The 35th annual Sun Valley Ancient Skiers reunion, January 20-27, 2018, brings some 350 ‘veteran’ skiers to ski, ski race, dine, converse, reminisce, tell tales, dance, party and continue to make Sun Valley a part of their heritage, and vice-versa.
As the organization defines itself, Ancient Skiers are “…a community of snow skiers 55 (plus) who come together to celebrate the snow ski industry, athletes, and beloved mountains. We are a group of over 1,000 members from the Pacific Northwest … dedicated to continuing their enjoyment of the sport of skiing as they move into their ‘Golden Years.’”
Some 40 to 50 Ancient Skiers own local homes and ski here all season.
In 1982, two ex-members of the University of Washington Ski Team, Tom (Tube) Hill and Tom Heard met up after not seeing each other in several years. Their connection soon evolved into the idea of a reunion of old time, pre-World War II ancients who skied at Paradise on Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Milwaukee Ski Bowl, Stevens Pass, the old Municipal Hill at Snoqualmie Pass, Meany Hut at Stampede, as well at Mount Hood, Mount Spokane, the Central region, the Leavenworth Ski Jumps, Mount Bachelor, and the Blue Mountains.
The group’s website (ancientskiers.com) reports, “Hill then presented the idea to Seattle Times sports editor, Vince O’Keefe, to get the word out to those who might be interested in having a reunion. Irv Pratt was also contacted to help get something started since he was near retirement and, supposedly, would have the time to work on it. Irv thought many old skiers would enjoy getting together to ‘mingle and mangle’ and remember old times. Instead of a clambake, a traditional Northwest affair, Irv came up with a ‘Clamfreeze’! … Over 300 skiers attended …The banquet was a super success with skiers re-living their past experiences together and exchanging ideas for their next skiing escapades.
“The idea of the Ancient Skiers organization was formed a couple years later when a few skiers again met up at Sun Valley. It seemed every time they got together the more they wanted to keep the past alive. Howard ‘Howie’ Clifford, a newspaperman and ardent skier who served as treasurer for PNSA in the war years, coined the name Ancient Skiers, and it stuck. The idea of holding a regular annual Sun Valley reunion was acted upon and the first Sun Valley reunion of Ancient Skiers was held in Sun Valley in winter 1984.”
There are many more Ancient Skiers with close ties to the Sun Valley community than can be written about here, but two who come to mind are Bob Cram and Lou Whittaker. Cram died last summer at the age of 91, one of the best-known, prolific ski cartoonists who ever put pen to paper with as much joy, skill and free-spirit as Ancient Skiers ski. His obituary in the Seattle Times included, “The urge to draw came early. Age 8. And the first tries at skiing came soon after, just before World War II—with Bob writing later, ‘To make four turns in a row without canning up was a major achievement.’” Both pursuits ultimately brought rewards, but not before the U.S. Army and the war and more skiing—with technique enhanced by a post-war year in Austria before the Army shipped him home.
Cram was the “cartooning weatherman” for NBC’s Seattle TV affiliate and hosted nearly 100 fun-filled half-hour “Ski-Nanny” shows on the same station.”
Cram was an accomplished skier, a long-time teacher for Buzz Fiorini’s Northwest private ski school, and his single cartoons and “That’s Ski Life” cartoon strips graced the pages of national ski and non-ski magazines alike. He was inducted into the Northwest Ski Hall of Fame in 2004 and given a Lifetime Achievement Award for Illustrated Ski Humor by the International Ski History Association in 2012.
Lou Whittaker will be 89 on February 10, 2018. “Everything I know, everything I believe in, I’ve learned from the mountains,” he has said. And he knows a lot. Lou and his identical twin brother Jim learned to ski and climb as teenagers in the Olympic and Cascade Mountains of the Northwest, first climbing Mount Rainier at the age of 16. They are two of the most accomplished, respected and well-known climbers in American history, Jim being the first American to summit Everest in 1963. They both first visited Sun Valley to ski while in college, and Lou has maintained a presence here ever since. In 1969 Lou established Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI), which changed the world of guided climbing. RMI’s website states: “Lou’s vision from the beginning was to establish a guide service that was dedicated to teaching as well as leading climbers. This far exceeded the standard guiding model of the day in which clients followed guides but rarely participated as a valued member of a team. In crafting structured courses within its trips, RMI ushered in a new era of mountain guiding where guides helped build skills and encouraged the involvement of their clients.”
Lou and his wife Ingrid are among those Ancient Skiers who are long-time local homeowners who spend winters in Sun Valley and summers in Ashford, Wash., at the base of Mount Rainier. Lou no longer skis but is a familiar presence walking the streets of Ketchum with Ingrid and holding court in coffee shops with skiers both ancient and young.