The Telluride community lost one of its favorite sons Thursday, when Michael Ruterbories was found dead at his home, according to San Miguel County Coroner Emil Sante. He was 51.
“The preliminary findings did not reveal too much,” Sante previously told the Daily Planet regarding the initial investigation into Ruterbories’ death.
Ruterbories was a friend, outdoorsman, adventurer, artist, team member, neighbor and a friendly face at the gondola for the past 12 years.
His passing has led to an outpouring of grief and fond remembrances of the personable man who was a familiar figure not only at his post at the gondola, but at Telluride Theatre productions and the Ah Haa School, where he took numerous classes.
“Michael was a devoted art student,” the school posted in a Facebook tribute. He tried his hand at various mediums but “most enjoyed painting with Robert Weatherford, pastels with Bruce Gomez and figure drawing with Brandi Seeley. Thank you for reminding us to never stop learning.”
Born May 12, 1967, in Denver, Ruterbories overcame several challenges in his life, including childhood leg deformities so severe that doctors did not think he would ever run, as well as the lifelong hurdles that accompany autism spectrum disorder. But Ruterbories never knew a challenge he could not conquer. He went on to graduate high school with honors and received a cross country scholarship Fort Lewis College. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. During his time at Fort Lewis, Ruterbories was introducd to the beauty of the San Juan Mountains, which drew him to Telluride the last 12 years of his life.
In a place where he was nobody, Ruterbories found a home and loving community in Telluride, where he became known through his work at the gondola. He met thousands of people, greeting locals and their dogs by name.
“Michael was the best example of happiness and a zest for life. He never stopped exploring and finding ways to follow what he was most passionate about. His smile lit up the room and brought a smile to anyone near him,” Mountain Village Town Manager Kim Montgomery said. “Everyone at the Town of Mountain Village and the surrounding community miss him dearly, and will offer kindness to those around us as Michael always did. I smile through my tears just thinking about Michael.”
A continuous learner, when Ruterbories wasn’t outside, he could be found in the library, at a documentary screening, or taking courses on mushrooms, lynx studies or snow science. He volunteered at the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program (TASP) for 12 years. He’d tell friends and family that he felt a special bond with those who experienced challenges. M’Lin Miller, TASP operations director, said Ruterbories volunteered more than 750 hours to the program.
“Always dear to Michael’s heart was learning, training and endless preparation to be the best possible volunteer, so it comes as no surprise that over 200 of those hours were spent perfecting his techniques in TASP trainings,” Miller said. “A friend to everyone, he loved to share his passion for outdoor adventure and his love and knowledge of the natural world with our participants, fellow volunteers and staff. While the sense of losing a key member permeates the entire TASP and Telluride community, it is the warm memories of Michael’s undeniable charisma, impact and character that we hold most dear.”
Miller added that TASP is “honored” to accept donations on Ruterbories’ on behalf. Donations can be made online at tellurideadaptivesports.org/donate/donation-form/; make note of your dedication to Michael Ruterbories in the “Donation Note” field.
He also volunteered in planning and executing several native garden installations in and around Telluride, and was accomplished at yoga, passionate about art and met many friends as a result. He advocated for a community garden at Village Court Apartments and gave his plot to his neighbor. He led nature walks and identified edible plants. He climbed all the peaks he could see from his window and skied down many. He was just getting started on life, family members said, adding he knew no stranger. He has made us better for knowing him. Rest in peace, Michael John Ruterbories, you will be greatly missed.
His family appreciates the loving community of Telluride for welcoming Michael and the Town of Mountain Village for the job he loved.
He is survived by grandmother Dorothy, mother Susan, grandfather Lyle, brothers Kenneth and Gregory, nephews Ethan, Cole, Sebastian and Cyrus, and niece Parisa.
A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday at the Ridgeline Great Room at 4 p.m. (at the top of his beloved gondola).
Donations in his memory will also be welcomed at the Ah Haa School for the Arts, where he was an avid student.