The Other Side

“I didn’t know you grew up in Telluride,” the woman giggles. “Hmmm. So you were one of those kids nursed on the silver spoon.”

Before I can rise to my defense, restore a little luster to the blue collar and stand up for ski bums everywhere, she fills in my half of the conversation. “I didn’t know anyone actually grew up in Telluride,” she adds in a volume the whole room could here. “Wild stuff. Why don’t you talk about it – or shit, write about it – more often?”

Let just say, the T-word doesn’t get much airtime in the Sands casa these days. The truth is those of us raised on the Iron Ladle (a late-1970s T-ride restaurant that should have been called the Greasy Ladle) don’t care much for that new silver plating either. But to clear the record and forever set the family name apart from the Cruises, Lucases and Stones that came after, here goes.

My parents’ Volkswagen bus crossed Telluride town limits early in the summer of 1972. Running on a quarter tank, newborn son in hand (yours truly) and sporting a refrigerator box fashioned into a crib (high-end cardboard, my mom swears by it), the ski patroller and kindergarten teacher pinned their hopes on a new beginning. Having had their fill of Aspen – Heineken had just passed the 65-cent mark at the Red Onion – it was time to chase powder in a more proletariat setting. Torn between Jackson Hole and a mysterious Southwest town named Telluride, they opted for the unknown.

Earlier that year, word had gone out that a ski area was coming to that mining boomtown on the verge of bust. Back then, Victorian houses could be had for a song, and Town Council seats were happy for warm bodies, even those sporting shaggy manes and thick beards. For that lost generation, there was hope in that box canyon, and miners on the way out passed dreamers on the way in. So it was that my dad, mom and myself set deep roots on that other side of the San Juan Mountains.

Ours was by no means the first or last Volkswagen to cross that line. Coming from all over, hippies, ski bums and anarchists sniffed out and descended on that boarded-up town. They populated its classic shacks and filled its streets and bars, opened and operated its new ski lifts and then they rewrote the rules for living. Carpenters, teachers, plow drivers and dishwashers all got a

little piece of the funky pie. And we all rubbed shoulders on Main Street daily and jointly sought out the Blue Light Special at the Montrose K-Mart every month or so.

Forget the current hype. Once upon a time, Telluride was the town of the all-nude bathhouse, boasted a thriving import-export trade, and was a place where people went by handles like Chongo, Spudley, Rick the Stick and Catfish. One of the town’s chief municipal expenditures was a concert stage, and music filled every summer weekend – not because people craved tourist dollars but because good times should roll all year round.

In those days, ski bums hadn’t traded in their restaurant jobs for real estate licenses. Hang gliders still outnumbered private planes. And the health food co-op and the Tofu Shop restaurant proudly occupied spaces that would later become a gallery and an Italian shoe store.

And that, my friends, is the real story of the little town that could (at least for a couple decades).

Thankfully, I can still look back through the Hollywood haze that now envelops Telluride and catch hints and reminders of those early days. And I know now those same sensations are what drew my family to this other side of the San Juans. For me, Durango has always had a flavor, scene, community and people that point back to those good old days. And this other, more rustic side of the coin welcomed us from the first moment we piloted our Toyota truck into city limits.

As time goes on, my 6-year-old daughter is learning some of those same values and lessons that funky, old town taught me. Throughout, I’ve crossed my fingers that Durango can beat the same odds that gobbled up the Tofu Shop so many years ago. So far, the plan appears to be working.

“Dad, I don’t ever want to move away from Durango,” Skyler will tell me in front of backdrops like Main Avenue, the Durango Nordic Center and the Church Camp Trails. And as I pass the iron ladle her way, I wistfully reply, “Neither do I. Neither do I.”

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows