MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Four decades ago, Telluride was a dusty town fading into the backdrop of a dying mining industry.
But a few residents envisioned a new golden opportunity for the community, one that could bring Telluride back from the brink of obscurity and restore its luster.
A new paradigm emerged, based on snow, not minerals, and once again, the mountains proved to be the town’s most valuable assets.
Some of the visionaries who worked hard to rebirth the dying mining town as a thriving tourist mecca share their stories tonight at the Telluride Conference Center, when the Telluride Ski Resort hosts “Skiing Through the Years: A 40 Year Run Through the Life of Telluride Ski Resort.”
The event is part of the ski area’s 40th anniversary celebration, featuring 40 days of events celebrating the resort’s past, present and future.
Colorado Ski Hall of Fame inductee and 2011 Telluride Foundation Outstanding Citizen Bill “Senior” Mahoney, the centerpiece of tonight’s celebration, will share his stories of growing up in Telluride and the role he played in shepherding its evolution into the world-class ski resort it is today.
In his inimitable style, Mahoney will bring to life the Telluride journey from boom-to-bust mining town to renowned ski and golf resort, recounting stories from his 80-year history – from learning to ski on Catholic Hill (Telluride’s N. Spruce Street, home to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church) to riding the Bullion Tram to work in the mines above town to becoming the Telluride Ski Area’s first employee. Mahoney’s son Junior will chime in with stories from Telluride’s last four decades.
As a young teenager in the late 1930s, Senior Mahoney helped cut the first lift line on the hillside where the Coonskin Lift (#7) is today; and throughout his childhood spent winter days riding one of Telluride’s early rope tows up Grizzly Gulch – known today as Kids’ Hill.
After graduating from Telluride High School, Mahoney served in the Navy. Upon returning home and settling in Telluride with his wife Twylla (his fourth-generation Tellurider wife of 62 years) Mahoney worked as a hard-rock miner with the Idarado Mining Co. Although he enjoyed his work in the mines, Mahoney always knew that developing a ski resort was the only way the small Colorado mountain community could ultimately survive. As he explained in an interview with The Watch in 2011, “Even though I had a good job with Idarado, anybody knows that mining doesn’t last forever. If it hadn’t have been for the ski area, we’d have skied Catholic Hill and Oak Street, then gotten married and been off to Timbuktu.”
Between the late 1950s and mid 1960s, Mahoney helped spearhead two separate attempts to raise enough capital to get a ski area off the ground, neither of which succeeded. But despite those early failures, he never gave up the hope of someday seeing Telluride become home to an economy-boosting ski resort. That hope grew wings in 1968, when entrepreneur and developer Joe Zoline came to town and started accumulating property.
Mahoney was quickly identified as the most knowledgeable guy in town when it came to skiable terrain around Telluride, and in 1969 he was hired to cut some of the first test trail on the mountain.
When Zoline brought ski area designer Emile Allais to town to assess Telluride’s feasibility as a ski area, Mahoney toured the mountain with him, going on to help Allais draw a map of favorable lift and trail locations. Allais’ favorable report detailing Telluride’s potential helped sway both the U.S. Forest Service as well as Zoline’s financial backers that a ski area was viable.
Twylla remembers those dynamic years, when her husband’s long-held dream of seeing a ski area come to the slopes surrounding their hometown began taking shape. “We talked it over, and I told him, you know, if this thing goes, things are going to change. And they did, and we decided we were ready for it,” Twylla said in a 2011 interview with The Watch.
In the ensuing years, five lifts were built on the new Telluride Ski Area, which officially opened for lift-served skiing in the winter of 1972-73.
Meet the Mahoneys tonight, at the Telluride Conference Center, 6-8 p.m., where attendees are encouraged to bring stories or their own memorabilia from Telluride’s past to share their own stories. A cash bar will be available and complimentary hors d’oeuvres celebrating historic Telluride restaurants and watering holes will be served. A photo display, video presentation and slide show will be featured, as well.