kind of place," adds Lisa Cicero, who has been coming with her three children from Miami for years. "It's very laid back."
And that's just the way the locals like it -- a mountain that never seems to get crowded, that offers stellar views in every direction and something for every ability from a four-mile green run from the top of the mountain to extensive hikes through expert terrain to adaptive programs for those with special challenges.
Telluride also seems to be more welcoming than I remember from a visit several years ago. People now realize, explains local Pam Bennett, "we absolutely need the tourists."If not for them, I wouldn't be able to live here and raise my family here."
Back at the ski resort, the children's ski school is in full swing during one of its busiest weeks of the year, says Noah Sheedy, the manager of the children's programs here. But even during the busiest week of the year, he's only got about 225 children, ages three through 14, enrolled -- perhaps a quarter of the size of other family-friendly resorts like Snowmass.
Parents like the intimacy and that the vast majority of instructors are veterans here who remember their kids from previous visits. It's also an easy ski school to navigate -- right next to the town gondola in the middle of the Mountain Village. The kids get their rentals right in the building -- the instructors take care of that too. And there are no worries if parents are a little late getting down the mountain. There is complimentary after-care program till four p.m. And the nursery next door takes kids as young as two months!
Yes, skiing is an expensive sport ($175 a day here at ski school, including gear, lunch and lifts at Telluride) but worth the investment, snow-loving parents believe. "Kids learn persistence, dedication and hard work," says Justin Chandler, the father of two and executive director of the huge (275 local kids) Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club.
Just don't push them too hard or too fast, he adds. Leave when they still want another run down the mountain and they'll be begging to come back tomorrow.
Mine always are. Now if they'd only slow down when they ski with me.
(For more on Eileen's Telluride adventure, read her trip diary at www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)
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