telluride

THE UTES 
Once a numerous and nomadic people, the Utes were the first visitors to the Telluride valley. Making their summer camps along the San Miguel River, they hunted in the surrounding mountains for elk, deer and mountain sheep. In the winter, they retreated to the lowlands and nearby red rock canyons of the desert to find shelter and dry ground. For centuries, this way of life continued unchanged. 
 
THE EXPLORERS 
In the late 1700s, the Spanish made their way north through Mexico and established a townsite in present day Santa Fe. Searching for an overland route to their landholdings on the Pacific coast, they crossed the lower Rocky Mountains and named them the San Juans. However, none stayed to settle this rugged high-altitude environment. Fur trappers were likely the first Anglos to spend extended time in the San Juans, but with the demise of the beaver due to the increasing popularity of top hats made from the animal's pelt, the trappers moved on. The discovery of gold in 1858 put Colorado on the map. As prospectors flooded the northern Rockies, many fortune seekers headed south. The discovery of gold in the San Juans heralded a new era for this desolate mountain range. 
 
THE MINING BOOM 
In 1875, prospector John Fallon made the first claim in Marshal Basin above Telluride. He registered the Sheridan Mine with the Silverton County Clerk, a claim that proved to be rich in zinc, lead, copper, iron, silver and gold. The town of Columbia was established in the Telluride valley in 1880. Because of confusion with another mining camp, Columbia, California, the United States Post Office refused to grant the town a local branch. Thus, Columbia, Colorado, was changed to Telluride. This name was probably derived from tellurium (ironically, not found here), a nonmetallic element often associated with rich mineral deposits of gold. The other theory is that the town was named for the famous send-off, ‚To-hell-u-ride!, given to fortune seekers heading to the southern San Juans. 
 
 
THE TOWN WITHOUT A BELLYACHE 
With the coming of the railroad in 1890, the town flourished and Telluride's population soared to 5,000. Many immigrants made the arduous journey over the Rockies and traveled south in search of wealth. Telluride became a melting pot of Finns, Swedes, Irish, Cornish, French, Italians, Germans and Chinese, all of whom were supported by mining. The town boasted all the amenities of a thriving community plus saloons, gambling and a much-heralded red-light district. Mining for silver, gold, zinc, lead and copper created an impressive 350 miles of multi-level tunnels that honeycomb through the mountains at the east end of the valley. The wealth of Telluride attracted the likes of Butch Cassidy and his 'Wild Bunch', who began their brazen bank robbing career at the San Miguel National Bank in 1889. 
 
Silver prices crashed in 1893, followed by the first World War in 1917 and the end of Telluride's mining boom. Gold prices were fixed during the war and many men left the mines to join the armed forces or work in war-related industries. By the 1960s, the place was barely more than a ghost town, and the population had dwindled to less than 600 residents. 
 
WHITE GOLD 
Telluride was resurrected in the 1970s by another kind of gold; snow. After a small group of hopeful locals, led by Billy Mahoney Sr., joined forces with newcomer and entrepreneur Joe Zoline, a ski area was hammered out of the ridge near Gold Hill. The new ski resort reshaped the economy, revived the Telluride community and essentially put Telluride back on the map. In 1978, two Colorado natives, Ron Allred and Jim Wells, with the backing of their Benchmark Corporation of Avon, Colorado, assumed the reins of the ski area. Their vision included a mountain village along with a first-class ski area and year-round destination resort. Working closely with Mahoney, whom they named their vice president, they installed snowmaking equipment, added lifts and carved new terrain designed specifically for beginner skiers. In 1996, the Gondola purred into operation. This free transportation system, the first of its kind in North America, links the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village and has become one of the area's most popular attractions. In 1998, the ski area opened an 800-vertical-foot terrain park, the Surge Air Garden, which brought with it a host of new events and competitions. Capital improvements continue on the ski mountain today, as the ski area's leaders strive for increased snowmaking capability and high-speed lifts that access improved ski runs. 
 
SUMMER FESTIVAL CAPITAL 
When the snow flies, the summer might seem far away. Nonetheless, when it does arrive, Telluride's summer season is filled with a wide range of events and activities. As outdoor enthusiasts shaped Telluride's winter scene, artists and culture lovers nurtured a vibrant and diverse array of summer festivals, and Telluride evolved into a year-round resort. 
 
YOU ARE HERE 
Today, Telluride's population is less than half of what it was during its mining heyday; it is now estimated at 2,200 residents. Miners have been replaced by (or have become) skiers and festivals have grown up and improved, but Telluride's history is intact. Look around. Whether you stumble across an old mining shack in the forest or scale a rugged peak to obtain a majestic view, you'll find that Telluride's mountains are still full of riches, and that the spirit of the Old West remains. 


In the world of big mountain, big resort skiing, this is as close to perfect as it gets.
— The New Yorker

Telluride is a charming, funky little place...it is difficult not to be seduced by it.
— The London Times