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Telluride Airport: High In The Rocky Mountains With Steep Cliffs And Strong Downdrafts

Perched on a plateau surrounded by 14,000 foot mountains, Telluride's single runway ends in a 1,000+ foot drop to a river valley below. Here's what you need to know about flying into KTEX...

Alpine Flight Training

One Way In, One Way Out

Telluride's Airport, CO (KTEX) sits 9,069 feet above sea level. It's surrounded by mountains in all directions, with many of them reaching more than 14,000 feet in elevation. Telluride is also the highest commercial airport in the US.


The airport's single 7,000 foot runway (9/27) is located on a mountain-side plateau. Shortly after each end of the runway, sharp cliffs drop more than 1,000 feet into the San Miguel River Valley below. On any given day, you'll spot aircraft ranging from gliders to Gulfstreams operating in and out of KTEX.

Due to surrounding terrain, larger jet aircraft must land on Runway 9 and depart on Runway 27. There's not enough terrain separation for large jets to safely circle for Runway 27. And because the winds are predominately from the west, jet crews are often faced with tailwind landings.


The one way in, one way out traffic can create conflicts as well. Pilots need to pay close attention to CTAF and UNICOM (and now ADS-B as well) to make sure they aren't flying head-to-head with opposite direction traffic.

Low Weather? You're Out Of Luck.

There are four non-precision instrument approaches into Telluride. The lowest approach only takes you to 1,602 feet above the airport's elevation. If low clouds surround the airport, you're out of luck. But you probably wouldn't want to fly that close to mountains in hard IMC, either.

Here's a list of available approaches, with the lowest available MDA for each...

  • VOR/DME A: 12,420' MSL (3,350' AGL)
  • LOC RWY 9: 11,340' MSL (2,303' AGL)
  • RNAV (GPS) Y RWY 9: 11,500' MSL (2,462' AGL)
  • RNAV (GPS) Z RWY 9: 10,640' MSP (1,602' AGL)

While you may be able to fly to the lowest minimums at KTEX, you need to pay extra attention to the missed approach climb gradient requirements. The lowest RNAV has a minimum missed approach climb gradient of 380 feet per nautical mile, all the way to 12,500' MSL.

Density altitude is a concern most days as well. On a warm summer day, the density altitude can exceed 12,000', limiting the field to high performance aircraft.

Strong Downdrafts, Updrafts, and Turbulence

When the winds are blowing (normal for Telluride), pilots frequently encounter moderate or greater turbulence from the surrounding mountains. Approaching the runway with a headwind, pilots often fly through a strong downdraft on short final, due to the cliff just in front of the runway threshold.

When approaching airports like Telluride with sharp cliffs and strong winds, you can prepare for downdrafts by slightly increasing your approach speed. Doing that gives you a higher safety margin over your stall speed, as well as more energy if you need to go-around.


The opposite is true on departure. When departing with a headwind, you should expect a strong updraft coming off the departure end cliff. If you have to depart with a tailwind, expect the opposite.

Critical Runway Renovations

Between April 7 and November 4 of 2009, the Telluride runway was closed for a $24 million runway renovation. In addition to re-shaping a notorious gradient halfway down the runway, 41 feet of length was added, and retaining walls were built on the side.

In 2010, construction crews widened the airfield's safety areas from 150 feet to 250 feet and installed an Engineered Materials Arrestor System (EMAS). EMAS uses crushable, lightweight concrete blocks placed at the end of a runway to significantly decelerate an aircraft as it rolls through the material.


A Challenging, Scenic Destination

With the right weather conditions, Telluride is a challenging, yet manageable airport for high performance piston aircraft. And there's just nothing like the view from a ramp surrounded by 14,000 foot mountains.

Have you flown into Telluride? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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