Telluride, Always For Christmas

What was true three years in 2013 when our regular contributor Jesse James Mctigue originally wrote this story is abundantly true today, as we look out our windows at our winter wonderland: Telluride, always for Christmas. 

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A colleague asked me if I was going to stay in Telluride for the holidays. I looked at her dumbfounded. “Telluride is the only place I want to be for Christmas,” I replied. Reflecting on the past 25 years, I can only think of two Christmases not spent in Telluride. One year I was in Africa and the other in Ecuador.

The innocuous question led me to reflect further about why I am so resolute about Telluride for Christmas, about experiencing the ceremonial cycle that begins with the giddy anticipation for the holidays and ends with the promise of possibilities for the New Year. Each memory of the last 25 (minus 2) years of Christmases in Telluride is marked by two consistent variables: a Christmas tree and skiing with family.

Our holiday cycle always begins with getting a tree. Growing up, my mom  insisted on cutting hers down. And never at a Christmas tree farm. Instead, I remember scrambling after her up a steep embankment in Illium Valley. Not being someone who is particularly detail-oriented, she may or may not have had a permit. Her process was based on pure intuition. She wouldn’t take measurements, but instead would eyeball a tree close enough to the road and our car, but far enough away so she couldn’t be seen. Then she began sawing.

I’d help her pull it out of the woods and shove it in the back of her car. Inevitably, when we got it home it would be taller in our house than it seemed in the woods and the branches would be sparser, often with gaping holes between them. But it would stand in the corner of the living room, decorated and lit, for most of December. Each year my mom would declare that it was indeed the best tree we’d ever had.

Of course with a tree, come presents and childhood memories of unwrapping them. Gifts in our house were always related to skiing. The best of course, was new skis, but each year there’d be a new hat, long underwear, ski socks, or Patagonia fleece. I remember vividly, as a young adult with connections in the ski industry, the year when I was able to surprise my mom by buying her a new pair of skis and putting them under the tree; they were blue and white, Volkl Attivas.

Now, I live in Telluride with my own kids and I get to continue the Christmas traditions bestowed upon me. This year, instead of my mom taking me to get a tree, we took her. My husband bought two permits from the Forest Service office in Montrose and we drove up Fall Creek Road on a crisp afternoon in early December. We trudged from the road through knee-deep snow, as the late afternoon sun made it sparkle.

My oldest daughter, Mollie, inspected each tree carefully, identifying the contenders. We shook the snow off the best picks, unveiling their stout evergreen branches. Mollie helped my mom choose her tree, then insisted on sawing. Although my mom’s tree wasn’t as big as her trees in the past, I knew she’d declare it was the best she ever had.

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We picked ours and loaded them up, legally, on top of the car; our  youngest slept inside through the whole thing.

The tree currently stands alone, anchoring our living room. Inevitably, come Christmas morning, it will be surrounded  by brightly, wrapped presents. This year, Mollie asked for a glitter tattoos and Belle for a jumpy house made of unicorns. But, just like it was for me, most of their presents will have to do with skiing. And, just like it was for me, on Christmas Day, we will ski together as a family.

It is my Christmas wish that as my daughters grow older and explore the world, they will be as resolute as I am about spending this time of year in Telluride. It is my wish that they will always come home for Christmas.

And, I look forward to the year that they take me to cut down the tree; then, put a new pair of skis under it.

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Jesse James McTigue

Jesse James McTigue

Jesse James McTigue moved to Telluride when she was eleven. She has left many times –to attend a ski academy and college on the East Coast, to travel in South America, and to teach middle school in Oakland, CA –but she always seems to return. She returned (again) in 2008, married with kids, and thinks this time it may be for real. When she’s not chasing her kids, she’s searching for sanity on her skis or bike and makes her living freelance writing, grant writing and tutoring.

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