Telluride’s tourism economy enables many of us to live in this magical place. It provides myriad employment opportunities, which are the foundation of the Telluride experience. Those of us who work in the tourism industry can love our jobs and thoroughly enjoy our line of work, and simultaneously stand up for ourselves when faced with unacceptable circumstances and mistreatment. We can be grateful for our occupations and complain about unwarranted toxicity at the same time. Some people say, “If you don’t love it here, then leave.” I disagree with this simplistic reasoning. I believe constructive feedback, including in the form of criticism, can be a valuable tool in creating change.

If you don’t understand why some frontline workers are complaining about some tourists, then count yourself lucky. It’s been a rough year.

The people who run our restaurants, retail, lodging, transportation, ski resort, etc. have taken the brunt of our society’s anger and ugliness this winter. They deserve gratitude, not backlash.

From the onset of the season, locals were told not to travel, that it’s “safer at home.” And rightfully so! The CDC was clear that people shouldn’t be traveling during COVID. But the aggressive marketing of Telluride as a safe place for everyone else to escape to during the pandemic proved a remarkably effective campaign. Numbers are up, civility is down.

Unfortunately, a few of our visitors don’t like being reminded of reality while they’re on vacation. They don’t like being told to wear a mask, wait outside because of capacity limits or anything else that infringes on their perceived freedoms. Frontline workers too often become the target of their ire.

We’ve been yelled at, spit at, called vulgar names, had beer thrown at us, mocked and threatened. We’ve had to act as police, kicking customers out of businesses for blatantly rude behavior; transportation workers have pulled over on the side of the road because of recklessly disrespectful passengers. Just the other day a customer told my coworker that he was going to kill him, that he had a target on him. All because he was asked to wear a mask. This daily conflict is wearing on even the most even-keeled temperament.

Many of our frontline workers are understaffed, overworked and underpaid. They’re under-housed and over-charged.

They don’t have reliable transportation to get to work; gondola lines are an hour long and there’s no commuter line. The bus has countless complaints of being overcrowded and inconsistent. Drive to work? Good luck finding parking either in Telluride or Mountain Village.

I’m not excusing all bad behavior by locals by any stretch, and the vast majority of our visitors are gracious, kind and respectful. That’s what makes our jobs fun! But I can’t read another online thread or bad review about our workforce without speaking up for the unprecedented challenges they’re up against. I commend our community for getting through this season as gracefully as we have. That needs to be part of the conversation, too.

Elena Withers