Joined: 24 Jul 2003
Location: Denver, CO
|Posted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 8:27 pm Post subject: History of Telluride Article
|Check out this article in the Montrose Press
|By Elaine Hale Jones
December 29, 2007
If you wanted to ski the "steep, deep and narrow," and glide through some of the lightest, driest powder in North America, you came to Colorado's newest ski area, Telluride.
On opening day, Dec. 22, 1972, local skiers got their first taste of expert runs that literally took their breath away; runs like the "Plunge" (for the serious mogul skier) and the 40-degree slope of the "Spiral Stairs" brought a new challenge and depth to the skiing experience in southwestern Colorado.
But it had its limitations in the beginning.
The Telluride Ski Area officially opened Dec. 22, 1972. Much of the early promotion of the area was targeted to locals, (i.e. ski clubs) especially those living in nearby Montrose County. Courtesy photo.
"If you skied down the Plunge, there was no way to get back up to the top of the run," Steve Omernik, president of Jeans Westerner, Inc. in Montrose, recalled. "You had to wait for a bus (provided by the ski area) to take you from town back up to the mountain so you could ski down the Plunge again."
The Coonskin Chair Lift, which debuted in 1975, solved this problem and gave skiers an equally 'hair-raising' ride back up the north side of the mountain.
"Telluride has come a long, long way since it opened," he stated. Steve's parents bought The Westerner, an army surplus store located in downtown Montrose, in March of 1972 and since then the family's business has grown along with the nearby skiing industry.
"They (the owners of Telluride Ski Area at the time) aggressively marketed to locals," he said, noting that with subsequent changes in ownership, however, the focus soon expanded to include national and international marketing.
"Telluride has been an important part of our business as well as other related businesses in the region," Omernik said. "We serve both the working population (of Telluride) as well as the guest base."
But it took more than "white gold," (the famous light powder snow) to transform the historic mining community into a world-class ski area. It took Beverly Hills magnate, Joseph Zoline, to appear on the scene in the late 1960s with a grand vision of what Telluride could become.
Zoline, who had a background in corporate law, manufacturing and thoroughbred racing, was known in his business circles as a risk taker. After buying a cattle ranch in Aspen in the mid 1950s, Zoline became disillusioned with the way the ski area was being developed. A friend suggested that he take a look at another place, one hidden from the rest of the world at the end of a box canyon ... the former mining town of Telluride.
In 1968, Zoline made a trip to Telluride and discovered a quiet town with no traffic lights, Victorian-era homes and an occasional dog wandering down the street. A 900-acre sheep ranch was for sale as a possible ski area site, and Zoline jumped at the chance and bought the parcel for $150,000.
"I was feeling adventurous, and I wanted to do something beautiful and constructive," he would later comment.
By January of 1969, Telluride's newest promoter had purchased another 3,500 acres of mountainside, with an option on another 1,000 acres to develop as a major ski resort. When Zoline approached the town's Chamber of Commerce with the idea for a ski area that would rival Aspen and Mammoth Mountain in California, he was met with a mixed response. Some of the town's business leaders saw it as the "shot in the arm" that Telluride needed to attract new people and business to the area. On the opposite side of the coin, other longtime residents foresaw problems with growth like Aspen had experienced.
Despite these obstacles, Zoline proceeded and in the fall of 1970 (in a vote of 181 to 30) was given an option to buy the town dump on the San Miguel River as a ski terminal site. If he didn't build by 1977, the town had the option to buy the land back at the same price of $1,000 per acre for the 3.6 acres.
Needless to say, the last scenario never happened and Zoline proceeded to develop his Telluride project. A significant step was taken when the U.S. Forest Service approved his location and development plans as an "official winter sports site."
Enlisting the expertise of former French world champion skier, Emile Allais, Zoline planned for a final completion date of 1990 with the ski resort being developed in stages. At the base of the mountain would be a village for 8,000 people, while in the high mountain meadows above the town, "ski ranches" would allow owners to literally ski right out their doors onto the slopes.
Zoline planned for 60 miles of trails served by 17 lifts and an eventual 17,000 skiers per day.
In the latter part of 1972, the first of the lifts opened.
Telluride's rich mining history took on new life as names of ski runs, such as Pick and Gad, Tomboy, Smuggler, Pandora and Ophir Loop.
In addition to near perfect ski conditions, the views from atop the mountain were spectacular. On a clear day, skiers could see all the way to the La Sal Mountains (127) miles in Utah and to the west, the 14,250-foot summit of Mount Wilson.
"First Love" was appropriately named after Colorado's long-time governor, John A. Love, and "Allais Alley" for the former world champion skier who had drawn it all with his pen. Miles of cross-country trails also offered an alternative to downhill skiing.
With the new influx of money and interest in Telluride, came a significant change to the once quiet mining town--skyrocketing land prices. By 1972 speculation was as wild as it was in the late 1800s when deposits of gold, silver and other ores were being discovered in the San Juans.
Over the period of one year, the cost of a lot in Telluride rose from $100 to $1,000.
In 1978, two Colorado natives, Ron Allred and Jim Wells, purchased the ski area from Zoline and his backer Simonius-Vischer Corporation of Switzerland. Both men are credited with making Telluride the destination resort it is today; investing $4 million in the design and construction of the Telluride Regional Airport and linking the two towns of Telluride and Mountain Village by a free public gondola.
The opening of the commercial airport in 1985 and the 1995 incorporation of Mountain Village above the town have also contributed to Telluride's growth and prominence as a major ski resort.
For all its growth and expansion over the past 35 years, Telluride still retains much of its "character" from the past, Omernik said.