Telluride Foundation Recognizes Billy “Senior” Mahoney as 2011’s Outstanding Citizen
by Martinique Davis
Sep 12, 2011 | 2959 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<b>SPANNING ERAS</b> – Billy “Senior” Mahoney, with his wife Twylla, was honored at the Telluride Historical Museum last week during an event celebrating his selection as the Telluride Foundation’s 2011 Citizen of the Year. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
SPANNING ERAS – Billy “Senior” Mahoney, with his wife Twylla, was honored at the Telluride Historical Museum last week during an event celebrating his selection as the Telluride Foundation’s 2011 Citizen of the Year. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
TELLURIDE – Live in Telluride long enough, and you’re bound to hear a story or two about Billy "Senior" Mahoney. He’s about as local as they come, a guy who learned to ski on Catholic Hill (or Telluride’s N. Spruce Street, so-named for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church) and rode the Bullion Tram to work in the mines before becoming the first employee of the Telluride Ski Area.

In that time, Senior has been an elemental figure in the evolution of Telluride, from its roots as a dusty, boom-then-bust mining town (where his father was Sheriff) to its luster as a renowned ski and golf resort (which he is credited as helping to build).

In recognition of his contributions to the Telluride community throughout his eight decades here, Mahoney has been named 2011’s Outstanding Citizen by the Telluride Foundation, Telluride’s largest philanthropic organization.

At a community barbecue in honor of Mahoney’s award, held at the Telluride Historical Museum at the end of August, ski area developer and Telluride Foundation Board member Ron Allred painted a picture of the man who has become a living legend in Telluride.

“This is a guy whose name is synonymous with Telluride,” Allred said, harkening back to Mahoney’s 80 years in Telluride, 25 of which he spent working in the mines, and the next 18, working for the ski company. “Whenever this community had even the smallest crisis, nobody ever called Billy – because he was always already there, trying to help fix it.”

Mahoney is perhaps best known as one of the first to envision a ski resort here. As a young teenager in the late 1930s, he helped cut the first lift line on the hillside where the Coonskin Lift (#7) is today, and throughout his childhood spent winter days riding one of Telluride’s early rope tows up Grizzly Gulch, known today as Kid’s Hill.

After graduating from high school in Telluride, Mahoney served in the Navy. Upon returning home and settling in Telluride with his wife, Twylla (a fourth-generation Telluride local, and his companion of 62 years), Mahoney became a hard-rock miner with the Idarado Mining Company. Though he enjoyed working in the mines, Mahoney says he knew that building a ski resort would be the only way this small Colorado community would ultimately survive. As he explained, “Even though I had a good job with Idarado, anybody knows that mining doesn’t last forever. If it wasn’t for the ski area, we’d have skied Catholic Hill and Oak Street, then gotten married and been off to Timbuktu.”

Between the late 1950s and mid 1960s Mahoney helped spearhead two separate attempts to raise enough capital to get a ski area off the ground, neither of which ultimately transpired. Despite those early failures, Mahoney never gave up the hope of someday seeing Telluride become home to an economy-boosting ski resort. That hope grew wings in 1968, when entrepreneur and developer Joe Zoline came to town and began accumulating property.

Mahoney soon became known as the most knowledgeable guy in town when it came to skiable terrain around Telluride, and in 1969, he was hired to cut some of the first test trails on the mountain, as the Ski Area’s first employee.

When ski area designer Emile Allais came to town to assess Telluride’s feasibility as a ski area, Mahoney spent two weeks touring him around the mountain, and later helped him draw a map of favorable lift and trail locations. That was in 1969. Although earlier, plans for a ski area had been met with skepticism, Allais’ favorable report detailing Telluride’s potential helped sway the Forest Service, as well as Zoline’s financial backers.

Mahoney’s wife Twylla remembers those dynamic years, when it seemed that her husband’s long-held dream to see a ski area built on the slopes surrounding their hometown would actually take shape. “We talked it over, and I told him, you know, if this thing goes, things are going to change. And they did, and we decided we were ready for it,” Twylla said.

It took a few years, but eventually five lifts were built on the new Telluride Ski Area, which officially opened for lift-served skiing during the winter of 1972-73.

As its first Mountain Manager, Mahoney oversaw operations at Telluride throughout those first few rocky – albeit snowy – winter seasons, and during that time served four terms on Telluride Town and Council. When Colorado natives Ron Allred and Jim Wells purchased the resort from Zoline in 1979, Mahoney recognized in these fresh-faced, new businessmen an energy that would, he anticipated, catapult the resort from the edge of the ski industry’s shadow into the spotlight.

“Joe did the best he could, but he was an older guy and I don’t know whether or not the ski area would have been in business too many more years if he’d have kept it. Ron and Jim were younger, and they understood development. People say that Telluride was successful because Ron had the dream, but the thing of it is, he took the same dream everybody else had. The key factor with those guys was that they were able to go out there and get the money to do it.”

In recognition of his many decades of working to put Telluride on the national map, Mahoney was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1997.

In going from “the only nut who pushed for a ski area” decades ago to one of its most influential architects today, Senior Mahoney has seen what it means for a long-shot ambition to take shape. The process wasn’t without its trials, but seeing his once-dying hometown revived through the sport of skiing and development of a ski area was, he said, well worth the effort. “If Telluride hadn’t gotten this ski area I don’t know what the town would look like,” he said. “Kids would have gone to college and they certainly wouldn’t have come back to be miners. The ski area created jobs for them, and now I see some of the guys that worked on the Ski Patrol in the early days now have sons who work on the Ski Patrol today. It just goes to show you… the opportunities are here.”

Mahoney is credited with helping to create those opportunities, and it is that lifelong commitment to building the Telluride community that made him a clear choice for the Telluride Foundation’s 2011 Outstanding Citizen Award.

"Mahoney Drive is more than a street. It represents the commitment and dedication of four generations of a Telluride mining family to build a ski area, to lead a successful transition to that new economy and to literally build and serve its two communities in many important ways," said local Pam Pettee, who nominated Mahoney for the Outstanding Citizen Award.

Senior received a commemorative plaque and a grant of $5,000 to donate to the non-profit of his choice, which he determined was the Telluride Historical Museum.

The Telluride Foundation's Outstanding Citizen award is given in recognition of someone who has unselfishly contributed to the community's quality of life. Senior shares the honor of the Outstanding Citizen award with the previous recipients: Andrea, Greer and Dan Garner (2010), Marilyn Branch (2009), Kathy Green (2008), Jane Hickcox and John Pryor (2007), Bill Carstens (2006), John Micetic (2005), Lissa Margetts (2004), and Terry Tice (2003). Nominations are solicited each year from the entire community, and elected by the Telluride Foundation Board of Directors.
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