TELLURIDE – On a blustery Tuesday, Dec. 3 downvalley, three men wearing hard hats stood outside a retired limestone mine in Deep Creek, contemplating an upright steel pole and a small yellow bulldozer. Faded-to-white prayer flags were strewn above the shadowy “Hard Hat Area” mine entrance, where the electronic mashup music of Pretty Lights could be heard. An incoming storm stoked the already blowing winds and plummeting temperatures as the trio brainstormed about how best to start the assembly phase of the first-of-its-kind holiday tree.
The steel pole is the backbone for a 12-foot-high holiday tree that will, on Friday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m., be inaugurated as the Telluride Ski Tree, and the brainstorming session was about how best to install the first of its five sections of branches comprised of neon-colored, stripped-of-their-bindings K2, Völkl and Solomon skis of yesteryear onto the spine of the tree.
This problem was a matter of course for Telluride welder, metal artist and ski tree designer Anton Viditz-Ward, who has been working with steel – his favorite medium – for the last 20 years. Viditz-Ward, known for his elaborate steel displays at Burning Man, at the Ah Haa School and around town, is the caretaker of this abandoned mine that’s home to his welding studio (and spaces for other local artists), where he designed and constructed the one-of-a-kind ski tree for the Holiday Prelude now in full swing.
The tree will be ceremoniously lit on Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. in Elks Park, along with a celebratory “ski burn” (in a moveable fire pit) and ceremony honoring the Norse snow god Ullr, Patron Saint of Skiers.
But rest assured, said Telluride Parks and Recreation Department Director Stephanie Jaquet, the bonfire will not consume the skis.
“We want to make it clear that we’re burning wooden replica skis, not actual skis with plastic and hazardous chemicals,” she said.
To Ted Wilson, an organizer of the Holiday Prelude, the ski tree and nod-to-Ullr ski burn symbolize Telluride’s ski town culture.
“The ski tree idea came about when we were searching for a centerpiece unique to Telluride and our culture,” Wilson said. “The ski tree is a symbol of the holidays and the holiday spirit itself, and Telluride’s history of being a ski town.” Wilson explained that the whole concept of the Holiday Prelude was inspired by a similar prelude in Northern New England, where many coastal communities build trees holiday trees using old lobster traps.
In November, Wilson started collecting skis in an effort to construct the one-off creation, and the community was quick to donate more than enough skis.
“The ski tree was a community-driven event, so the tree already represents the enthusiasm of our locals in wanting to dress up our town and celebrate it,” Wilson said. “This was shown by people donating over 300 skis.”
Wilson, who originally pitched the idea of the Holiday Prelude to town officials and business-owners, knows a few things about organizing festivals. The founder and promoter of the four-year-old Telluride Horror Show, he has worked with the Telluride Blues and Brews, Mountainfilm and the Telluride Jazz Festival, as well.
“We’ve got all the festivals during the summer, but in this case, Telluride is the headliner,” Wilson said, of the two weeks of early-December holiday festivities. “The hope with the Holiday Prelude is for people to immerse themselves in the town of Telluride and all the funk and unique things it has to offer.
“In my mind, Telluride has the perfect storybook setting to be an incredibly festive and cool Christmas town,” said Wilson. “I think the whole idea behind the Prelude is that we have so much talent and creativity to decorate and light up our town that we will blow people away and get them excited for the holidays. We have the perfect stage for this.
“This year, we made some big leaps forward: more lighting, upping the quality of the decorations, and increasing the number of events,” Wilson said.
Early December typically brings an unwelcome lull to many Telluride and Mountain Village businesses and hotels. But now for the second year, town merchants and members of the Telluride Tourism Board have mounted the Telluride Holiday Prelude to bring early-in-the-season holiday cheer – and bargains – to the two towns.
To attract visitors, hotels have offered inexpensive lodging options through the Telluride Visitor Board website, with some rooms starting at $89. The Telluride Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments are helping stage public events.
“The Holiday Prelude is truly a community-wide effort,” said Jaquet. “Between the Holiday Prelude Committee and the town’s Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments, this is a real team effort.”
The Holiday Prelude has events galore, from tonight’s free screenings of The Wizard of Oz at the Nugget Theater (see calendar, pages 6-7 for details) to this weekend’s performances of the Sheridan Arts Foundation’s Young People’s Theater production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown to next weekend’s events in Mountain Village, from two hours of free late-afternoon sledding on the Telluride Ski Area to visits with Santa, strolling buskers, free ice-skating (and free parking!) in Mountain Village.
Visitors and locals alike can enjoy the sights and sounds of a bustling early-season. Also on tap: holiday cards and cooking classes for children at Wilkinson Library and free screenings of holiday movies (see pages 6 and 7 for details), and on Dec. 14, a 5-8 p.m. Art Walk, and a Fire and Ice party at the Telluride Town Park outdoor rink starting at 6 p.m. Wilson has some innovative fire and lighting installations in his sights to make this event something to remember.