Brown, who graduated from Montrose High School in 1968, was born and grew up in Boulder.
“We were the first small wave of people – we were the pioneers, I guess you’d say, of the new Telluride generation,” Brown said of his return to the Western Slope in an interview ten years ago for the documentary film, The YX Factor.
Brown would become a long-lasting presence on Main Street, building the weathered wood “cowboy façade” on the building on the corner of Main and Pine that’s now home to Picaya, waiting tables at the Iron Ladle, and helping to establish Olympic Sports, now Telluride Sports, on the corner of Fir and Main in those early days.
Brown arrived in Telluride “after my last final at the University of New Mexico” with a small group of friends. They “lived a lot like the early settlers” of the onetime mining town, he recalled, “kind of down and dirty,” setting up housekeeping in an abandoned grocery store that would later give way to Telluride Sports, sleeping in a onetime walk-in cooler, hauling water twice a day from the river, and using portable stoves for heat.
“We basically came up here for the skiing,” Brown said, recalling his first winter in Telluride, when a ski-area ad campaign proclaimed, “Telluride Opens Late Due to Too Much Snow!”
“All we wanted to do was ski here; that was all we thought about,” said Brown, who considered himself privileged to be skiing in Telluride “back before skiing became an industry, and it was still fairly new,” and for being able to watch “a whole new area” develop into a world-class ski resort. His second season, he told YX interviewers, he and Ned Mulford skied the run now known as Electra. “We had not a clue abut avalanches,” he said, “and put our skis on and traversed out onto Electra,” which promptly slid.
“I’m in shock; Ned is crying; we take off our skis and literally crawl down on our hands and knees,” only to be spotted by Ski Area Manager Billy Mahoney, who yanked the two lucky-to-be-alive miscreants’ passes for two weeks.
You could ski “virtually year-round, if you had the gumption to do it,” said Brown, who founded the iconic mid-summer Lunar Cup in 1975.
“We were counterculture people,” he said, in hindsight, and, “like settlers in the New World, we took it as our God-given right to experiment.”
Then “the cocaine epidemic came…. One day, we were all concentrating on our businesses, and on being outside, and the next day it was all about coke, and it was crazy. Once I got hooked, it was kind of out of control.
“We were a melting pot of new people with great ideas, and bad people with bad ideas.” For a while, at least, the people with bad ideas seemed to gain the upper hand.
“Reality changed, and what I would call the decline of the early days of Telluride” set in. “That’s when things started getting weird,” and “then the deaths began," he said.
“My friend Toby died on a Wednesday, his best friend died the following Wednesday, and another friend on the Wednesday after that. I left for awhile, in the mid-70s,” Brown told YX interviewers. He eventually returned, and opened Paragon Ski and Sports with Ned Mulford.
With his “serious partying years” behind him, Brown emerged in the early 90s as a Main Street entrepreneur, with “45-50 employees.” Paragon Sports expanded to three storefronts, each with staff offices upstairs.
“But somewhere along the line, the money thing took over,” he said. “Telluride became just another place to make money…it just kind of broke my heart.”
But despite the town’s transition from a place where, as he recalled to YX interviewers, the bus from Norwood brought the miners (who had the region’s high-paying jobs) up Main Street every morning and where “you didn’t make any money and you didn’t spend any money; you took care of your friends and your friends took care of you,” he said he “wouldn’t trade it for the world.
"I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and hopefully, I’ll die here. That’s my goal.”
Brown is survived by his wife, Jacki, and their daughter, Eliza; his sisters, Cathy and Susie, and a very large group of loving friends. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Valley Lawn Funeral Home. A memorial service will be held at some point in the future, date and time to be announced.
PUBLISHED on OCTOBER 28, 2011:
TELLURIDE - Longtime Telluride resident John Brown, known as J. Michael Brown, was found dead at his Shandoka apartment on Thursday, Oct. 27, at approximately 1 p.m.
Telluride Ambulance and the Telluride Marshal's Office were called to the residence, where they discovered Brown, who had been dead for some time.
Brown is survived by his wife, Jacki; their daughter, Eliza; his sisters, Cathy and Susie, and a very large group of loving friends. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Valley Lawn Funeral Home.
The cause and manner of death are pending an investigation, autopsy and toxicology.