E52

Thousands of tons of earth were moved in a massive, complex construction project to create this ski-in, ski-out luxury property Element 52, steps away from downtown Telluride. (Photo courtesy of Element 52)

Location, location, location, the saying goes: It’s what smart investors look for when purchasing real estate, and why visitors to the box canyon — who have many other choices when it comes to ski destinations, in Colorado alone — opt for what’s been dubbed “the coolest ski town” over every other place.

Now, take the idea of locale a step further. No one can deny Telluride’s charms: its historic downtown, world-class skiing, and world-class culture in a high-alpine setting. 

As you might expect, there are many desirable places to alight here for a few evenings, or weeks, or a lifetime. 

Even so, Element 52 stands out. Like the rare chemical element Tellurium that this mountain property is named for (a substance “far more common in the Universe as a whole than on Earth,” as Wikipedia describes it), much about it is not only singular but uniquely appealing. 

It’s the only true ski-in, ski-out spot in downtown Telluride. Accommodations at Element 52, a 52-unit Auberge Resorts Collection property, feel personal, homey even, but like no home you’ve probably ever known: there is a private funicular on the premises, ready to whisk visitors straight up the slope to the chairlift. Built by the gondola-engineering company Doppelmayr, whose funiculars ferry commuters in cities, on mountainsides and on the Hogwarts Express train tracks at Disneyworld, “The idea was, you step out of the locker room and you’re up the hill in 20 seconds,” Element 52’s developer Steve Finger explained. The decision to install a funicular, a short ride that sets the stage for a bigger, more dramatic foray up the mountain first thing in the morning — or that zips you downhill at the end of a strenuous day, perhaps to a private massage treatment or a workout in the on-site spa or exercise facilities — “was a joint vision of Element 52’s architect, Tommy Heins, and mine,” Finger said. 

Gliding up a mountain in a private bubble, with huge views as you ascend, is not the only thing that feels natural here. So does a pair of pools on the property, which are in fact “suspended on steel structures. You can walk underneath them. It’s a pretty amazing system,” said Finger. 

The funicular, and the pools, are but two of the most visible aspects of what Finger, who collaborated on its development with partners Scott Salomon and Greg Manchurian, called “a very, very complex” project. “Our goal was a ski-in, ski-out property with incredible views.” 

There are plenty of such places a gondola-ride away in Mountain Village, but nothing like it existed in downtown Telluride. And so they had to build it on the side of the mountain, hewing to the strict standards of the town’s Historic Architectural Review Commission, and utilizing noncombustible materials “right down to the metal studs.” 

“It was an extremely difficult construction site,” Finger recalled. “We had to take out huge amounts of dirt” to accommodate the buildings, “and once we took it out, we then had to make sure nothing would come down. There are 60-foot screws that go into the earth and create tension, so nothing can move. We blew out 100,000 yards of earth, crushed everything and rock-bolted everything so we could build this project.”  

The result looks like it was there all along: a high-end resort, replete with soaring indoor spaces, big windows, and a mountain-modern feel, tucked into a hillside just steps away from downtown, yet moments from a chairlift.  

Because Element 52 is an Auberge Resorts Collection property, it offers not only sleek, contemporary two-to-five-bedroom residences in this mountainside setting, but a host of amenities for which its parent company is famous. (The company specializes in smaller properties that “capture the soul” of a destination, and offer individualized experiences to guests.) 

Thirty percent of Element 52’s entrances are freestanding, allowing guests to come and go as they like in complete privacy, “so they don’t have to enter the lobby,” General Manager Alex Rollinson says. In COVID-19 times, he adds, “Every family’s risk-tolerance is different, so housekeeping services are fully customizable.”

Speaking of such times: Element 52 not only provided steady employment during its construction, it continues to offer jobs to those who live here in this unprecedented season. It also offers housing. All six deed-restricted units (which served as employee residences during the property’s construction) went under contract immediately when they were offered for sale earlier this fall. 

For owners, Element 52 is Telluride Properties’ highest-end rental product, offering incomes commensurate with its stature and services. For visitors, it provides the feel of a private home, replete with the amenities of a boutique hotel. 

The proof of Element 52’s appeal is in the numbers: at press time, there were no units for sale whatsoever. The property’s reputation preceded it, in a sense, said Brian O’Neill, the director of Telluride Properties. “It’s the first property that came to Telluride with a global hotel brand (Auberge Resorts),” O’Neill pointed out. “That’s part of the reason units have sold so well.”

The other reason is Rollinson, who trained at the Four Seasons. 

“Owners love him; guests love him,” O’Neill said. “He’s done a great job of increasing rental incomes, but not the number of days that guests stay here. So owners love him.” Guests adore Rollinson. too: “The reason a lot of celebrities from the Telluride Film Festival choose Element 52 — that’s Alex.”

Anyone drawn to Telluride understands (and is compelled by) its setting: a jewel of an Old West town with ready access not only to thousands of acres of high alpine, but an improbably-brief drive away from Red Rock Country, and the sprawling, sandstone monoliths of Arizona and Utah. 

It’s a place of dizzying choices. Which is where Element 52 truly shines; its secret weapon is customer service. Its staff will help you take advantage of this rich, spectacular setting. As Rollinson emphasizes, while the property is handsome and well situated, “No one will ever remember the condo they stayed in, or the meal they ate. They’re going to remember how we made them feel. How do we make our guests’ lives easy? Whatever the request, we can figure out how to make it happen. We’re in the business of making wants and wishes realities.” 

Rollinson and his staff worked with one visitor, for example, to arrange a “longer but not too strenuous” hike, followed by a gourmet picnic lunch and a bottle of chilled champagne in a secluded setting where the guest could propose marriage to his companion (spoiler alert: the lady said “Yes”). “Whether it’s heli tours from here to Moab or a private jet to Zion National Park, you name it, the possibilities are endless,” Rollinson said. “Auberge specializes in approachable luxury, and Telluride attracts a lot of independent-minded, free-spirited guests. Some people arrive and do entirely their own thing. But our staff is on standby for whatever you need. We’re a jumping off point to whatever your heart desires.” 

More than half of Element 52’s guests are repeat visitors. The property receives a perfect five out of five stars on Trip Advisor (a recent reviewer summed up her visit in one word: “Perfection”). 

“Once you’re here,” Rollinson said, “there’s nowhere else to stay.”  

This story appears in the winter edition of Shelter magazine, which is on stands now, along with TellurideStyle.