If there were a single person whose being captured the essence of Telluride, it would be William “Senior” Mahoney.
A hard-rock miner turned ski pioneer turned local historian, Mahoney possessed the steely grit, adventurous spirit and boundless determination credited for steering Telluride from fading mining town to lively ski resort.
Mahoney passed away Friday from COVID-19 complications at his home in Montrose. He was 92.
Mahoney, who was born in Bonanza, Colorado, moved to Telluride with his family in 1930 at the age of 2. The son of Telluride Marshal and San Miguel County Sheriff Tom Mahoney and his wife Frieda, Mahoney, along with his five brothers, grew up rambling across the mountains surrounding Telluride, often with a pair of rough-hewn wooden skis strapped to their feet.
He started skiing on the rope tows erected on Firecracker Hill and Grizzly Gulch (now known as Kid’s Hill), then towing behind cars on Telluride’s snow-packed streets. Soon after Mahoney was exploring the loftier peaks and basins in the region. From the flanks of Mt. Sneffels to La Junta Basin to Swamp and Waterfall canyons; Bridal Veil and Lena basins to terrain off the Tomboy and Blixt roads; Prospect Basin and even the flanks of Ajax Mountain, Mahoney grew into adulthood with a passion for skiing set deep in his bones.
Remembered as a dyed-in-the-wool explorer who captured many of his alpine exploits on 16mm home movie reels, Mahoney played the leading role in many local history chronicles, including “We Skied It,” a film that explores the history of skiing in Telluride from the 1920s into the 1970s. A permanent exhibit is named in his honor at the Telluride Historical Museum, with many artifacts donated by Mahoney and his family. The highest run on the Telluride Ski Area, atop the daunting Palmyra Peak, is aptly named “Senior’s” after the man most credited for putting skiing on the map for Telluride.
“While we will miss Dad, we are happy he gets to rejoin his cherished friends that went before him, including his best friend and brother Bob,” his son Junior Mahoney said of his father’s passing.
Mahoney started working at the Idarado Mine at age 15. His job was to unload the ore buckets from the aerial trams, and he and his brothers figured out that those same trams were good vehicles for accessing snowy slopes and soon started bringing their skis to work. After high school he enrolled in the Navy, and following two years abroad, he returned to Telluride to work in the mines and marry his high school sweetheart Twylla.
Though Mahoney spent the first 25 years of his working life as a miner, it was his appetite for skiing that helped stoke the fires locally for Telluride to shift to a ski-centered, tourist-based economy.
In the film “Senior, 82 Winters in Telluride,” created by local filmmakers Travis Rummel and Ben Knight, Mahoney recalled: “Telluride was dying … who the heck would have been coming here in the winter with no ski area, no nothing. Not even me, I’d a been long gone. We had to have something to make the economy in Telluride viable.”
Mahoney began beating the drum to bring a ski resort to Telluride as early as the 1950s, even going so far as creating the Telluride Ski, Inc. group with other locals in 1958. They hired Vail developer Pete Seibert to evaluate the area, and thanks to a $12,000 cash infusion donated by the Telluride Elks Lodge, they secured land options on Turkey Creek Mesa and approvals from the Forest Service. Without any deep local pockets to tap for the project, however, the plan never got off the ground. Yet Mahoney didn’t lose sight of his goal to bring skiing to Telluride. It wasn’t until he met California developer and ski enthusiast Joe Zoline in 1968 that the call was eventually heeded.
Mahoney became the Telluride Ski Company’s second employee, after his wife Twylla the first employee, running the mountain’s snowcat operation during the ski resort’s first seasons, and later assumed the roles of mountain manager and vice president until his retirement in 1993.
Vast knowledge of local skiable terrain wasn’t the only asset Mahoney brought to the table during the Telluride Ski Resort’s infancy. Mahoney worked diligently to solve complicated water rights and mining claim issues, skillfully negotiated the local political scene (he served on Telluride Town Council for consecutive terms from 1968-75), and even was the town’s weather reporter for many decades.
Throughout it all Mahoney helped bring the vision of a new industry in Telluride into focus, and in the process became the most influential figure in Telluride’s evolution into the world-class destination resort it is today. It was Mahoney, after all, who inspired the comic character “Tellurider” in the classic 1970s posters and accompanying comic book, promoting the new Telluride Ski Area, whose caption reads: “You’ve done it Tellurider — You’ve put skiing on America’s greatest mountain.”
His efforts to bring the ski industry to Telluride were recognized by the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 1997. His work to preserve local history was also honored by the Telluride Foundation when they awarded Mahoney the Outstanding Citizen award in 2011. Mahoney touched many people’s lives in the Telluride region over his 92 years, and his spirit will continue its presence in the mountains he loved.
Mahoney is survived by his wife of more than 70 years, Twylla, of Montrose; their children William “Junior” Mahoney (Kathy Mahoney) of Telluride, and Mona McIntyre (Scott McIntyre) of Telluride; his grandchildren James Mahoney (Lorrie Mahoney) of Telluride, Riley McIntyre of Denver, Brady McIntyre (Deanna McIntyre) of Denver; and his three great-granddaughters Lillyann, Magnolia and Harper.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club at PO Box 2824, Telluride, CO 81435, or through tssc.org. If there are any questions regarding donations, email email@example.com.