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The history of aerial skiing in the Eagle Basin doesn’t accord alone to Vail.

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Downhill skiing came to Eagle in the 1940s to 1950s, years afore any ski runs were complete at the east end of the valley.

The downvalley adaptation of the accepted new winter action never had the composure of a corporate-run ski resort. The ski runs carved out of sagebrush-covered hills were short. The vertical bead was beneath than spectacular. The bootleg braiding tow was sometimes clumsily dangerous.

The amount of a division canyon was $5, volunteers ran the tow, and bounded moms adapted up the chili and hot amber served in the abating shack.

And by best accounts, the bounded ski acropolis was really, absolutely fun.

Credit the assurance of association leaders to accommodate a amusement befalling for bounded residents, the generosity of a Bruce Creek agriculturist and the adeptness of several Eagle association for authoritative that downvalley ski befalling happen.

The Eagle Basin Enterprise aboriginal appear absorption in operation of a ski acropolis abreast Eagle in December 1938. About 30 alfresco enthusiasts formed the “Eagle Basin Winter Sports Club” to advance winter sports throughout the valley.

A ski advance had already been able on Whittaker Hill, amid on the 2,000-acre Gordon Whittaker Agronomical on Bruce Creek, about seven afar southeast of Eagle.

Annual ante for the club were $1 for adults, and 10 cents for accouchement adolescent than 18.

“Those announcement the club achievement to be able to authority winter action carnivals and aggressive ski runs aback the advance has been fabricated suitable,” the Enterprise reported.

The able acclivity on the 2,000-acre Whittaker Agronomical was a acropolis that ailing at 8,400 feet. The brace of ski runs were congenital at about 7,000 feet. Gordon Whittaker connected to run beasts and sheep on the ranch.

Although some skiing best absolutely took abode on the Whittaker Agronomical in the 1940s, absolute annal are scarce. Likely, World War II interfered with the affairs for a aggressive winter-sports amusement area.

But Whittaker Ski Acropolis was in the account afresh in the abatement of 1948, aback one of Eagle’s newer residents, Dr. Bob Barnard, began lobbying for a braiding tow. The Enterprise accurate Barnard, acquainted that bounded skiers contrarily headed out of boondocks to Cooper Hill, Aspen, Glenwood or Loveland.

On Dec. 1, 1948, Gordon Whittaker active an official arrangement with the Commercial Club of Eagle acceptance association admission to 40 acreage of his agronomical for skiing. The contract, active by Art Koonce, Harry Lewis, Eldon Wilson, G.G. Price and Joe Allen, fabricated the club amenable for advancement Bruce Creek Alley and appear Whittaker from any albatross for ski accidents.

Although Whittaker never skied, he defined in the arrangement that his accouchement would be advantaged to chargeless division passes – apparently the alone banking account that he becoming in the deal.

Throughout that fall, a aggregation of men including Barnard, Dick Boles, Larry Byers, Mick Randall and Bob Randall, Eddie Belding and Norvall Morgan spent weekends ambience up a braiding tow. Ordie Robertson donated six poles. Fred Downey, who operated the Texaco station, donated the motor and anatomy of a car bought at a sheriff’s auction as the ability antecedent for the tow. Skip (Melvin) Chambers, 70, who skied Whittaker acropolis as a kid, remembers accurately that the “power plant” was a 1938 Ford one-ton barter with a V-8 engine. The braiding on the tow ran on old car axes and rims. Money for the action came through donations from borough groups, bounded businesses and clandestine citizens.

Jerry Whittaker, 68, of Grand Junction, the youngest of the bristles Whittaker kids, remembers ski runs aloof best than a division of a mile.

“It was a new action about Eagle,” he said. Although bodies had continued acclimated skis for travel, skiing for amusement was a new concept.

The tow operated on weekends and holidays, cartoon crowds of as abounding as 50 people. Abounding skiers acclimated surplus board skis with “bear trap” bindings from the Camp Hale World War II Army training facility. Some skis were anchored with alone a accoutrement band over the toe. Ski boots were like hiking boots. There was no such affair as a assurance strap.

“If you absent your ski, it went all the way bottomward the hill,” Whittaker said.

To use a braiding tow, skiers had to butt a consistently agee rope, captivation on for the acclivous pull. Big gloves were a must. Leather-work gloves were preferred. The savviest skiers blood-soaked the award of the gloves with affair to acclimate the accoutrement to advice grab the rope.

Whittaker’s sister, Jo Ann Potter, of Grand Junction, remembers that the “regulars” on the Whittaker slopes included the families of Dorris and Jean Johnson, Harold and Alice Koonce, Wayne and Lynn Randall, Alvin and Jim Rule, Earl Eaton, Joe Carter, George White, Glen and Skip Chambers, all the Whittaker kids and the Mick Randall association (Bob, Rita, Mickey and Donna).

There was consistently allocution of extending the braiding tow higher.

“It was appealing abuse collapsed … but fun,” said Eagle citizen Bill Johnson, 64, who aboriginal abstruse to ski on Bruce Creek. Bob Randall remembers a ski jump that concluded on collapsed terrain, arch to lots of crashes.

“You would accept to contrivance a cow every now and then,” Chambers said.

By 1952, the Whittaker ancestors added a “ski shack” at the abject of the hill, with eight ample windows adverse the ski advance and a abating stove, benches and counters inside. Gordon’s wife, LaVeta, forth with Eileen and Florence Randall, adapted pots of chili for the skiers.

Many bodies bethink Mick Randall’s abominable “ski bike.”

Randall, an adroit guy who formed adamantine to advice accomplish the ski ability a reality, hit aloft the abstraction of extending an old bike anatomy and bolting a brace of button skis assimilate the accoutrement in abode of wheels.

“There were no brakes on the ski bike,” remembers Jerry Whittaker.

Mick’s daughter, Donna Natal, 74, of Carbondale, remembers seeing her ancestor zip bottomward the acropolis on the ski bike and again cast end over end aback the ski agent got bent beneath some acid wire.

Skip Chambers took the ski bike for a memorable, out-of-control run bottomward from the top of the ski hill.

“It looked to me like it would be an attainable affair to ride,” Chambers remembers, with a somewhat arresting laugh. He hit a aperture at the basal and destroyed the ski bike in a alarming crash.

“I’m advantageous I didn’t breach … a lot of things,” he said, laughing, in a buzz account from his New Mexico home.

In January 1954, the Enterprise appear the move of the ski tow from Bruce Creek to the Cole Black Agronomical on the outskirts of Eagle (now lower Kaibab). The tow was relocated at the top of Sixth Street, aloft and hardly arctic of the Eagle cemetery (near the boondocks baptize tank). A new ski club sponsored the action and operated the tow. Potential associates were asked to accommodated at the advance on a Sunday afternoon and to accompany their own chow axes for allowance sagebrush.

Jo Ann (Whittaker) Potter said the alarming Bruce Creek Alley was apparently the primary acumen for the ski-course move. The alley was difficult to drive, and the ambit from boondocks fabricated the ski acropolis adamantine for kids to access.

Glen Chambers, abettor of the Conoco aggregate bulb in Eagle and admiral of the Lions Club, took on the move of the ski tow as a association project, remembers his son, Skip. The new ski run, amid aloof acclivous from the Eagle School, would be calmly attainable to kids.

With new poles donated by Eagle Telephone Co. admiral Norvall Morgan, the braiding tow was confused to the new location. Concerned that the rope-tow apparatus could affectation a assurance botheration if a skier couldn’t let go on top, Glen chic up a assurance braiding “gate” that would accompany the tow to a halt.

Skip Chambers said that assurance anticipation paid off aback Don McLain’s bandage got bent in the tow braiding one afternoon. The assurance braiding dead the agent aback the trapped skier was aloof a basal abbreviate of actuality choked.

Local kids flocked to the little two-run slope. On winter afternoons as anon as academy let out, Chambers and his accompany would run to his dad’s gas plant, grab a five-gallon can of gas and again arch out to ammunition the tow and do some skiing.

The ski runs, while short, were steep. Aloof blind on to the braiding tow was a challenge.

“You had to be boxy to accomplish it to the top because of that aftermost rutted hump,” remembers Bill Johnson.

The kids crafted a ski jump by sawing the aback legs off of a barbecue table, accession it adjoin the acropolis and accoutrement it with snow.

“You could bolt some air off of that thing,” Johnson recalled. Skiers could blow on benches installed area the ski run bedfast out at the bottom.

The in-town ski tow operated for several winters. Abounding of the bounded kids who abstruse to ski on Eagle’s little ski acropolis went on to become able skiers. Some went on to assignment on the abundance for Vail Resorts.

The abilities Skip Chambers developed in Eagle were abundant to put him in aggressive ski contest at Steamboat his inferior and chief years of aerial school.

There was no official end to the Eagle ski acropolis and tow. The little operation artlessly achromatic away. Likely, some balmy winters rendered the tow unusable. Also, in 1959 the new aerial academy was opened in Gypsum, alteration the focus of action for the earlier kids.

Downhill skiing in Eagle apparently formally concluded in the aboriginal 1960s.

But the memories still amble on.

“It was a acceptable time,” Jerry Whittaker said.

Kathy Heicher is a freelance biographer and admiral of the Eagle County Historical Society. She can be accomplished at [email protected] or 970-328-7104.

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