Arrival Date Calendar

Departure Date Calendar

Telluride Colorado

The Transition to White Gold

From Mining Town to Ski Resort

Telluride was a mining “boom town” in the late 1800s, but the turn of the 20 th century marked a period of decline. One by one, most of the mines in Telluride closed. When the stock market collapsed in 1929, Telluride’s population dwindled to 600. Fortunately, World War II led to an increase in the price of lead, zinc, and copper. Two large mining companies turned their attention back to Telluride, and the mining industry was revived.

Some residents believed that there were plenty of attractions in Telluride that could draw tourists, but the tourists never came. After the miners and prospectors had struggled with snow to keep work going for decades, no one expected that snow would be responsible for Telluride’s next boom: white gold.

During the decline, skiing was mostly a pastime for locals, but the transformation of nearby Aspen into a resort town with a focus on skiing interested developers. It was Joe Zoline who arrived in Telluride in 1968 with the idea of creating a ski area. He had a vision of a mountain recreation area that would surpass all others. With the help of Bill Mahoney, Sr., he acquired parcels of land and negotiated land use permits to create the Telluride Ski Area. 

Photo credit: Telluride Historical Museum

Zoline undertook the planning and design, hiring French Olympic skier Emile Allais to assist. Allais brought valuable skills with him to train the ski patrol and ski school instructors that would work in Telluride. He was able to help with creating mountain facilities, ticketing, and marketing. Zoline hired environmental planners to mitigate the effect of the construction on the natural ecology. He encouraged locals to protect their Victorian-era town to keep the integrity of the old mining legacy.

The Telluride Ski Area began operating its first five ski lifts in 1972. In 1978, Joe Zoline and his Swiss partner sold the ski area to Ron Allred. Partners Ron Allred and Jim Wells understood the necessity of master planning and quality construction, and they envisioned a new ski village where real estate sales would help drive the success of the ski area. They promoted a local tourism board that could operate a visitors’ center, book reservations, and send representatives to ski trade shows. They recognized that an airport was needed to bring people to Telluride, as well as a transportation system to move tourists between the established town and the new mountain village.

Photo credit: Telluride Historical Museum

The first snowmaking system in the Telluride Ski Area was completed in 1982-83. This system of underground pipe ensures adequate snow pack on the lower terrain. In 1985, two triple chairs were newly installed, and one double-chairlift was relocated, opening up an additional 180 acres of new ski terrain. Telluride installed its first high-speed four-person ‘quad lift’ in 1986.

Construction of the Telluride airport was completed in 1985.  Consisting of one runway built on the top of Deep Creek Mesa. Views are unrivaled, and landing in Telluride is an experience like no other!

Mountain Village, 800 feet higher on the mountain, is a pedestrian community. New construction before 1990 focused on the village core with the construction of high-rise hotels and condominiums, and space for businesses and services. Development of the Mountain Village progressed slowly but solidly, as home sites were purchased and vacation homes constructed on the “ski in, ski out” slopes.

The developers constructed a first-class golf course in Mountain Village and were then able to market the property on fairways in addition to ski runs, making Telluride a year-round resort destination. A large conference center was also constructed in 1996 to attract corporate conferences. 

Photo credit: Telluride Historical Museum

Mountain Village was chartered as a separate town from Telluride in 1995, and in 1996, the gondola was constructed to connect the town of Telluride to Mountain Village. This gondola is a people mover, transporting employees and skiers to the village core, and allowing tourists to travel to shops and restaurants.

In 1999, the Telluride Ski Area brought in a new investor, Hideo “Joe” Morita of Japan. Additional quads were installed, providing faster access to popular intermediate trails. The Prospect Bowl expansion in 2001 opened new intermediate and expert terrain.

In 2004, Chuck Horning and his partners purchased the Telluride Ski Resort. Expansion has pushed into Black Iron Bowl, Palmyra Peak, Gold Hill Chutes, and Revelation Bowl, creating a world-class ski resort.

In December 2015, Bill Jensen joined Telluride Ski and Golf Resort as Chief Executive Officer and a partner. Jensen has multiple years of experience at both Intrawest and Vail Resorts. His addition to the ownership team is welcomed by the Telluride community. 

Excerpts from Telluride: A Silver Past, A Golden Future by Susan Dalton

Photo credit: Telluride Historical Museum