Kristin

Kristin
My buddy Kristin, with whom I'll be shooting some BEER2WHISKEY videos, and me at the awads dinner for this year's Texas Truck Rodeo.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Taking the Telluride Challenge in the 2017 GMC Sierra HD

The Sierra HD my driving partner and I drove from Telluride to Paradox, CO.
I'm not the kind of guy who balks at a little cold weather. In fact, I like getting into the snow and cold now and then, if I'm prepared. So, I didn't hesitate accepting when Autotrader asked me to head to Telluride, Colorado for the media launch of the updated GMC Sierra 2500 HD pickup in mid February.

That I live in South Carolina where winters consist of average daily high temps in the mid 50s, and nights in which the lows only sporadically drop below freezing, had no impact on my decision. I have a leather bomber jacket that escapes my coat closet maybe three or four times a year. I own six sweaters and might or might not make a full rotation through all of them during any given winter. But, freezing temps be damned; I was going to Colorado!

My primary-care physician, Dr. Budelmann, complained I wasn't including interior shots in these posts, so this is for you, Doc!
Having lived in South Florida for 25 or so years before moving to SC, my winter clothing received even less of an annual workout. I owned a fair collection of winter garb while in Fla. only because of my travels with "Discover America" when I worked on that TV series. We taped episodes year around and a bundle-up wardrobe was a must. Here's the thing about owning winter clothing while living on Florida's Gold Coast, it lasts forever. And, I mean, forever. I have snow pants, fleece jackets, boots and sub-zero-rated coats still stowed in a cedar chest that I've owned since 1992. It all looks like it just came out of an LL Bean mailer. I've accumulated even more from time to time as chachke on winter carmaker media trips. My cedar chest of winter finery runneth over.

Yep, it was stunning!
Because of all the gear required for shooting segments of just3thingsvideo.com on these trips, I already need to drag along a bag large enough I must check it. So, I was spared agonizing over taking just a couple of things that would fit in a carry-on, or stepping up to a large bag and taking a bunch of rarely used duds. Even then, though, winter apparel is heavy and thick. I was still forced to pick and choose among my collection of cold-temp gear.

My invite to this event was late in arriving. Actually, I received it after the registration deadline. GMC made room for me on the final wave of media, but the tardiness resulted in problems with booking flights. Telluride and Montrose are the local airports; however, both are small, offering few flights in and out. Delta, my airline of choice, has limited service into Montrose, but those flights were all booked.

I don't like flying across time zones on airlines on which I have no clout, but I was forced to fly United out and American back. Not only did I have to pony up $25 each way for my checked bag, but I was denied all the courtesies of being a status flyer on Delta. I felt like the Irish on the Titanic. (I'm sure if my plane went down in the water somewhere, the supply of life vests would have run out long before they reached row 29, where I sat.) Before boarding the first plane, I downloaded several episodes of a TV series from Netflix on my iPad for the trip, and made the best of it. Oh, the humanity. 

One of our modes of transportation to dinner the first evening.
Telluride and its surrounding area are absolutely gorgeous this time of year. GMC bunked us at the Lumiere Hotel. I probably couldn't locate it again if you put a gun to my head. Ideal for the witness-protection program, it's one of a gaggle of look-alike lodgings packed around the base of some mountain in Telluride. I probably heard the mountain's name, but it's lost on me now. Quite beautiful in its own right, though, Lumiere was an ideal jumping off point for the trip's activities.

On the first night, GMC loaded us on one of the enclosed gondolas going up the mountain. At the first stop, we degondola'd and transferred to an open sleigh pulled by a snowcat. On up the mountain we climbed to the Gorrono Ranch. After drinks at an outdoor saloon, we adjourned inside for a terrific dinner. Reversing the process, we returned to the hotel in time for a libation or two in the hotel's well-stocked Bijou Bar.


The updated GMC Sierra 2500 HD Denali was the star of the show. We received a brief introduction to some of its finer points and specifications at a presentation our first morning. We then paired up, mounted up and drove the trucks to Paradox, CO for lunch.

Qualifying the Sierra HD as updated is its next-generation Duramax 6.6-liter turbo-diesel. You could spend a day going over the Denali versions we drove with a magnifying glass and a tape measure, and not find enough changes to warrant the search, save the re-engineered engine and refined Allison 1000 six-speed automatic tranny. Oh, and there's a functional hood scoop now, too. But, hey, in the world of full-size pickups, changes are few and far between. In this case, taking the Duramax up a notch or two more than qualifies as a major upgrade. 

Our intrepid little group of snowmobilers.
GMC managed to devote a four-page press release to the diesel's many improvements. Even I was a little blurry eyed by the end of page two, but here's the CliffsNotes version....

More than 90 percent of the parts in the revised Duramax are new. Peak torque is up 19 percent to 910 lb-ft, and is delivered from 1,500 to 2,850 rpm. You could jerk the bicuspid out of a Tyrannosaurus Rex with that much grunt. Horsepower is up 12 percent to a class-leading 445 hp. A variable vane turbo (Don't ask.) delivers better engine braking and helps with a 35-percent reduction in emissions. Extra acoustical material around the engine bay hushes noise from that quarter. Hustling engine output to the wheels is a beefier six-speed Allison 1000 automatic transmission. GM isn't talking much about towing limits, but the engineers concentrated on providing safe, effortless and quiet performance at 25,000 lb; so, we'll go with that for the time being. Because the government doesn't measure fuel economy for big trucks, no clue what sort of mileage this bad boy delivers. 

You can get into a Sierra HD for just under $60,000. The Denali versions we drove rang the register north of $70,000.

Cocktail hour before dinner our first evening.
Managing to tape three just3things segments and my standups during the lunch break (I'm wasting away from not being able to eat lunch on these ride-and-drive days.), I was able to take advantage of GMC's offer to snowmobile in the afternoon. I hadn't been on a snowmobile in 15 or 20 years. Pressed for time, we did an abbreviated 90-min route, but what a rush!

For dinner that evening, GMC hauled us back up the mountain in multi-passenger snowcats to Alpino Vino. Situated at nearly 12,000 feet, this 28-capacity restaurant specializes in wine and five-course dinners. It also lays claim to being the highest-elevation restaurant in the U.S. It was quite an experience. It is also the only time in my life that a high altitude has affected me. Halfway through my second glass of wine, I was positively loopy. I wasn't alone, however. Half of our group was struggling to stay awake and upright before the main course arrived.

We skipped the usual after-dinner drinks in the hotel bar. I for one, was more than ready for bed. An uneventful trip home -- albeit in steerage -- was exactly the ideal way to wrap up this Colorado winter adventure.

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