More than 120 co-space founders, entrepreneurs and elected leadership from around the west gathered in Telluride, Colorado, this month to discuss the future of mountain towns and what it looks like to create more jobs for locals while at the same time fostering more diversity as well as improving or maintaining overall livability for everyone in mountain communities.
The message from Telluride Village Mayor, Dan Jansen, to the heavy hitting crowd of mountain-town influencers (including Colorado’s Luis Benitez, head of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office), was that in order to create a more stable live/work environment, you have to help smooth out the economy, creating opportunity for national and international, or in the case of GoPro’s Johnathan Harris, intergalactic, businesses to thrive.
So from ski and snowboard manufacturers, to high-tech power couples who you really can’t understand what they do even when it’s dumbed down for you, to digital marketers and apparel brands, everyone in attendance shared best practices, skied, and imbibed as per the mountain-town usual for four days, walking away with a dozen major takeaways and a plan to communicate quarterly until next year.
“Create and share your passion. Drive your social value. And keep that passion as you scale the business,” Harris told the group on Saturday morning. Having first moved to Telluride in 1987, the GoPro sales exec has recently returned as a full time resident and spoke about the “negativity, the traffic and the divisiveness” in big cities and why following your passion where you live is so important.
“You have to have a passion and a belief that you’re going to build what you want to build. Never stray from the vision,” he said.
Also on hand were some of Telluride’s local entrepreneurs like Pete Wagner from Wagner Skis, who just found a unique new home in the Mountain Village and gave everyone a drooling tour of his custom ski manufacturing shop; and Will and Kelly Watters of Western Rise — the burgeoning multi-sport, millennial-inspired mountain town clothing line. Being able to interact with founders and leaders from brands like Patagonia, Toad & Co., and Voormi was something people won’t soon forget.
Personally I was beyond stoked to spend the weekend with all of these people, in one of the most inspirational towns in the world in my experience. I first stumbled through Telluride in 1990, on my way to Fort Collins to begin my new life as a Coloradoan, and over the last 27 years I’ve also lived in Steamboat Springs, Frisco, Boulder, Denver and now Nederland, Colorado. I have enormous respect for these like-minded folks who choose mountain town living, and the sacrifices — and the indescribable benefits — gained from going higher.
During the panel discussion on diversity, one of the most graceful and legitimate of its kind that I’ve witnessed, Asheville, North Carolina small business owner Forrest Merithew reminded the crowd about “geographical diversity” as well as gender, racial and other types of inclusiveness we all wanted to be aware of over the weekend. Everyone from Lake Tahoe, Mammoth, Bozeman, Sun Valley, Breckenridge, Bend, Big Sky, Aspen, and the list goes on, came together as if they had always been friends, as ski bums do, and a heartfelt effort to help each other be successful permeated the atmosphere of the summit.
Even though the Mountain Ventures Summit was essentially sold out in its first year, people vested in making better lives for their mountain community should visit the website and find out how we can all work together to achieve our goals.
Regional and topic-specific meetings are being considered for next year. The event was graciously hosted by The Mountain Lab and the Telluride Foundation and Telluride Venture Accelerator, taking the scrappy, can-do mindset mountain folk tend to have in common, and applying it to long-term entrepreneurship.
And remember, success isn’t measured in dollar signs — it’s measured in mid-week powder days.