The fact that Allred had only minimal ski experience didn’t dissuade him from clicking into his bindings and seizing the tether. The spectacular crash that inevitably followed didn’t do much to diminish his determination to explore the possibilities buried in the shadows of Telluride’s box canyon, either.
Allred was a man on a mission, after all, and his mission was to shape the tiny, out-of-the-way ski area into a world-class mountain resort.
The Colorado Ski Museum announced this spring that Allred would be inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, in recognition of his role in putting this old mining town on the map as one of North America’s top year-round mountain resorts. He will officially be inducted on November 4, at a ceremony in Denver, alongside fellow 2011 inductees Jack Benedick, Charles Elliott, John Garnsey and Chris Klug.
Fellow Ski Hall of Fame inductee Stevens recently shared the story of his first impression of the man who would eventually become known as the principal visionary of the Telluride Ski Resort, at a well-attended local celebration of Allred’s induction held earlier this month at the Sheridan Opera House.
The story is a reflection of Allred’s dogged resolve to triumph over adversity, ever keeping the goal-line in his sights, even when the trail was littered with obstacles, Stevens mused.
“Here was a guy who came to Telluride, where we had a few lifts and one day lodge, and he envisioned it would be a world-class resort. We were nowhere, with no population… that tenacity to implement his vision is truly characteristic of Ron,” Stevens said, harkening back to 1978 when Allred and his business partner, Jim Wells, purchased what was then called the Telluride Ski Company.
The Telluride Ski Area had been under operation since the winter of 1972-73, owned by original ski area developer Joe Zoline. Allred and Wells, old high school friends from Grand Junction who had played a hand in the development of Avon, near Beaver Creek, in the early 1970s, had been hunting for a new venture. Allred stumbled across Telluride, and immediately fell in love.
It took nearly 30 years for Allred’s vision for this obscure hamlet to come to fruition, during which time Telluride evolved from a dying mining town into a vibrant all-season resort community. The steep and rocky slopes of the adjacent peaks were tamed, boasting a network of lifts and a gondola linking the two towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, and the area gained recognition as a major player in the ski industry, owing in large part to its dramatic alpine setting and authentic community character.
Shepherding that vision to reality wasn’t easy, Allred admited.
“We never knew what was going to happen the next week, in terms of income,” he said, remembering standing in front of the mirror every morning while he shaved and thinking, How can we get some income to make this next payroll? What can we sell?
For years, the company just squeaked by, selling a few homesites in the Mountain Village here and there, which would then allow them to pay the bills and eventually build more amenities.
“Each step along the way was a big risk, because everything cost a lot of money. Our efforts to build the airport and the gondola almost broke our company, but somehow my partner Wells would work through all that stuff, and kept pulling rabbits out of a hat,” Allred said.
Although he credits Wells for being the man who worked diligently in the background to implement the vision, Wells said Allred was pulling all the right strings to enable the orchestration of his lofty plan for Telluride.
“He’s a born leader who has great vision. Even though most of us around him didn’t realize it, he was leading us to do the things we needed to do to make Mountain Village and the Telluride Ski Area what it is,” Wells said.
Financial woes weren’t the only challenges Allred and his team at the Telluride Ski Company faced, as they paved the way for Telluride to become a world-recognized destination. Many in the community resisted Allred’s admittedly grandiose campaign for the development of the area.
“When people come here now they think my gosh, this year-round resort community is a natural – but it wasn’t a natural when we started. In fact, most people didn’t believe in it and couldn’t imagine it being successful. There were a number of people that went as far as to prevent it from happening,” he said, remembering giving a big presentation about his plan to the entire community (at that time, no more than 400 people), after which he recalled feeling like he was “the joke of the town for a long time.”
Allred eventually won the favor of many in the community, who joined the effort to make Telluride a success by opening businesses, creating festivals and committing to raising their families here.
As a member of the new generation of players in the evolution of Telluride and Mountain Village, Telluride Ski and Golf CEO Dave Riley says the foundation Allred built for the area has helped pave the way for greatness for this community and its ski and golf resort.
“Ron Allred is one in a very small group of people who achieved incredible things for the North American ski industry,” Riley said, noting that today’s ski company feels a strong responsibility to stay true to his original vision to create a vibrant, unique, high-quality resort.
“As for the ski area itself, many of the things we’ve done since Ron divested are projects he had teed up,” Riley said, citing Revelation Bowl, snowmaking projects, and recent trail improvements as examples. “Customers are looking for a few different things today than they were 30 years ago, but the foundation Ron laid was right on.”
Allred is characteristically humble when speaking of the lengths it took to build a high-ranking ski resort out of a few aging ski lifts and a decrepit day lodge, turning an old sheep ranch into what is now Mountain Village, and finally making the whole package attractive to visitors by bringing in amenities like an airport, golf course, and gondola transportation system.
He said that while he was flattered to receive the award, he considers himself to be just one player in the overall evolution of Telluride. “There were a number of key people that helped make this thing happen, both in our company and outside of it,” Allred said, mentioning his wife Joyce and Wells as two of the “couple-hundred” people who helped sculpt Telluride.
But as his closest confidant and life partner Joyce will attest, her husband worked tirelessly to achieve great things for the once-careworn community they both fell in love with back in 1978.
“He had a vision, and he has the mindset that if he knows that what he’s doing is right, he’s like a bulldog – he grabs on and never lets go,” Joyce Allred said. “We’re going to make this a world class resort’ – those were always his words – and we all used to shake our heads and say, ‘Really?’ But he did it, with a lot of help from a lot of people.”
And still today, she confided, “Even we walk around at times in amazement that it all actually happened, and that it all started with just a little tiny blue building in the Mountain Village.”