I rolled into Telluride in June of 1990 with skiing on my mind. I found part time work on a construction site and a few nights washing dishes at Honga's Lotus Petal. Back then, Telluride was a pre-boom ski town. The powers that be had already platted their "world-class" ski resort, it just hadn't happened yet. The town was full of empty lots and rundown Victorian houses that hadn't seen a coat of paint in 20 years. Sidewalks, when there were any, were in disrepair and the roads were mostly dirt. It still had the feel of an old mining town where people now skied - not a ski town where people once mined. Colorado Avenue was Telluride's main street and on any given day, you could stand in the middle of the road and chat with your friends, gaze up at the ridiculously scenic mountainscape, and occasionally, you would have to make way for a passing car.
Rent in town was cheap, but I opted for the woods. Back in those days, living in the National Forest that surrounded Telluride was commonplace. My tent and tarped kitchen was a great setup, but was rustic compared to the makeshift cabins or "woodsies" that dotted the hillsides. Well hidden and incredibly cozy, these forest structures were crafted from downed trees, stone, and scrap building materials. Woodsy was both a name for the hardy hippies who chose this lifestyle, and for the homes they built. Many a glorious summer's day was spent hauling lumber, windows and wood stoves up the hill for my neighbors. Getting ready for winter was what happened all summer long, especially when you lived at 9,500 feet. A well-stocked wood pile and some reclaimed single-pane glass windows were often the only things standing between you and the bitter cold of December.
Although ready for the challenge of woodsy life, my fortunes changed in late September when an old friend offered me a room in his home for the winter. The 'Red House' was a rundown miner's shack with red asphalt shingle siding and newspaper in the walls. Water froze on my bedside table and the sloped wood floors were challenging for anyone not totally sober. But the large wood stove worked like charm, there was electricity, an indoor bathroom, and the rent was $150 a month. And the kicker...it sat across the street from the main chairlift in town - a two-person relic known as Lift 8.
I had stumbled into the epicenter of Telluride's hippie ski bum culture and the Red House was ground zero. Life was good, then it started snowing, and life got really good. The program was simple: wake up early, eat, ski all day, eat, sleep and repeat. I worked as little as possible and played very hard. My friends were super strong, dread-locked, vegetarian, woodsy mountain athletes. Among the many characters that streamed through our door was Baker Steve - a quiet, humble woodworker, rippin' acoustic guitar player and yes, a beeswax candle maker. The following winter I would move into the Butcher Creek Cabin and Baker would teach me to make candles, but that is another story and definitely not where my candle education began. No - it began much sooner on a cold January evening at a Red House potluck.