History of Telluride, Colorado’s Gondola Ride!

Telluride is one of Colorado’s prized jewels. This gorgeous valley nestled between 13,000 and 14,000-foot peaks in the San Juan Mountains is home to world-class Alpine skiing, more outdoor activities than you could fit into a lifetime, and so many festivals that it’s hard to pack them into a single summer! It’s also home to a very special Gondola located in Telluride.

Telluride’s history resounds with firsts

The first people to have summer homes in Telluride were Ute Indians. The scenic Telluride Valley was known to them as “The Valley of Hanging Waterfalls” – quite possibly its first name.

Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch committed their first major bank robbery in Telluride. They rode off with $24,580 in mining payroll. That was a not-so-small fortune back in 1889! Appropriately, the movie Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid was filmed in the Telluride area.
So was John Wayne’s iconic western True Grit. That’s right – the Duke earned his first (and only) Academy Award right here in the Telluride Valley!

We were known as the ‘City of Light’ because we had the world’s first AC power plant capable of transmitting that power a significant distance. That meant tiny, remote Telluride, less than 15 years old, had street lights before much larger and better-established cities. We call that another first in Telluride’s history!

The first Telluride Ski Resort lifts officially opened on December 22, 1972. Of course, the lack of ski lifts before then didn’t keep intrepid skiers off the slopes. They paid $12.50 a day for a sack lunch and access to the slopes via snowcats.

Readers of Condé Nast Traveler consistently rank us as the #1 ski resort in North America. Maybe that’s because we average 300 inches (that’s 12 feet) of ‘white gold’ annually.

The Telluride Gondola is our Favorite ‘First’

One of the firsts in the history of Telluride that we’re most proud of, though, is our Gondola. It’s the first, and so far only, gondola offering a free public transportation station in the United States. It’s been in service since December 20, 1996, and is one of our most popular attractions.

The Gondola shortens the trip between the historic town of Telluride and the European- inspired Mountain Village. It’s an 8-mile ride that takes 20 minutes by car. It’s only 3 miles by Gondola, where riders enjoy 12 minutes of breathtaking scenery gliding past at a relaxing 11 miles per hour.

Fun facts about the Telluride Mountain Village Gondola:

  • An average of nine hundred riders per hour enjoy the scenic mountain air aboard the Gondola. That’s approximately 2.8 million riders each year and over 44 million throughout the history of Telluride.
  • It would take around twenty 50-passenger buses to replace our Gondola’s capacity of nearly 1,000 people per hour.
  • The Gondola runs for approximately 287 days out of the year. Each cabin travels more than 58,000 miles during that time.
  • Blankets are provided in winter to help stave off that high altitude chill.
  • In order to accommodate all of our riders, the Gondola provides cabins which are wheelchair accessible.
  • Commuters, visitors, hikers, bikers, and skiers all ride the Gondola. It even has special racks so you can safely haul your gear.
  • Not all of the passengers have two legs. Half of the Gondola cabins are adorned with paw prints, which indicate that pets are also welcome to a free ride. Telluride’s other public transportation system, the famous Galloping Goose shuttles, also welcome well-behaved dogs. Telluride is historically dog friendly.
  • The Gondola is green – each station sports solar panels on the roof. All of the electricity used by the Gondola system comes from sustainable wind and solar power.

You’ll want to bring a camera to capture the stunning views of the rugged San Juan Mountains. You’ll also need it to photograph the abundant wildlife because the Telluride Gondola floating silently overhead doesn’t frighten them into fleeing. Historically, the Telluride area is home to beaver, badger, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, moose, foxes, coyotes, and black bear. You may even catch a glimpse of an elusive mountain lion, lynx, or bobcat!

It’s all about the Gondola numbers

Summer season: May 24, 2018 to October 21, 2018
Winter season: November 16, 2018 to April 7, 2019
Hours: 6:30 AM to midnight daily; 6:30 AM to 2 AM on Friday & Saturday from June 22nd – Sept 16th only

Station locations and elevations:
Oak Street Plaza, Telluride (8,750′)
San Sophia Station (10,540′)
Mountain Village Center (9,545′)
The Market Plaza, Mountain Village (9,545′)

The route:
The Gondola departs from the Oak Street Plaza station in Telluride.

It stops mid-point at the San Sophia Station at the peak of San Sophia Mountain. You’ll find Allred’s Restaurant here, as well as the historic Telluride Ski Resort, and hiking trails galore.

Its next stop is at Mountain Village Center. This is where you’ll cross the street to switch Gondola cabins.

The Gondola’s final stop is less than 3 minutes later at the Mountain Village Market Plaza. This is where you’ll find the Post Office and Town Hall.

Gondola News:
11/16/2018 Free gondola Telluride station highlights exquisite landscape photography of our region. Take a ride to the 3rd leg of the gondola to see the new installation, designed for sound control and a new attraction for Telluride Visitors.


No matter the season, there’s always something fun and exciting happening in the Telluride Valley. In fact, there’s always so much going on here that we can’t list it all! Ride the Telluride Gondola to see for yourself!