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Telluride, Colorado: Past and Present

Telluride, Colorado, once a bustling center for gold-mining dreams, has fully claimed the identity of a year-round adventure and environmentally sensitive community.
By Brigid Mander
image-telluride crew 3x4 150
Photograph by Ian Fohrman

High in the western backcountry, avid skiers are making turns on the first snowfall. In the San Juan Mountains, nearly 18 inches of powder fell in the high peaks, inspiring a few locals to take out their rock boards and kick off the season by leaving tracks high above the shuttered Tommy Boy Gold Mine.

Southwestern Colorado’s San Juans are also the spectacular mountains that skiers Jess McMillan and Chris Davenport shred during this year’s Warren Miller Entertainment flick.

But the strength and fitness of a mountaineer, or access to a helicopter are not the only things that can get an aspiring skier high into these majestic peaks. The town of Telluride, Colorado, boasts the enviable position of being tucked high in a San Juan box canyon, which is connected by gondola to the base village of Telluride Ski Resort. This epic location makes it easy for the mere 3,000 residents of the town – and its skiing guests - to get after their turns. 

If you are really itching to make some turns, as some locals were a couple weeks ago, mining roads climb up the steep mountainsides above the town. This makes it easy to farm early season snow with high-altitude turns, but also reminds us of the bustling center for gold-mining dreams the San Juans were for over a hundred years before they became a land of ski dreams.  

For a small town Telluride bursts with historical tales and significance – such as being the site of Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery, or the place where L.L. Nunn invented A/C current to power mines. Yet the most impressive talent this corner of the ski world boasts is Telluride’s ability to successfully reinvent and renew itself with changing times. 

Followed by mining’s final decline locally, Telluride refused to succumb to the fate of many nearby ghost towns.  Today, it is an example of a tightly run community in the enviable position of putting its quality of life first. Much of the canyon is now protected land, and nearly the entire town designated as a historic, protected, district.

Telluride has fully claimed the identity of a year-round adventure and environmentally sensitive community, as handily as it once claimed the rough mining life. The free gondola connection runs year-round, connecting Mountain Village to Telluride in a unique, environmentally-friendly system. 

Locals and community restaurants alike have seized the green movement by taking advantage of flourishing farmer’s markets and local produce. For the first winter ever Hotel Madeline of Mountain Village will attempt to implement a year-round local food-sourcing program. No small feat in a mountain town, it all ties into Telluride’s seemingly innate ability to stay ahead of the curve, innovate, inspire, and thrive.  

For skiers, of course, the main attraction is simple. Big, lift accessible terrain with jaw-dropping scenery, and a town with an ethic and apre’s-ski to make you feel you good about shredding high above.