"Chapter 1 Beginner Skier in Utah" The Editor's Notebook


One could say that I got into skiing the hard way. College under the G.I. Bill did not allow for many frivolous endeavors on my part. However there was something called "War Surplus" in 1946 and that is how I assembled my first ski outfit. It included: surplus 10th Mountain Division skis, size 6 ft. 9 inches in length, brand, Allan Splitkins, tops painted white, new, $10; new Tenth Mountain leather ski boots, $10; bamboo poles, $3.

Earl Miller, a fellow student at Brigham Young University, was just getting into the sporting goods business. He sold me a new pair of Anderson & Thompson cable binding for $6 and this included mounting. This took place on his living room floor. A native of Manti, Utah Earl got into skiing at an early age and excelled in the sport at a time when expert skiers were few in number. After flying P38s in the U.S. Army Air Corp. in World War II he was attending BYU under the G.I. Bill also.

He was my skiing guru and I, along with his wife, were his first students at the newly formed Earl Miller Ski School at Timp Haven in Provo Canyon. Ray Stewart owned and operated the ski area which at that time consisted of a single rope tow powered by an Army Half Track 12 cylinder White engine.

Being from San Francisco the only skiing I had ever seen was on a movie screen. I was a complete novice but was soon smitten, almost to the point of obsession, with the sport from the first time I stood, unsteadily, on my skis. I remember watching Earl and Junior Bounous, another good local skier, coming down the hill making smooth turns, and I made up my mind that I would be doing that too.

In those days of early beginnings the technique was called the Arlberg. This school taught the snowplow, then stem turns and finally stem christies. And how exciting was the day when those first crude christies became a reality. I have never been particularly athletic but I did learn to ski quickly. Certainly I had the drive and determination and unlimited enthusiasm.

Despite the great terrain and powder snow that was so conveniently located near Provo and Salt Lake City, in those years the skiing fraternity was a small one. And this was especially true in Provo. At BYU we had the Park City men who had concentrated on ski jumping in what was then a mining town. Mel Fletcher and the Spendlove brothers, John and Rex, were good skiers but their first love was ski jumping. Two other good skiers from BYU whose interest was in racing were Phil Snelgrove and DeMonte Johnson. Two girls at college who were good skiers were Lorraine Linde and Jeanne Randall.

Among the excellent skiers in Provo were Reed Biddulph, a professional photographer, Junior Bounous of Orem, who had already made a mark as a cross country racer, and Irma Sturman, who was one of the best and strongest woman skiers in Utah County. Irma had spent some of the war years working in Alaska. On our cross country trips she was tireless and could keep up with any man.

Ray Stewart skied but seldom had the opportunity acting as host, ticket seller, tow operator and mechanic at Timp Haven. Today the area is Robert Redford's Sundance. If you've been to Sundance at the Lodge, looking left you can see the original hill. It is seldom skied now except for powder hounds willing to walk to it. Its been some years since I've skied Sundance but I went over and skied it once just for old times sake.

The year was 1946 and with the first flakes of snow in October some of us went up to the area with Ray Stewart as volunteer helpers, clearing brush, removing dead wood, and other odd chores. Some of the Park City crew set out to build a ski jump on an adjacent hill. This involved building the actual jump with readily available raw timber. The hill had good steepness but the runout was short because of a creek with a good flow of water. That didn't bother this hardy bunch. They built a snow platform so they could jump the creek as well to complete their runout.

I still remember my very first day. One afternoon Ray Stewart was going up the canyon to work on his tow and offered to take me along. The snow was still sparse but enough for me to practice standing on the skis, side stepping and attempting kick turns. Ray would give me a few pointers when it looked like I needed them. And I did. It was still afternoon when I got back to Provo. I was so exhausted I went right to my bunk. When my roommate returned from class he inquired if I was ill.

I didn't have a car but went to the ski area at every opportunity. If the tow wasn't running I just sidestepped or langlaufed up the hill. At that time Ray was only running the tow on weekends.

On a normal year Timp Haven received enough snow for skiing later than Alta being two thousand feet lower in elevation. I recall Earl Miller, his wife, Irma Sturman and I made several trips to Alta when their season opened in early November.

Earl had a 1935 Plymouth that once had rolled over a couple of times in the California desert. The result was exhilarating ventilation. And at a time of year when it was not needed. Sometimes to make the trip back to Provo less a "cool" experience we would go to Salt Lake City to a Mexican restaurant called "Tampico". Loading up on hot sauce over an enchilada or tamale did provide some necessary inner heat for the ride back to Provo.

At that time Alta had three single chair lifts but I was still too much of a novice to use them. A short distance away was Snow Pine Lodge which had a rope tow and this is where I did my skiing. As I remember it cost 5 cents a ride. Alta was charging $2.50, a huge amount for my limited budget. I think, at that time, Ray was charging a dollar for an all day pass.

With rope tow skiing it was a question as to which would give out first, one's legs from skiing or the arms from holding onto the slick rope. That first year Ray's tow only went two-thirds up the hill. The last third was too steep for holding onto a rope. So the next year he converted to a cable which did go to the top.

Now the skier had a strip of iron bar with a U curved at one end with a short length of rope tied to it. The other end of the rope had a 12 inch piece of wood attached. The skier would fit the U of the bar to the cable and then tuck the piece of wood between the legs. Once on top you wrapped the bar, rope and wood strip around your waist for the descent. We thought it a vast improvement over the rope tow both physically and in opening new steeper terrain.

Earl Miller loved ski racing and soon had a series of races scheduled that season. And he had me racing as soon as I could do a stem christie in both directions. I still lacked much in technique but there was no shortage of elan. Sometimes I finished, sometimes I didn't. By today's standards the courses were short and easy but the skills and equipment of that time made them demanding. Thank modern equipment for most of the techniques skiers use today.

This was demonstrated to me about three decades later. I had sprained my ankle hiking and it would not tolerate my hard shell plastic ski boot. Rather than cancel a scheduled trip to Mammoth I dug out an old pair of leather boots. The ankle thought kindly of it but I was amazed on how limited my skiing style was in those old boots. There was no support, no way to put pressure on the skis in a carving turn, or to use heel pressure to slide over a mogul.

My ski clothing matched my equipment. I usually wore a pair of tan Mountain Trooper ski pants, also surplus, with large patch pockets running down the sides. I must have enjoyed very good circulation in those years because I never wore longjohns. My parka was a pullover close-weave jacket used by Navy air cadets during the War. Fashion was not a big thing for most of us. Almost everyone had a Mountain Trooper pullover parka that came down to the knees. The girls of course paid a good deal more attention to fashion and were much admired for their efforts.

For me skiing was my only activity besides attending classes. I couldn't afford to do anything else. And in truth I didn't want to either. That first season I had a hard time in deep untouched powder. But like I did with all my skiing I kept at it. Wallowing in the deep stuff until I finally mastered the technique. I became a very good powder skier and like all who are, reveled in it and sought it out at every opportunity.

I was very fortunate to have fallen in with such experienced skiers. Besides lift skiing they were all interested in cross country outings into the local mountains. They had local knowledge of the country and knew of exciting ski terrain and what the snow conditions would be. In those early beginnings the same skis and boots could be used for Alpine cross country trips. With "bear trap" cable bindings it was easy to give lift to the back of the foot. And leather boots usually had more flex than was desired anyway.

A few of the wealthier had seal skins that stretched along the whole bottom of the ski. Most of us used canvas climbers that slipped over the back of the ski as a sleeve. They were then tied over the binding and boot. The advantage of the seal skins was they had some glide to them but the canvas did not. If we were not wearing a pack we just wrapped the snow covered canvas around our waists for the downhill return. On our langlaufs it was always a long slog uphill and then an exhilarating downhill run on return.

The next year there was more interest in skiing at the University. The Physical Education Department offered a couple of skiing classes which Earl Miller taught. I took the class just as a way of getting up to Timp Haven two more days a week.

My skiing continued to improve but I still had a surplus of elan. One afternoon after a 20 inch snowfall of light powder Earl, Junior and I went up to Timp. It was a Friday and Ray was getting ready for the weekend. He fired up the tow and asked Earl and Junior to make a good track up the lift line in the new snow. Setting overnight it would be a good base for the next day. And I followed them up. On top Earl and Junior just pointed their skis straight down in one beautiful schuss.

I didn't but made some turns down the slope. That I hadn't schussed the hill bothered me all night. The next day was Saturday and we were back to Timp. I didn't say anything but went right to the top and pointed my skis straight down the mountain. I made it about half way down when I hit a bump and went flying in a vast cloud of powder. I was unhurt but had broken the tip off a ski. Ray generously loaned me his skis for the rest of the day. I do not recall if he asked me to refrain from schussing the mountain in them.

During the previous summer I had saved enough pennies to buy a pair of Anderson & Thompson skis. Of course all skis were still made of wood at this time. Fortunately they came with a guarantee that A. & T. would replace one broken ski. So in do course I did get a replacement. That pair still exist as a picture frame for a mountain scene painting that hangs in the Family room of our home. At the time my magnificent fall was regarded as a big joke. Earl explained that overnight the snow had settled some and therefore was a lot faster when I tried my schuss.

Considered great sport was "Follow Jack", which was simply to follow a leader on a ski run. The leader would cunningly select a route, over bumps, through trees, over obstacles, all with the idea of tripping up those following. The resulting hangups and falls were considered great fun by one and all including the victim.

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