Telluride resort founder dies |

Telluride resort founder dies

Telluride ski area founder and Aspen rancher Joseph T. Zoline died Sept. 23 at his home in Beverly Hills after a long illness. He was 93.A native of Chicago and the son of Russian immigrants, Zoline worked his way through the University of Chicago and its law school.In 1939, he married Janice “Jebby” Kahnweiler, and from then on, for the 59 years of their marriage until her death in 1998, they were the closest of partners.Zoline, a corporate attorney, became the chief executive for several forward-looking enterprises, including Carte Blanche, one of the first credit cards; MSL Industries; and, for a fascinating year, Chicago’s Arlington Race Track. The Zolines purchased the Bar/X Ranch near Aspen in 1955, where they spent their summers and visited during the winter.

Today, the ranch consists of about 146 acres along Maroon Creek, where the family runs about 55 cows with calves. The property is also part of the controversial Burlingame Ranch affordable housing project. The Zolines have outlined plans for 12 luxury homes dotting the edge of the ranch, and would transfer about 20 acres of the ranch to the city of Aspen for its housing project.The Aspen ranch gave the Zolines a firsthand understanding of mountain life, and insights into a young ski resort. They would take those lessons to Telluride, where Zoline purchased the land that would become a ski area, Mountain Village, and some of the base in the historic town of Telluride.”The first land purchase that he made here, he made sight unseen,” said Zoline’s son-in-law, John Lifton. “This is so untypical of him. He was usually very careful about business decisions.”The land was to go up for auction the following week and was slated for homes on 35-acre parcels, according to Lifton. Zoline would eventually amass more than 4,000 acres for the ski area.

In 1968, when Zoline first came to Telluride, the town was a shadow of its former self. The population numbered fewer than 500 people.”At that time, Telluride was a very remote corner of the state,” Lifton said. “The whole town had to be rescued from oblivion.”The Ghost Town Club of Colorado had already made some expeditions to Telluride; its members thought Telluride was well on its way to that status. “It meant starting from scratch,” recalled his daughter, Pamela, who raised three children in Telluride with Lifton, her husband. “Telluride had one run-down hotel, one restaurant open two nights a week and no bank.”It meant doing everything at once. It had a million moving parts,” she said. “Planning, designing and building the runs, planning and erecting the lifts, helping develop the much-needed bed base and other tourist facilities, developing the ski patrol, ski school, general staff, on-mountain facilities, ticketing, marketing, early real estate planning and development, and steering the whole complex financial entity through the hard days of a national economic downturn were only some of the elements that had to be managed.”

The Zolines spent most of their time in Telluride from 1968, when it all began, to 1979, when he sold control of the ski area.Zoline hired French Olympian skier Emile Allais to scope out the ferociously difficult terrain and map out lifts and runs into a coherent ski mountain. He hired the best ecologists and environmental planners to protect the mountain and utilized the high level of local talent and ability in colleagues like Billy Mahoney and Johnnie Stevens, according to Pamela.Zoline had learned many lessons in Aspen, about both what worked and what didn’t, and he wanted Telluride to avoid making the same mistakes. He invoked historical preservation and county zoning to help make sense of future growth. He even imagined and laid the foundation for the Mountain Village and the Prospect Basin expansion.Zoline also knew that arts and culture were critical to Telluride’s future, and gave his support to the Telluride Film Festival and other organizations. He had great respect for the Telluride locals who had stuck out the hard times, and went out of his way to try to make sure that they shared in the benefits of the town’s rebirth, according to Pamela. In addition to Pamela, her husband, John, and their three children, Abigail, Josselin and Gabriel, Zoline is survived by daughter Patricia, of Ashland, Ore., and her two children, Sascha and Joseph; and son Thomas, of Telluride and Beverly Hills.

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