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Telluride Ski Resort and the historical Town of Telluride have their roots firmly planted in the mining industry. In 1964, Telluride was designated a National Historic Landmark District for its outstanding degree of historical significance due to its early mining history. Gold was first discovered in the Telluride region in 1858, bringing with the discovery a boom of population and business looking to capitalize on the area’s natural resources. At the height of the Gold Rush nearly 5,000 people inhabited Telluride, and the town boasted more millionaires per capita living in the community than in New York City at the turn of the century. By 1904, more than $360 million of gold was pulled out of Telluride’s mines. However, the world of mining was tough and would set the town on a boom and bust cycle until the development of a ski resort in the 1970’s.
History of Telluride: The Birth of a Ski Area
The miners brought the original interest in skiing in 1937 when William H. Mahoney, erected a primitive tow rope fashioned from a Volkswagen engine near Town Park’s Beaver Pond. Bill “Senior” Mahoney first worked as an Idarado Mining Company shift boss and was instrumental in developing the larger Telluride Ski Area.
As the times changed, Telluride’s boom days started moving toward bust. Many of the area’s mines shut down in the 1950’s, and the population dwindled from thousands to hundreds as people left in droves to find their fortunes elsewhere.
In 1968, Joe Zoline, a Chicago and Beverly Hills based businessman, heeded the advice of a friend from Aspen from years earlier who suggested he check out Telluride, thinking it would make a great ski area. Zoline bought a sheep ranch located at the base of the mountain sight unseen and seeing the potential profits of a running a ski resort, went about creating a ski resort from scratch.
His first step was to hire Emile Allais, a French Olympic skier to consult on the design and layout of the mountain. He enlisted the help of Bill “Senior” Mahoney and Ed Bowers to cut trails, clear slopes, and obtain land-use rights, mining claims, and water rights for the ski company and hired ecologists and environmental planners and encouraged local preservationists to protect the Victorian-era town. By late 1970, the Ski Area offered snowcat skiing for $10 a day including a sack lunch. The next year, five lifts were constructed, and Zoline’s vision became a reality on December 22,, 1972 when the Telluride Ski Resort officially opened.
Throughout the remainder of the 1970’s the resort slowly expanded, adding access to town via the Coonskin Lift in 1975. In 1978, two Colorado Natives, Ron Allred and Jim Wells of the Benchmark Corporation in Avon, Colorado, purchased the ski area.
The Allred and Wells Era
When Allred and Wells purchased the resort, their long-term goal was to transform Telluride into a world-class destination through lift upgrades, construction of on-mountain restaurants and trails and the development of a high-end community on the mountain.
In 1987, Allred and Wells’ plans came to fruition with the founding of Mountain Village. This luxury community became the base of the Ski Resort operations and included lodging, restaurants and skier services. The Resort also added an 18-hole golf course in 1992 to create a year-round tourist destination offering activities catering to a wide range of guest interests
The Gondola connecting the historic town with the new luxury Mountain Village opened on December 20, 1996 and provided a unique, sustainable and efficient means of transportation between the two towns to help eliminate cars on the road. The free 13 minute scenic ride is the first and only transportation of its kind in the county and has become one of the destination’s largest attractions, a favorite of families who visit the region.
The Morita Years
In July 1999, Allred and Wells acquired a joint-venture partner, Hideo “Joe” Morita of Morita Investments International (MINT). In addition to a new partner this year also brought the upgrade of three lifts as well as the grand opening of the Telluride Conference Center, and the resort’s flagship fine-dining restaurant Allred’s. Perched above Telluride at gondola station San Sophia the vistas from the 25 foot floor to ceiling windows earned its reputation as the best views in Telluride. The rustic elegance, exquisite food, and fine service catapulted it to be one of the region’s best dining spots.
By March of 2001, Morita purchased 100 percent of the Telluride Ski and Golf Company (TSG), taking the vision of Allred and Wells into the 21st century. Mr. Morita gave the resort the flexibility and latitude to focus on guest service and significant improvements like $3.1 million investment to increase snowmaking capacity and significant terrain expansion. The resort nearly doubled in size with the addition of Prospect Bowl, which added 733 acres of beginner, intermediate and expert terrain providing some of the most scenic skiing in North America with a run for every ability level.
Chuck Horning and Current Times
In February of 2004, the resort transferred hands to Chuck Horning, a real estate investor from Newport Beach, Calif., who remains the current owner today. Horning’s tenure has brought even more terrain expansion and has allowed the Resort to make unique strides towards creating high end, unique dining experiences as well as become more involved in the local lodging community by acquiring a boutique hotel, The Inn at Lost Creek in Mountain Village and taking over the operations of the iconic property The Peaks Resort and Spa.
Between 2005 and 2009 the ski resort opened some of its most legendary terrain, including Mountain Quail, Black Iron Bowl, the Gold Hill Chutes and Revelation Bowl. These new areas offered extreme terrain with a backcountry feel, all while being within the resort boundaries. The addition of access to 13,320 foot Palmyra Peak elevated the ski area’s vertical drop to 4,425 feet, and offered some of the most stunning skiing and riding in North America.
After extensive terrain expansions, intentions were set to bring the resort’s on-mountain dining to new heights. Telluride Ski & Golf’s culinary initiatives shifted away from large scale cafeteria-style restaurants to intimate high-end eateries dotted across the mountain. These restaurants offer exceptional food in a high-alpine environment offering breathtaking views with refined tableside service reflective of what is found throughout European ski destinations.
Alpino Vino opened in 2009 at 11,966 feet on See Forever ski run making it the highest elevation restaurant in North America. This fine-dining European style eatery was modeled after the restaurants found throughout the Dolomites of Italy where you “ski-to-eat” as opposed to “eat-to-ski,” a saying that became a motto for the resort and offered only lunchtime service. Open only in the winter this ski-in/ski-out destination restaurant later began offering its signature wine pairing dinners. The prix fixe five course meal has garnered recognition from foodies and publications alike.
Telluride Ski and Golf continued its commitment to fine culinary offerings with the opening of Bon Vivant in 2011. Bon Vivant is an outdoor only establishment serving classic French country cuisine at the top of Polar Queen Express Chair 5. The restaurant’s setting is just below Palmyra Peak, and boasts 360 degree views of the resort and surrounding mountains.
With a robust food scene the resort expanded into the world of wine with the appointment Certified Sommelier Andrew Shaffner as resort Wine Director a position unique to the ski industry. This position was created to strengthen the wine programs across all 10 restaurants and educate staff and servers. Since Shaffner’s appointment the resort’s restaurants have garnered raves and awards from top publications including Wine Spectator Magazine and Wine Enthusiast.
To further round out the activities available to guests, the Telluride Adventure Center was created to serve as an adventure hub for anyone looking for fun things to do outside of skiing, as well as make it easy for visitors to book a variety of summer season adventures. Through the Adventure Center guests can easily book activities for themselves or kids offered by some of the region’s best outfitters that range from tame, quiet experiences to adrenaline pumping thrills.
The Telluride Ski and Golf Resort has come a long way from meager beginning as a fading mining town into the world class, year-round destination it has become. The pick, shovel, and hammer have been replaced by skis, snowboards and poles boasting high-end accommodations, fine dining, spas, shops and a variety of terrain that blend luxury sophistication with family friendliness. Telluride’s history is a large part of its character and charm, influencing both as it continues to develop into the future.