The town of Telluride is the county seat and most populous town of San Miguel County in the southwestern portion of Colorado. The town is a former silver camp on the San Miguel River (Colorado) in the western San Juan Mountains. The first gold mining claim was made in the mountains above Telluride in 1875 and early settlement of what is now Telluride followed. The town itself was founded in 1878 as “Columbia,” but due to confusion with a California town of the same name, was renamed Telluride in 1887, for the gold-bearing mineral tellurium. However, the area’s mines for some years provided zinc, lead, copper, silver, and other gold ores.
Telluride sits in a box canyon. Steep forested mountains and cliffs surround it, with waterfalls at the head of the canyon. Numerous weathered ruins of old mining operations dot the hillsides. A free gondola connects the town with its companion town, Mountain Village, Colorado, at the base of the ski area. Telluride and the surrounding area have featured prominently in pop culture. It is the subject of several popular songs. It is especially known for its ski resort and slopes during the winter as well as an extensive festival schedule during the summer. More and more visitors are seeking the coolness of the summer weather in Telluride.
The Telluride Historic District, which includes a significant portion of the town, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town population was 2,221 in the 2000 United States Census.
Mining was Telluride’s only industry until 1972, when the first ski lift was installed by Telluride Ski Resort founder Joseph T. Zoline and his Telluride Ski Corporation. Zoline bought the land for the future resort in 1969 and began to craft the slopes. Along with his mountain manager, Telluride native Bill “Sr.” Mahoney, they slowly and thoughtfully put together a plan for sustained development of Telluride and the region. As mining phased out and a new service industry phased in, the local population changed sharply. Mining families fled Telluride to settle in places like Moab, Utah, where uranium mining offered hope of continued employment. Mining families were replaced by what locals referred to as hippies’, young people with a 1960s worldview which frequently clashed with the values of Telluride’s old-timers. These newcomers were characterized as being idle trust-funders who were drawn to the town for a casual life style and outdoor adventures such as hang gliding, mountain climbing, and kayaking.