• Circling the Square / By Connie Owen
  • Jul 27, 2022

This is a brief history of the Jackson Hole Ski Corporation, which was written and generously given to me by Rod Newcomb. Long-timers of Jackson Hole will recognize the names of the people who made the resort a reality.

Paul McCollister, a retired California ad executive, came to Jackson in 1957. At that time a group of local skiers had envisioned a ski area in upper Cache Creek. Having skied in the Alps, Paul had a vision for a ski area greater than the terrain in Cache Creek could provide. The idea of a ski area on what was at the time called Crystal Mountain was not new in 1960. Paul Petzoldt could see the slopes from his ranch on Ditch Creek. In 1935 Paul McCollister, Eldon Petzoldt (Paul’s brother) and Fred Brown made several climbs up to ski down the 4,000-foot mountain using equipment that is now hard to find in a museum.

After submitting the special use application, McCollister purchased the 80-acre Crystal Springs Ranch at the base of what was to become Rendezvous Mountain. A group of local skiers began to climb the slopes with much better gear than what was available in the 1930s. When Paul would announce a trip up the mountain, the following skiers often showed up: Frank Ewing, Barry Corbett, Jake Breitenbach, Dick Pittman, John Harrington and Rod Newcomb. Alex Morley joined Paul and was secretary of the corporation. They were anxious to see what the snow conditions were like during the winter, especially on the southeast- facing slopes. They purchased a Cristi Cat, which was a lightweight snow cat from Europe. It had seats for about six skiers, and had hydraulic tracks that would raise and lower so that it could side hill.

After watching Neil Rafferty throw a stick of dynamite on a cornice on Snow King, Ewing, Pittman and Newcomb bought some dynamite from Blake Vandewater at the hardware store. High in Sundance Gully the explosion produced no avalanche. This was the beginning of their learning process — stable snow resists the avalanche. (Note: Rod Newcomb started the first private avalanche school in the United States, and for 35 years he headed up the American Avalanche Institute.)

The next milestone was the signing of the permit, dated Jan. 1, 1964, between the United States Forest Service and Jackson Hole Ski Corporation. Ernest Hirsch, acting forest supervisor, signed the permit. There was also an $975,000 SBA loan that was due and payable after 20 years.

Trail clearing and construction of the bottom tram terminal, tram towers and chairlift towers began the summer of 1964. The sewer plant was completed the fall of 1964 just north of where the post office now stands. The building, which has the steps and deck leading to the tram, was also completed that fall. It was apparent about the middle of the summer of 1964 that no lifts were to be in operation that winter.

An unfortunate accident occurred the summer of 1965 on the work tram. Two workers were riding down in the cement bucket rather than the personnel carrier. The haul side (cement bucket side) had no brake in case the haul cable broke. The cable parted, resulting in two fatalities, which shut down the tram construction for the summer.

Ewing was hired as patrol director and was hiring patrollers for the three chairs that were scheduled to open in December of 1965. He hired John Bernadyn, Harry Frishman, Dean Moore, Rod Newcomb, Bob Sealander, Peter Lev, Dick Persons and Will Bassett. Juris Kristjansons was hired by the Ski Corporation to be a full-time assistant to the snow ranger. They worked a six-day week with a starting pay of $2 an hour. (Ewing and Newcomb still live in Jackson. Bernadyn was a generation older and has passed. Frishman died in a climbing accident in 1982. Sealander and Persons have passed. Bassett lives in Denver. Lev lives in Vancouver, Washington. Moore spends part time in Jackson.)

In the fall of 1965 the patrol went to work as a workforce to help with the finishing touches on the chairlifts, dig ditches in frozen ground for electrical cables, burn trash piles in ski runs, build a gun tower, and the list goes on. McCollister, the eternal optimist, advertised that the ski area would be open by Christmas. Unless it snowed again there would be no chance of skiing from the top of Apres Vous to the base area. As luck would have it, it snowed just before Christmas and the ski area did indeed open.

Depending on one’s point of view, the opening of the ski area was either the beginning of a year-round economy along with jobs, growth and prosperity, or the end of Jackson Hole as a remnant of the old West, existing on a short tourist season, logging, cattle ranching and a short hunting season.

Whatever the case, it was the end of an era. With the opening of the Jackson Hole Ski Resort, Jackson Hole was never the same.

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