Memories of the Last of the Season, The 1940s, Part One

By Beacon Staff

I can remember a lot of my 73 last days of the ski season in the spring before I started making movies in 1950, and all of these days were epic!

In 1945, before I was shipped overseas again with the Navy, I spent some time becoming an intermediate skier at Badger Pass in Yosemite. My orders got mixed up and the Navy secretary finally found me on a Thursday afternoon at Badger Pass. I had to gather up all my stuff and leave at 1 p.m. after skiing all morning. I drove to Hollywood and left my sister’s car and all of my gear at my parents’ house and took a cab to the Greyhound bus depot for a ride to Oakland in time to get on a troop transport for a long ride to Kwajalein Island for my next duty ship. I was able to stay awake on the long drive to Los Angeles thinking about the last few runs I had skied on that final morning. It was a long time before I returned to the mountains. The war had to end first.

In 1947, when Ward Baker and I hiked the six miles from the road to the Ostrander Lake hut in Yosemite National Park in California, the climb was gentle but uphill all the way. We were the only two people climbing Horse Ridge and laying down figure eights.

The spring of 1948 followed another winter of living in the Sun Valley parking lot with Ward, skiing and racing all over the West. We took our goodbye-to-winter ski run, a four-hour climb to the Pioneer cabin above Trail Creek. There we hiked and filmed for four or five days, and finally, we took a four or five mile downhill ride back to our car parked on the road alongside Trail Creek. Snow and winter weather again were leaving our world.

Also in 1948, I remember that after one final ski race in the Harriman Cup, I made a few ascents of Durrance Mountain north of Ketchum, Idaho, in about an inch of perfect corn snow. One of best things about spring skiing is corn snow. So many people quit too early in order to go golfing or sailing and never experience corn snow.

After teaching skiing on Half Dollar in Sun Valley the winter of 1949, I watched Everett Kircher dismantle the original Dollar Mountain chair lift, put it on a train, and ship it to his new resort, Boyne Mountain, Michigan, and open up Midwestern skiing with its first chairlift. By the time it was dismantled, I had taken one final run with two friends on Galena Summit. We drove up and skied down in that delicious corn snow.

1950 was a new experience after I spent a winter teaching at a brand new ski resort called Squaw Valley. When the resort shut down for most skiers, we still had plenty of snow, and I had a photo job that paid $35 a day to film a ski technique movie of the ski director.

For the final two weeks of filming, we both got up at 4:30 a.m. and were climbing by 5 a.m. to start as high as possible and take advantage of the early light and the perfect corn snow.

As I generated more cash to buy more film by pounding nails 40 hours a week, I quickly learned to move up in altitude with each passing weekend I filmed until I had enough footage for a finished film. I did a lot of shooting at Mammoth on its rope tows and then on the first chair lift and the first gondola.

Most late spring days were really wonderful. As I said, I pounded nails all week between the 700-mile round trip drive and climbing and filming on those weekends. There are a lot of circumstances that all come together and make that last day or those last few days of skiing memorable.

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