History of the Phoenix Ski Club
revised June, 1998
This account of the history of the Phoenix Ski Club was compiled as a labor of love by long-time member, Anne Horner. It serves not only as a history of the Club, but as an interesting account of the development of skiing in Arizona. Anne's contributions to the Club over the years, as a Board member, Slope Dope coordinator, Officer, Trip Leader, etc. are almost too numerous to mention, and she exemplifies the hard-working volunteer spirit that keeps our Club going. Thanks for everything, Anne!!
December 1, 1948 was the formal beginning of the Phoenix Ski Club (PSC). The origins, of the club, however go back to the winter of 1940-41 when then U.S. Forest Service Forester, Ed Grosbeck and the original Flagstaff Ski Club members removed the old, very small, rope tow from "Scissor Bill Park", and built a longer and more powerful new one at the "Harts Prairie Area" on the "Aggassiz Ridge" or western side of the San Francisco Peaks. The Harts Prairie rope tow was at the edge of the area now (1990's) served by the "Harts Prairie" chair lift. With the construction of the longer tow and skiable slope, the big log lodge constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC), and the construction of a small overnight cabin, a few hardy skiers from Phoenix began to join the local skiers for the weekends.
In the Phoenix valley, many of the skiers who first became interested in the sport in those early years were members of the Phoenix "Thunderbirds", a civic group then closely affiliated with the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Before the Phoenix Open golf tournament became so large an event, the Thunderbirds sponsored an annual "Thunderbird Ski Meet" at the Snow Bowl. Prominent among the skiing families in the "Thunderbirds" were the Barry Goldwater family, and the Jack Williams family. (Later to be Senator Barry Goldwater and Governor Jack Williams.)
In 1948, an open invitation was publicized through the media to invite all interested skiers to the first meeting of what was to become the Phoenix Ski Club, held in the Phoenix Chamber office. The Club's original "Sparkplugs" included Don Charles, John Nutter, Dr. John Ricker, Gene Tompane, and Dave Henes.
Don Charles was the spokesman for the group at that first meeting. John Nutter was an engineer for the State Transportation Department and in 1952 joined the Navy. Dr. Ricker was a well known Phoenix orthopedic surgeon and avid skier. Gene Tompane was a stockbroker and partner in his own firm. Dave Henes worked for the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and was responsible for the newspaper article that drew 200 interested people to the first meeting.
With this group's enthusiasm, the valley's first and oldest ski club took hold.
The Early Days
Shortly after the club's inception other mainstays joined the ranks, names known to many such as: Al Gibbon, Jimmie Nunn, Willie Lump, Bill Campbell, Stan Keck and Stan McDonald. Al Gibbon relocated from California and was an early member. Jimmie Nunn, a young first class downhill racer, originally from Flagstaff, who had just graduated from college, joined in 1952. He was an architect by trade and in later years his architectural firm was hired to design the Sunrise Ski Area.
Willie Lump was an aircraft mechanic for Cutter Aviation. Bill Campbell was an engineer with Arizona Public Service Company. Stan Keck started the first ski shop in Phoenix which he operated out of his west Phoenix garage, later to be joined by Stan McDonald. Eventually the shop was sold to Tom LeBoeuff, Wayne Frerichs, and Hank Goudy who opened up the "Purple Ski" Shop on North Central Avenue.
These individuals formed the PSC to provide a nucleus of interested skiers who could get together and car pool to several ski areas available to them in the late forties and fifties. Keep in mind that charter bus trips and airline ski destinations didn't exist in those days. Flagstaff's Snow Bowl was a 5 to 7 hour drive. Not only was there not a freeway but there was not even a road where I-17 is today.
One had to depart Phoenix and travel northwest to Wickenburg, north up over the old Yarnell Hill to Prescott, through Ashfork, and then eastwardly to Flagstaff. Later the route opened up to drive north to Mayer, up over Mingus Mountain to Jerome, then down into Cottonwood and north up through Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff.
Mammoth Mountain, in California, was a 14 hour drive, and Utah's Alta Ski Basin was a 15 hour drive. (None of the other wonderful Salt Lake ski areas existed yet.) The Club also took a few trips to Sun Valley, Idaho in those days. Sun Valley was "the" international ski spot then, with several chair lifts.
As you can see, car pooling and sharing economical travel and lodging made belonging to the PSC very worthwhile.
The PSC members often got together volunteer weekend workcrews to help cut and groom trails at the Arizona Snow Bowl during the summers. The first Phoenix Ski Patrol local unit of the National Ski Patrol System was organized in the mid-fifties by PSC members. Together with the existing Flagstaff Ski Patrol, formed after the war, these two groups provided all patrol services with volunteers and donated equipment, (much of it donated by PSC) until the early Sixties.
Lodging at the Arizona Snow Bowl area was never fully developed to the level of ski area accommodations at many other areas today. In the late 40's and early 50's the club was, however, given the use of a cabin at the area, in return for the many days of volunteer services on the mountain. It cost members $ .50 per night to stay in this rustic cabin which was heated by a big old pot belly stove. It could hold up to 16 persons (not counting the floor.) Many a weekend was spent in this cabin by the old timers of the Club after they traveled the then 7 hour trek to Flagstaff. Ask Ellen Budd what it was like - she stayed there many weekends during the early years of 1952-1954 when she served as club Secretary.
The Club raised additional money promoting different events to build up a cabin fund and provide for its maintenance. The cabin burned down in the late 50's. This generated an enormous sense of urgency among the membership to keep adding to the "cabin fund" with the hopes of rebuilding. It became very competitive for each new incoming club President to see how much "cabin" money he could raise during the term of office. Unfortunately, as the years passed, the goal of rebuilding the cabin was abandoned.
Al Gibbon's association with the Far West Ski Association, which is a division of the U.S. Ski Association, attracted the interest of California skiers to join our club for major downhill races. The annual Arizona Cup Race was held at Flagstaff and over 100 racers would drive over from California to participate. In turn the PSC racers would participate in the major races at Mammoth Mountain.
In those days it was standard operating procedure for Al Gibbon, Gene Gage, and Jimmie Nunn of the PSC, to race themselves and also to take Arizona's best young racers to the junior races. The list of "hot" young racers included names you know yet today. Ken Lincoln and Dick Miller were on the list of racers.
Al Gibbon, Gene Gage and Jimmie Nunn would pack the junior race team into a couple of station wagons and head for California several weekends each year. They would leave at 5 p.m. on a Friday night and drive straight through. After a short stop in Las Vegas, Nevada to eat and pull the one armed bandits, they would drive most of the rest of the night to be on the slopes ready to race at 9 a.m. Saturday morning.
The teams made a science of this slick transportation system - load up the station wagons with 2 drivers and 4 sleeping racers per vehicle. Many of the racers were high school or college students who had to be back at home, NAU or ASU, rested and ready for Monday classes.
Memorial Day weekend at Mammoth Mountain became an annual affair with PSC members. Racers and recreational skiers alike would car pool over and camp out a U.S.F.S. campground at the old Mammoth Village at the foot of the mountain. Each evening after skiing PSC'ers went to the nearby Mammoth Hot Springs to bathe and party. Typical ski attire for the weekend was a bathing suit under ski wear.
The various clubs under the Far West Ski Association, a Division of the United States Ski Association, used a scoring system where race points were accumulated annually. Novice racers would race in the D class until they won a race. Then they would work their way up through Class C and Class B to the A group.
Fun and Games
The camaraderie that developed with the California ski clubs spurred additional interest in competition for water skiing and surfing events. Led by PSC skiers such as Noel Burgbacher (Jordan), her brother, Ralph Burgbacher, Clive Jordan, Mort Copenhaver, Gene Gage and Al Gibbon, among others, many of whom are still active Phoenix skiers, even though not all are still PSC'ers, a hundred or more Phoenix skiers frequently met two-hundred plus, California skiers for water ski rendezvous and races on the Colorado River near Parker.
Snow skiers literally owned the river for miles while showing off their water skiing skills. (Ask any veteran member to tell you who drove "Runnin BARE"?) During these years it was common for PSC skiers to compete at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour. Summers then also included jaunts to San Onofre, California (San Clemente area) to compete in the annual San Onofre Surf Club's surf board competition.
Ski Area Improvements
The Arizona Snow Bowl, as the first "home area" of the Phoenix Ski Club, expanded by increments over the years. A pomalift was installed in the summer of 1958 by Al Grasmoen, Snow Bowl's developer and owner. Bob "Wheezer" Veazey now a Scottsdale resident, and Ken Lincoln, past president of PSC, both assisted that summer to construct the Poma Lift.
Grasmoen began the preparatory work for a chair lift up Agassiz ridge, but sold the area to a new development group, composed mostly of Phoenix business men, including Bill Brown, Bob Flori, Sam Kitchell and Ed Cudahy. This group hired Buzz Bairbridge from New Mexico to come over, build the lift and be the area General Manager. The area layout for the Riblet lift was done by PSC's own Bill Campbell, Stan Griffen and Jimmie Nunn. That summer Ken Lincoln and Dick Miller worked for Bainbridge building the big chairlift. The lift was installed during the summer of 1962.
Stan McDonald, previously noted as one of the early club members, together with several White Mountain residents developed the Big Cieniga Ski Area. This small area was located east of the Sunrise Ski Basin turn off. It provided a rope tow, poma lift, and a few trails. Once the White Mountain Apache Indian ski development was built, Big Cieniga closed down.
Jimmie Nunn, mentioned earlier as a former PSC sparkplug was hired as the architect for Sunrise's first mountain and lodge development. Mount Lemon, northeast of Tucson, was developed by Al Grasmoen who had moved there and leased that area after selling the Snow Bowl in Flagstaff in 1961. Al built the big lodge, the rope tows and finally the chair lift that is still present. This added to the availability and excitement of Arizona skiing.
In the early years of the club, a new member had to be sponsored by a member in good standing. The prospective member had to work two service weekends annually. These work weekends started with the program at Flagstaff's Snow Bowl. Our members cleared the trails, operated the rope tows, and joined the first instructors to teach at that mountain. Money from the ski club treasury helped support some of the necessary functions and provisions at the Snow Bowl including a first aid station stocked with toboggans, bandages, and splints.
Being a member of the PSC was a lot of hard work, but also a great honor. PSC members became recognized and respected throughout Arizona and California for their efforts. The same type of club member assistance carried over to the early days of Big Cieniga and the Sunrise ski areas.
Originally PSC was associated with the Intermountain Ski Association, later due to many members racing in California, PSC petitioned to switch to the Far West Ski Association. In the sixties Al Gibbon and Gene Gage began the formation of the Arizona Ski Council. They planned to include the different ski clubs in Arizona: Phoenix, Flagstaff, Show Low-White Mountain, Prescott, and Tucson. The Arizona Ski Council was expected to become a subdivision of the Far West Ski Association, but when the Sunrise Area and the Flagstaff Ski Club affiliated with the Denver based Rocky Mountain Ski Association, the Arizona Ski Council became inactive.
All of these "Associations" (IMSA, FWSA, RMD) are divisions of the overall governing body of organized skiing in the United States, the "United States Ski Association." Through this membership as a divisional representation, PSC had an active voice in national ski policy, and supported the various unified national ski programs for many years. During 1991 Arizona Ski Council was formed and joined the Far West Ski Association and therefore members of Phoenix Ski Club are once again members of the Far West Ski Association.
The Phoenix Ski Club has existed for over 50 years. A group of "hardy pioneers" gave the organization its birth. Numerous changes have taken place from the old "bear trap" ski bindings, wooden boards, pine tar, klister, and wax from the paraffin used on jelly canning jars. Now we have step in bindings, rear entry boots, carbon boards, instant sharpening, and hot wax machines. Transportation has changed from earth bound family station wagons to America West air charter flights. Lodging has changed from an old Snow Bowl cabin with a pot belly stove to an upscale ski-in ski-out condo complete with the amenities of a hot tub and sauna.
Many of our members are well acquainted with the humble beginnings of the PSC and its 50 years of existence. Over the years we have developed into a club that, in addition to snow ski activities provides water sport weekends, bicycling, camping, holiday parties monthly camaraderie socials, and community service work. Phoenix Ski Club supported the Arizona Special Olympics for its very first year by chartering a bus to take volunteers to Flagstaff's Snow Bowl for the Arizona Winter Olympics, and the Club continues to support them with volunteers and fund-raising each year.
After paging through the club's old scrapbooks and speaking with some of the early members of our club, I learned a lot and gained a tremendous respect for our predecessors. There were many other members who played important roles in the development of this fine club, and skiing in the Southwest. There were just too many to include in this article. Thanks to all of you who have contributed so much to make a better Phoenix Ski Club.
My special thanks to John Nutter, Gene Tompane Dr. John Ricker, Jimmie Nunn, Bill Campbell, Ellen Budd, Gene Gage, Mort Copenhaver, Nancy Campbell, Ken Lincoln and Dick Miller, among others too numerous to list, for recalling PSC's meaningful history. Some of the early "Sparkplugs" have passed on up through St. Peter's Pearly (Powdery?) Gates. Surely, "Mr. Ski of Arizona", Al Gibbon, and Tom LeBoeuff, of "Purple Ski" ski shop fame, are standing up there somewhere on top of snow capped summits.