Bum's Rush

In the gentrifying mountain village of Telluride, a band of local adventure addicts is preaching the gospel of neo-hippie purity in an upstart 'zine called Mountainfreak. Can these goddess-worshipping ski bums stay true to their vert' and manage to run a business at the same time?

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

Telluride attracts the Hilary Whites and Mark Steeles of the world for many of the same reasons that Aspen and Vail and Steamboat and Tahoe and Santa Cruz and the North Shore of Oahu—in their recreational frontier periods—attracted people before it. An overwhelming natural beauty, a this-isn't-home exoticism, a chance to ski or surf or climb or whatever in the big leagues, and perhaps most important, a chance to do these things in a congenial social setting and in relative comfort. It is a chance to make a living while dreaming full-bore.

Telluride—elevation 8,750 feet, 300 days of sun a year, surrounded by the ferociously dramatic San Juan Mountains—is a lovely place. (One guy in a restaurant told me that Telluride makes Aspen look like something out of The Blair Witch Project.) Twenty blocks long and five blocks wide, it is fastened to the mumpy floor of a deep gouge whose walls are so abrupt—like the fuselage of a paper airplane—that the sun falls to the bottom in shards. Telluride was a mining village in the late 1800s. Now most of the town's 1,200 full-time residents (not including the Hollywood types who flock here each winter) earn their paychecks from tourist-related businesses.

The skiing is immediate and world-class; one lift and one gondola terminate three blocks south of Colorado Avenue, which everyone calls Main. The backcountry skiing is even better. During the spring, summer, and fall, young and healthy women blade along the town's paved trails, pushing before them expensive, large-wheeled contraptions in which sit small, towheaded children. Here and there a jogger. Above, the odd paraglider. On the sidewalk benches, sitters, coffee-sippers. Birds call. The occasional whine of a table saw, bam of a hammer. Soft, earnest strains of a guitar-and-banjo duo practicing for future gigs in one of the abundant and tastefully designed nonfranchise eateries.

This is not to say, however, that Telluride is Edenic. It counts itself as having more worries than you've had hot meals: the looming expansion, à la Vail, of its ski area; subdivisions and developments, both accomplished and planned, besieging the town like so many outlying armies; a mind-boggling shortage of affordable housing; the displacement of the middle-class many by the unfathomably wealthy few; the daily bumper-to-bumper flow of tradesmen in and out of town, to and from less heavenly places like Placerville, Ridgway, Norwood, Ouray, and Montrose—effectively worker dormitories for Telluride.

Further, Telluride has, to the consternation of many of its residents, turned itself into an exhausting yearlong carnival. It is home to an independent film festival, a mountain-film festival, a plain-old-film film festival, a bluegrass festival, a blues festival, a chamber music festival, a jazz festival, and a playwriting festival. The Joffrey Ballet is scheduled to drop by this year for a few weekends. Things have gotten so darn festive in Telluride that locals have created the Nothing Festival, which the Daily Planet calls "a time of respite that locals cherish."

Telluride at times feels like a confused, though not especially imaginative, mess. It touts its small-town charm; it brags on its big-city performing arts. It prides itself on its isolation; it assures potential visitors of its accessibility. It promotes its splendid slopes; it promotes a multitude of nongravity winter attractions. It wants to be a jock; it wants to be an artist. It is tolerant; it wants its local characters to behave themselves. It needs more infrastructure; it lauds stasis. It will not fawn; it needs to be loved.

This multipolarity ironically engenders monochronism. It is as if all the ingredients of the Telluride stew—bluegrass and blues, mellowness and orneriness, ballet and snowboarding, urbanism and rurality, normality and freakishness—cancel one another out. It has become a cowboy-hatted, dreadlocked emcee-in-a-tuxedo entertaining an endless parade of random, yearning exotics.

In other words, a perfect place to try to bring a magazine such as Mountainfreak to life—for a second time.