Chapter 9 New Beginnings

.. By Joe Hilbers

In the Fall of 1950 I quit my job on the Salt Lake Telegram and returned to San Francisco. After my first excitement writing sports began to pall. I was covering a lot of sports I really had no interest in. Also I had girl trouble.

That Spring on my trip to Squaw Valley I met Alex Cushing, the area's developer and owner. And interviewed him for the story I wrote for the Telegram. I remembered that he had told me he was planning to have a paid full-time patrolman the following season. En route to San Francisco I stopped at Squaw Valley to see about a job the coming season. Alex was off deer hunting but I returned to Squaw a few weeks later and did talk to him. He offered me the patrolman job and I accepted. This was in September.

I returned to San Francisco and while waiting did inquire about a job which would keep me in journalism. And a job did turn up on a business publication as an assistant editor. It was twice as much money as the patrolman position at Squaw. Somewhat reluctantly I finally decided to remain in my field of endeavor. So I called Alex Cushing, explained the situation, thanked him for considering me but to find someone else as patrolman. I never really regretted this decision though I have often wondered in what direction I would have gone if I had remained in skiing in some professional capacity. Many of the friends I knew in Utah did stay in some capacity of the sport. Years later Mel Fletcher directed the ski patrol at Park City. Earl Miller established a successful sporting goods business. Junior Bounous turned professional, was ski professional at Sugar Bowl in California and later director of skiing at Snow Bird.

Snow was late in arriving in the Sierra that winter. I went to work for Industry Publications the end of October and it was my destiny to be a weekend skier from that point on. When Squaw Valley finally opened only the upper third of the mountain had sufficient coverage for skiing. I went up about four days before Christmas to open the season. That year Emile Allais, the famous French racer, was professional at Squaw and he had a fellow French instructor and photographer, Tyler Micoleau with him as well. Because of the lack of snow Squaw was all but deserted except for the staff and a few of us diehards. What snow we had was actually turning to corn on the south slopes, unheard-of for that time of year. Emile Allais was introducing a ski technique which he called rotation, with the whole body from the heels up in rotation on carving turns. It was beautiful to watch. Emile kindly let me ski with them and I soon mastered the technique. Occasionally I still use it to this day on wide open slopes that allow the majestic sweeping turns.

Actually those sunny, spring like days, turned out to be a wonderful fun time for me. It was much like a race camp and after a full days skiing we would all gather at the bar for some beers and ski talk. After skiing Christmas Eve I left for San Francisco. It had been four years since spending the holiday with my parents. For once Highway 40 was a joy to drive, absolutely deserted, and not an eighteen wheeler to be seen. Normally one could always count on getting stuck behind a truck for miles and miles on that two lane road.

Over the long New Year's weekend I was once more at Squaw Valley. The weather finally turned to winter and a cold winter storm moved in. However we were still only skiing the upper third of the mountain, at that time termed tower #20. The original chair at Squaw had two on and off ramps en route to the top to accommodate beginner or intermediate skiers. It was on this trip that I met a group of people who became good friends for many years. They had a small club called "Hals und Beinbruk", which originally had been organized at San Francisco Junior College. As it happened some of these people had been in my class at Lincoln High School including Ken Hagler and Bob Edwards. The Club had both men and women members, all now out of school, and most still single. For me knowing some from High School it was like old home week. It was their practice to rent a cabin for the entire ski season with accommodations rather a casual adventure.

That weekend it was unusually cold for the Sierra and of course crowded with skiers. I recall one day after skiing everyone immediately headed for the bar and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees with so many cold bodies arriving all at the same time. Among other activities Ken Hagler and I managed to put our cars into snow drifts as we were leaving Squaw. This after a long apre ski at the bar. However Bob Spratling had a faithful Chevy and a tow rope to pull us both out. By the end of that weekend it was firmly decided that I would become a member of the Hals und Beinbruk.

One thing I did learn that season was that it was almost impossible to ski every weekend. For one thing it was a horrendous drive, leaving on Friday night, fighting traffic all the way through Richmond and Vallejo and then the long haul on Highway 40. Also it was expensive. The best we managed was to go every other weekend and using as few cars as possible to share expenses.

I did return to racing that season. There was a giant slalom held at Squaw one weekend and I entered. I was still a member of the Wasatch Mountain Club and my Class C card from the Intermountain Ski Association was current. On a course set under the lift I had the best race of my life. I beat all the C racers and all but one of the B racers that day. To move up in class in ski racing you had to come in first among the skiers in your class in a sanctioned race. That day the race was sanctioned by the California Ski Association. It also showed that the competition was much greater in the Intermountain area.

I only entered one other race that season. Squaw decided to hold a Fourth of July Race on the Headwall which still had an adequate snowpack. The course was short but very steep. That weekend Gordon Brown and Donna joined me. Gordon's sister had just been married and he annexed a couple of bottles of champagne from the reception to make the trip more interesting. In that race I finished fourth, a good effort for me since all the competitors were excellent skiers. Pick of the field was Dick Buick, a local skier who was a hot racer that year. He won by a huge margin that day. Unfortunately a very promising racing career was cut short when he was killed in a plane crash on nearby Donner Lake a few years later.

In March that season I got a weeks vacation and talked Gordon Brown and another skier, Warren Mufich, to join me on a trip to Utah. Gordon Brown was now living in Napa and was a member of the Napa Ski Club as was Warren. It was a good ski trip. We had excellent Utah powder minus any major blizzards. One weekend we spent at the Wasatch Mountain Club at Brighton. For me it was a chance for a reunion with some good friends and a new experience for the Napa men. Also there were some new faces and members I had not met before. One was a young woman named Mary Reynolds who I met quite casually that weekend.

On this trip I introduced Gordon and Warren to cross country skiing. Gordon was a good steady skier, Warren still very much intermediate in ability. Later he became an outstanding skier and a patrolman for some years. One day we skied Alta and toward the end of the day got our packs and rode the Collins chair which ended at Watson Shelter. There we shouldered our packs and headed for the Germania Hut which was located on a shoulder of Mount Baldy which dominates the Alta resort. Now lifts take you to that saddle but not in those years. The weather was excellent and we had wonderful views. To the right are the American Fork Twins and dominating all to the south Mount Timpanagos. It was new and exciting for my companions. The next morning, also cold, bright and clear, we skied back to Alta, deposited out packs in the car and lift skied the rest of the day.

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Last Update:9/1/99

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