Telluride Ski School History: A Rich and Storied Tale

Instructors Lined Up at the Gorrono Meeting Place

Instructors Lined Up at the Gorrono Meeting Place

Teaching a Student

Teaching a Student on Skinny Straight Skies

The Early Days

The Early Days

Originally published in Masters of the Mountain 2015-2016, the new Telluride Ski & Snowboard School magazine, I’m posting my expanded version of my Telluride Ski School History story below along with photos from days gone by and shots from this season.

The mountain was raw. We were into steep skiing. The town was wild. We never knew it was going to go this far,” says longtime Telluride ski instructor Cindy Smith about the early days of Telluride. “There was a lot of craziness,” she adds, “but boy, was it fun.”

From people riding horses into the New Sheridan Bar to lines of cocaine laid out on the tables of certain establishments, there was some outrageous behavior going on in T-ride during the old days (the seventies through early eighties) and indeed some blatant lawlessness. “Some people even say that firemen would come in and hose people down in the the bars on really rowdy nights,” Cindy continues.

Local's Race Team circa Early Eighties

Local’s Race Team circa Early Eighties

Ski Instructor Break

Ski Instructor Break

Ski School Rates

Ski School Rates

Powder Day

Powder Day

Telluride Ski School was made up of a tight-knit group of instructors, many of whom worked in bars or restaurants at night because there just wasn’t enough work for them on the mountain. Larry Hopkins, another avid skier that was in Telluride when the mountain first opened in 1972, owned Powder House Dining & Spirits during its heyday before becoming a ski instructor in 1985. “People–most of whom were instructors–struggled to get into my restaurant by 4:30pm to set up the dinner service. They were hungry and windburned and that shift meal was vital to them,” Larry says.

In the beginning, only ten to twelve instructors made up Telluride Ski School. The bus that would pick up Ski School members, Patrol, lifties and other workers as well as locals on main street at 8am served both as the necessary means of transportation up the mountain as well as a gathering place that united one and all. There was no gondola back then, so people counted on that hourly bus pickup to hit the hill. The first bus of the day was the most crowded, particularly on powder days. “People on the bus–especially guys–would sometimes have to get out and push on the steeps,” Larry told me. “The bus experience was a whole culture unto itself.” No doubt there was always a lot of hooting and hollering.

Coonskin Base Back in the Old Days

Coonskin Base Back in the Old Days

The Day Lodge, located where Big Billie’s is currently situated, served as the hub for mountain activities, including Ski School. “Back then, everything was done by pencil in a directory referred to as “The Book.” Larry says. “The Book,” which registered Ski School lessons and other pertinent information, was used well into the late eighties. Once Lift 7 and Coonskin were built in 1975 and then later Gorrono’s in 1980, “The Book” would travel from one locale to another throughout the day. So, for example, it would start out at Coonskin for the nine o’clock lessons, then be moved to the Day Lodge (for beginners) by eleven and then Gorrono’s (for intermediate to expert) according to the bookings. It makes me wonder where that famous book is today.

“There was an even bigger sense of community when Coonskin opened,” Larry says. In the late seventies, many lessons would meet at Coony where there was a ticket office and Ski School and Patrol shared locker rooms. Patrol had kegs of beer in the Coonskin locker room, but eventually they broke off and created the Lizard Lounge next door as their own private enclave. “We were separate, but together,” says Cindy, as she told me how Patrol also garnered the prime spot–the front table–at Leimgruber’s, the place to gather for all mountain workers.

Sexy and Strong: Ski Instructor and Pro Racer Marti Martin Kunz

Sexy and Strong: Ski Instructor and Pro Racer Marti Martin Kunz

“Leimgruber’s was a Patrol place the first year,” Larry recounts. “They had benefits in exchange for granting the Leimgrubers powder privileges,” he continues. All that changed fast when a patroller went through the front window during a big night. Ski School then happily took over that table and the drinking games flourished. “If you had received a good tip that day, you had to buy the boot,” Larry says. The big, beer-filled, glass boot was passed around and you had to take a drink from it without it back splashing onto you. You also wanted to make sure not to be the last to finish it–or else you’d have to buy the next boot. “It was very popular until we figured out that was likely why we were all getting sick all the time,” Larry adds.

Drinking games aside, Telluride ski instructors always took their jobs on the mountain very seriously. “From the get-go–like today–you’re motivated to do a great job,” Larry says. “The best of us like to share Telluride’s uniqueness, its old mining town flavor, its stories, its food and drink recommendations and more, in addition to teaching skiing.”

Annie Savath and Cindy Smith Back in the Day

Annie Savath and Cindy Smith Back in the Day

“There were some characters that were pretty intense,” says Annie Vareille-Savath, director of Telluride Ski School from 1979 through 2001. (Note that Ski School became Telluride Ski & Snowboard School with the advent of snowboarding.) Annie, who also had owned a restaurant in town, Chez Pierre, before becoming involved with Ski School, still teaches skiing on the mountain. She is revered for her many contributions to Ski School and for having taken Telluride ski instructors to a higher level. “I’d have to spend a lot of time with some people in order to convince them to behave,” Annie tells me. “Although there was good teamwork…we did lots of training and lots of skiing together.”

“We already had many good skiers,” Annie continues. “But many people regarded instructors as ski bums. I wanted to make sure our instructors gained the reputation as professionals.”

“Annie wanted to have a very skilled and professional staff,” Cindy Smith recalls. “Many had duck-taped gloves when she came on board. She dressed us up and made sure we had the proper training to become real pros.”

“Annie had it set up to get people through PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) better,” says Larry Hopkins. “And we had to look good for the job. There was a strict dress code of what you could wear under your uniform. She didn’t allow any facial hair and if you hadn’t shaved, she’d pull out a cheap, plastic razor for you at lineup and you’d end up with a bloodied face.”

“The most interesting part for me was creating programs and training that would get people–clients and instructors–better at skiing,” Annie says. Annie, who was born in France, told me she modeled much of her approach in Telluride off of what is done in the Alps. “In Europe, the skiing level is very high and the training is constant.”

Schussing

Schussing

“We mostly cruised around and trained in the early days,” says Cindy Smith, who became an instructor in 1980. “It was a big score to get a lesson back then.” Much like today, the instructors would train a lot and learn from each other as well as from their own experiences. “As a beginner instructor, I’d watch people like Jay Goodwin,” an instructor that still works for Ski School, Cindy says. “I once saw him walk a woman to the bar. She downed a shot of tequila and off they went.”

Larry Hopkins remembers how it was a big deal to be released from Day Lodge and be asked to meet up at Gorrono’s, where the higher level lessons were doled out. “For years, the big treat was if you didn’t get work during the day, you could volunteer to do sweep with Patrol,” he reminisces. “That way you could ski what is today Happy Thought, which was out of bounds at the time. Then we’d go up the mountain again and ski down Coony after closing. We’d be paid an hour and a half for that–some lived off of those daily hours and a half for the better part of the season.”

All that changed, however, when the private lesson business started up around the mid eighties, about the time when the big, second homes were being built in Mountain Village. More and more individuals and families wanted their own instructors, establishing bonds that would last for years, even generations. “We were like an extension of family,” says Cindy, which is what it often is today. “I remember that one of my first big tips was a gold nugget; I later had it made into my husband’s wedding band.”

“I think the rapport with instructors and clients has always been the same,” says Larry. “If you’re happy with certain clients, you might go to dinner with them or even travel with them to ski in Canada or Europe, which I’ve done.” Then, of course, there’s what’s known as the twenty-four hour lesson, something that still happens today. This sort of client/instructor relationship has even resulted in at least one happy marriage. (Unfortunately it was Telluride’s loss because the instructor moved to L.A. with his betrothed.)

Telluride Ski School Lesson 1972

Telluride Ski School Lesson 1972

Pancho Winter and His Charges Circa 1986-1987

Pancho Winter and His Charges Circa 1986-1987

There’s so much more I could write about here, but I’m running out of space. I could report on the afternoon bump lessons for as many as ninety people, one of the mainstays of the early nineties and the Steep and Deep program when instructors took clients out before the mountain opened. And I’ve heard about how much the instructors liked teaching on Bushwacker when it was a glade and the Plunge when it was always split-groomed. Hike-to terrain had instructors branching off from the top of Chair 6 toward Gold Hill or in the other direction toward what is now the top of Chair 9. Lift 1 and 5 were painfully slow and there weren’t any Magic Carpets, an essential tool for teaching beginners today. But the Day Lodge was a nice, little cabin where all gathered.

Instructors Kim Hewson and Darrin Corke 2000-2001 Season

Instructors Kim Hewson and Darrin Corke 2000-2001 Season

Yes, much has changed, yet much has remained the same. We no longer have a flamboyant fellow sailing into lineup on one ski showing off his royal christies, however, we have a host of other unique individuals from backgrounds as wide, varied and vibrant as our Rocky Mountain sky. Each one brings their own flavor and zest to the beloved club that is for many Telluride Ski & Snowboard School.

“Back then we were like an extension of family,” Cindy Smith reminisces. “Which is what we are today,” she adds with a glint in her eye.

We’re now about three hundred strong at Telluride Ski & Snowboard School and I’d guess that most carry with them the pride and storied tradition of what it means to be a Telluride ski instructor from the minute they put their uniform on in the morning until when they take it off and trade stories with each other back in the locker room at the end of the day.

And, of course, many still head out and throw back a beer or two just like they did way back when. We still pray for powder days, too.

Hope you’ll enjoy this selection of Telluride Ski & Snowboard School photos from yesteryear and today. Note that all the below photos are from this season.

Chilly Morning Lineup

Chilly Morning Lineup

Morning Meeting Break

Morning Meeting Break

On Break with Viviane, a Newbie

On Break with Viviane, a Newbie

Supervisor Rich Grimes and Instructor Ursula Acurio

Supervisor Rich Grimes and Instructor Ursula Acurio Serving Up Fun and Food at a Recent Ski School Gathering

Lindsey: Snowboard Instructor Extraordinaire

Lindsey: Snowboard Instructor Extraordinaire

Ski School Training at Allred's

Ski School Training at Allred’s

On-Snow Training

On-Snow Training

Training Presentation

Training Presentation

Ski Patroller Ryan Taylor with 35-Year Veteran Instructor Randy Reece

Ski Patroller Ryan Taylor with 35-Year Veteran Instructor Randy Reece

Me and JR, a Fellow Instructor

Me and JR, a Fellow Instructor

 
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