the late-’70s, Jerry Vass penned a column for the
Telluride Times under the name Bubba Ram Vass. The play
on words was a deliberate poke at Caucasian guru Ram Dass,
and accompanying Vass’ byline every week was an
exaggerated photo of Bubba Ram draped in white robes,
hand to the heavens and halo surrounding his head.
You wouldn’t know it from the column, but Jerry
was actually one of Telluride’s more mainstream
citizens at the time, making his living as a respected
real estate agent and even dabbling in town politics.
But the phony robes and halo also had some deeper significance.
Jerry was one of the first in the wave of hippie squatters
to hit Telluride and a bit of a guru for that town.
As a kid, I never considered Bubba Ram much of a role
model. However, I’ll never forget the time he sat
me down and assured me that I was among the most privileged
people on the planet. My folks had been in that first
wave along with Bubba Ram when the ski resort opened in
1972. With stars in their eyes and a Volkswagen bus under
their feet, they’d descended on the mining town
gone bust. And by default, I numbered in that first generation
of hippie kids.
Ironically, and in spite of what Bubba Ram was telling
me, none of the sons and daughters of that hippie invasion
really considered themselves privileged. Instead we felt
shorted and that we were missing out on the greater pleasures
of the world. Telluride kids longed to be mall rats, football
stars and cheerleaders. We wanted to ride in Corvettes,
go out for Slurpees, see the Solid Gold dancers in person
and catch Kool & the Gang in concert. We wanted a
taste of the good life that came into our living rooms
every night in Technicolor. We had no interest in concerts,
free love and a party that never ended.
Regardless, I listened to Bubba Ram as he explained that
Telluride was an experiment of epic proportions. He noted
that people like my parents were not rewriting the rules
but throwing out the rulebook. He pointed to a takeover
of town government and push toward free communal living.
He concluded that the people doing the moving and shaking
in Telluride would always have their old identities weighing
them down, but that the children of Telluride would be
molded in its image.
I politely heard Bubba Ram out and didn’t pay much
more attention, my mind drifting into a fantasy of 007
meets Charlie’s Angels. And it drifted for another
decade of high school, and throughout some tenure on the
East Coast, the south and the Front Range, those words
really began to sink in.
When I was a kid, I didn’t realize the value of
a town that boasted some of the finest steep skiing in
the state. Endless powder stashes and lack of lift lines
just struck me as matter of fact. It didn’t seem
strange that our nearest neighbor, Allen, was living in
a 150-square-foot shack with no indoor plumbing and little
insulation and having the time of his life on less than
$100 a month. I also took for granted that the town had
its very own all-nude bathhouse and a vibrant drug trade.
These little fixtures seemed as common as a municipal
pool and used car salesmen. When a friend of mine’s
step-father was hauled off to prison for cocaine trafficking,
it was one of those things that happens. When the town
marshal got busted for raiding the evidence locker for
grass, it barely raised eyebrows.
I also didn’t pay much attention to the town’s
great thinkers, and daydreamers, who birthed institutions
like Mountainfilm, the Telluride Film Festival and the
bluegrass festival. I didn’t realize the value of
having a man named Edward Abbey visit and speak in Telluride
long before the publication of The Monkey Wrench Gang.
I guess things like seeing Taj Mahal walking down the
street, sneaking into and throwing a high school party
at Bill Graham’s house, and rubbing shoulders with
renowned mountaineer Mugs Stump weren’t all that
But after a few homes in truly bizarre locations and a
path that luckily led back to the San Juan Mountains,
Bubba Ram has been ringing in my ears ever since. For
all its shortcomings, indulgences and excesses, Telluride
truly was an incredible experiment in living. And while
we can’t recapture those wild times, we were all
privileged to be along for the ride.
– Will Sands