Up Hill Ski Tows in the Telluride Region As remembered by Billy Mahoney Sr.
1935-1945 Skiing behind cars was very popular in Telluride during these years. All the roads were dirt and not plowed very well. The town put a stop to this once the war was over and people began to buy cars and more traffic was on the streets; and so it goes.
1937 Gus Sands and Tony Thornton built a 300 foot rope tow above the beaver pond (west of town park) on the North facing slope. The tow went up to a large Quaky tree below Bear Creek Road. It was powered by a Brad-Stratton Engine.
1938-1939 Bruce Palmer and a group of boys hauled a motor up the hill to build a tow they needed some pulleys and a cable, but Bruce Palmer ended up getting a rope tow that was made in Sweden and set it up at Grizzly Gulch also known as the Kids Hill. This tow was about 400 feet long. The gasoline engine is now in the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.
1940 Bob Mahoney and Ed Goldsworthy used a 1927 Nash car as a portable rope tow at the beaver pond area near the Town Park. We also used it at the Broomtail on Turkey Creek Mesa and what is now called West Meadows and up on Lizard Head Pass.
1941 Bob, Ed Pete Peterson, Billy and Pat Mahoney and others built a Rope Tow at the ballpark (off what is known as Firecracker Hill) using a Model A Engine. This Rope Tow burned up in 1942.
1946-1952 Bob, Ed, Pete and others built a new rope tow where the other one had burned up. They used a V-8 Ford engine that came from Pete’s parents who owned the Peterson Garage.
1950 Art Peterson developed what is now the Skyline Guest Ranch. Pete, Ed and Bob set up a rope tow there to be used by the guests and the kids that wanted to ski in 1957.
1953 A new rope tow was set up on Firecracker Hill by the local kids and Melvin Punk Porterfield, and was used until 1956.
1956 The Idarado Mining Company built a new electric powered rope tow for the local kids. Bob Hilander, the mines general manager; Dutch Wunderlich the shop foreman Jimmy Bonato, the lathe operator and Arvo Thompson, and Dick Stevens who set it up on the hill. It was operated from 1956 to about 1963 at the ball park. Bob Hilander designed a patch with two crossed crutches and a casted ankle. The name of the Ski-Hi club was the club name there were about 100 members, mostly kids. The lift was open on weekends a season pass was $5.00
1963 The Idarado rope tow was moved from the ballpark to Grizzly Gulch in 1963 this rope tow was about 1200 feet long. At this time we found that it was too steep for the small kids to use. In the summer of 1964 Dick Swerdfeger, Bucky Schuler, Sr Mahoney, Ned Walker, the Rice boys, Bill Mahoney Jr, Johnny Stevens, Arvo Thompson and others built a rope tow for the beginners to use. We then realigned the 1200 foot tow, at this time we removed the beginner tow. Now all the kids could use the one tow. The club was run by volunteer parents, we operated the ski area until 1969. At this time Joe Zoline had purchased the land. We asked Joe Zoline if he would let us operate the area. He said we could if we got insurance and get the Colorado Tramway Board to approve the operation. We found that the cost was to prohibitive so we closed the area down.
The Road to a Ski Area
As remembered by Billy Mahoney Sr.
1940 The U.S. Forest Service worked on a plan for a Winter sports area at Trout Lake. The property considered belonged to the Western Colorado Power Co and C.N. Fairlamb and there were talks of a trade for some Electra Lake property. As a result of the war the trade and winter sports area didn’t happen.
1958 A group here in Telluride formed what was called the Telluride Ski Inc. We obtained options on the land where the present day ski area is today. The Telluride Elks Club came up with $12000 to help obtain the land options. Stock was sold to the citizens of Telluride but unwise expenditures of funds by manager bankrupted the company.
1964 The recreation planning committee of City of Telluride sent a profile for a double chairlift to Sterns Roger Corporation. This lift was to be built from the old Depot up to Camels Garden. Pete Peterson, Bill Mahoney and Ed Goldsworthy were on the City Council, Donald O’Rourke was the city planner. We tried to get the whole city council to get a small business loan, we needed $70960 to get this done, but the Mayor and other the other members of the city council would not go along with this deal. The Mayor would not sign the agreement.
1965 The ski area on Dallas Divide was a popular place to ski. It was opened in 1960 by a group of Montrose and Norwood people. They built a t-bar and lodge. Some of the group were Jerry Hodges, Steve Wall, Tessman and the Clines. They hired Jerry Pesman t conduct a ski school. The Area was opened until 1973. They had to close because of the Colorado Tramway Board.
1964 Joern Gerdts, Jerry Pesman and Billy Mahoney Sr. tried to promote a ski area again. Gerdts got a story in Ski magazine that helped some. Gerdts was coming back from California he was sitting with Joe Zoline they got talking about skiing in Aspen where they both lived. Gerdts told him about a great place for a ski area this was 1968. Then in September Joe Zoline came to Telluride and picked up the options on the land.
In 1969-1970-1971 We ran snow cat skiing to promote the development of a ski area. We got the permits from the U.S. Forest Service to develop a ski area. Then in 1972 we built five double chair lifts and skiing became a big deal here in Telluride.
Some of the Early Ski Run names in 1970
- Bushwacker – This name came about in the late 1940’s the young skiers called skiing thru the trees BUSHWACKING.
- Mammoth – Name came about because it was the most open area to ski in the early days.
- Spiral Stairs – Named after the spiral stair case that went from the surface to 4 level of the Tomboy Mine. The stairs at the Tomboy spiraled 5 times from the surface to number 4 level.
- Telluride Plunge – Name taken from a mining claim located in Savage Basin in the year 1870.
- See For Ever – Name taken from mining claim located on the Three Needles Mountain in Bridal Veil Basin elevation 13481 from this mountain you can See For Ever.
- Pick and Gad – Named after the Pick and Gad cat house, you could pick a lady for the evening and talk all night among other things.
- Misty Maiden – Name of a girl that worked in the red light district her name was Misty.
True Stories of the Ski Area
Accounts by Sr. Mahoney
This happened in June 1970, I had just hired a fellow to help me cut some test trails for the proposed ski area. I never ask him what kind of work he had done in the past. We had just started lunch, this guys name was Ed. He turned to me and said I think we may need to get some uppers and downers to help me do this kind of work. I didn’t understand what he was saying, he told me when he worked for a newspaper back east he used these uppers and downers. He went on to say it gets your mind off your work, he said one time at this newspaper he thought he was a needle on a musical record. I didn’t know what to say I thought to my self what the hell have I hired maybe I better let this guy go, but you know he really became a good worker. I don’t think he used these uppers or downers.
This happened in 1972 Joe Zoline sent in a landscape architect that was from California he was to help lay out the cutting of the ski trails. Well one day he said to me what are those trails up on gold hill, well I said to him those trails are made by geese that are flying South, he said oh! I then explained to him that geese can’t fly over 10000 elevation. Gold Hill is over 12000 elevation so they land at the 10000 elevation walk up over the top and down to the 10000 elevation and fly away. Later that evening he was down at the Sheridan Bar, having a beer with the crew. He politely said to the guys sitting at the bar did you know that geese can’t fly above 10000 elevation.
In 1972this same architect asked me a few weeks later what do you do if a bear came by. I told him do not climb a tree as bears are good tree climbers, he then asked what about a small tree. I told him these bears around here will shake the tree until you fall out. He then asked what one should do, I then told him to lay as flat as flat as he can and play dead. A few weeks later I came upon this guy who was laying flat on the ground. I asked him what he was doing, he said he was practicing being dead.
In 1970 Ed and I needed to obtain a certification under the National Ski Patrol to run our snow cat skiing. I got it all set up with the ski patrol from Grand Junction to get our certification. We got all set up to go through necessary routine. I was first I went through the routine with no problem, when Ed was to bring the toboggan down it turned upside down with one of the patrol guys. Ed let go of the rope, now as Ed passed the toboggan he was looking back to see what had happened he ran face first into a small tree and was knocked cuckoo. The guy in the toboggan was ok, well I thought this was it, no certification. The ski patrolman said I never saw anything like this, he gave us our certification. By the way we didn’t have any accidents that winter.