Tucked in the southwestern corner of Colorado sits a little town called Telluride. An old Ute Indian summer camp turned miner’s town in the 1870s and today, a world class ski resort. Rich in history, it is well known as the site where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank in 1889. After transitioning out of the mining era and into recreation, it’s still contested whether the town’s name originated from the mineral, “tellurium,” or the phrase, “To-hell-you-ride,” a reference to the winding high-alpine road that leads to town. Perched at 8,750 feet above sea level, rugged 13,000 foot peaks surround this delightful little community. The village sits deep in the belly of a box canyon—a type of dead-end in mountains—which means that the only way out of town is the way you came in. Unless of course you dare to venture along one of the backcountry jeep passes that lead up and over the mountains, boasting both staggering views and treacherous cliffs.
With a population of just 2,400 year-round residents, the community retains a passion for the outdoors and a devotion to its natural roots. There is an indisputable air of authenticity and understated achievement as one wanders the quaint western streets. Every Telluride local knows they are one of the lucky ones. Not only to live in such an exquisite location, but to be part of an inspiring collection of independent thinkers and innovators. The people that have chosen to call Telluride home have selected the road less traveled, and they have an increased level of presence and responsibility as a result.
Telluride residents depend upon each other in such an immediate way for resources, business, entertainment and adventure. “Work hard, play hard” is very much alive here. Projects are balanced by epic outdoor adventures that leave locals simultaneously empowered and humbled. United by a love of place, locals strive to take part in Telluride’s prosperity and give back to the community. This commitment to symbiotic success cultivates a strong sense of identity amongst people from all sorts of backgrounds. Playing host to both the extremely wealthy and the ski bums of the 21st century, there’s no doubt that Telluride is a socioeconomic conglomerate. While it can be expensive to live in town, citizens have come to weigh the financial costs against quality of life and found that there is no comparison. Despite their differences, what is shared is a deep affection for this special patch of earth and a dedication to continue to preserve it.
There are numerous small towns that can claim a devoted local population, however, not all of them can offer the larger community an academic and cultural arena as varied as that of Telluride. Ever since the first Bluegrass Festival in 1974, Telluride has been building a name for itself as an international destination for revolutionary content. The exchange of eclectic music, films, cuisine and ideas have been integrated into the heart of Telluride’s identity. Pioneering visionaries, talented artists, extreme athletes and driven entrepreneurs are all attracted by Telluride’s allure. Inspired by majesty and driven to push the limits of modern thought, these leaders come together under the shadow of the mountains to build change.
There’s certainly no lack of diversity in a town that attracts so many visitors. Drawing thousands of attendees and hundreds of contributors, Telluride goes from around 2,400 people to about 12,000 for festivals like Bluegrass. The Telluride Ski Resort, Film Festival, MountainFilm, Blues & Brews, Ride Festival, Yoga Festival and Original Thinkers together bring in tens of thousands more thinkers and appreciators for exhilarating exploration and interaction. Somehow despite the numbers, Telluride still manages to feel open, boundless and invigorating. These festivals encourage prominent thinkers in art, science, business and culture to connect beneath the dramatic Telluride mountaintops, their voices reverberating around the vast canyon.
Far from being a just a small town with little relevance, Telluride is a place of big ideas. It’s a society that prioritizes the present to make change for the future. Sometimes that’s just what it takes to make a difference: a small town of engaged citizens who bring people together to dream of bigger goals.