If the weather hypesters are right, we're in for a good winter, full of snow and multiple white-knuckle trips up to Bogus. Which reminds me of a kid I met in a lift line in Oregon last year.
As soon as he found out I was from Boise, he said, "Bogus Basin, right?"
"That's right," I said, puffing up with pride.
"That road has 188 curves. I counted. I almost got sick."
I steered clear of that kid the rest of the day. But it made me almost wistful for that gnarly drive we so gleefully attack several times a winter. Lately, however, it occurs to me that we've got it easy.
Imagine trying to get up Bogus Basin Road without a snowplow leading the way. Imagine you're in a 1940s-era hunk of Detroit iron, packed in with a pile of your buddies, climbing through three feet of snow and an extra foot of fresh on top. That's what it would have been like December 20, 1942, on opening day of our little resort. The stars seemed to align just right: Sun Valley was even closed that day, due to shortages imposed by the country's war effort.
I wish I could have been there, but in honor of Bogus Basin's 65th anniversary, I found the next best thing: Eve Chandler has been steadily tracking the history and milestones of our community ski area. She even has the business card to prove it. On a Bogus Basin card is her name and her title: "History Writer."
We should all be so lucky. With the anniversary in mind, I sat down with Chandler, who is working on a book about Bogus, to get her to tell us a little about what it was like to get Boise's wintertime gem off the ground. And it wasn't easy. Consider that Alf Engen, one of the gods of North American skiing, helped them find just the right place. Consider that Jack Simplot cut checks when things got tight. But aside from these noble lights, they also had plenty of everyday Boiseans pitching in and giving Bogus the sort of help that still arrives when called, today. The story, as she told it to me, follows.
Oh, and I checked up on that kid's claim: Ada County Highway District engineers report that Bogus Basin Road has 172 curves, however you might define them, from bottom to top. Car sickness affects math, too, apparently.
Happy birthday, Bogus. May the frosting on top be white.
The Boise Ski Club and the Boise Junior Chamber of Commerce decided that they really needed to have a ski area to serve the Treasure Valley. So they enlisted the help of Alf Engen to come and help them find a site.
Engen and a number of local skiers, John Hearne being one, skied 150 miles, starting at Pilot's Peak, across the Boise Foothills all the way to the Horseshoe Bend Summit, on three different trips, looking for the ideal site. Alf Engen looked at Shafer Butte and said, "This is where you want your ski area. It has wonderful snow, great runs along the ridgeline, it has the most dependable snow, and it lasts long in the season." He felt it was one of the best ski areas he'd found in the Northwest.
So, after Alf Engen helped select the site, Boise Junior Chamber of Commerce applied to the Works Project Administration for help, along with the governor and the mayor for a WPA grant.
They received the grant, and assigned 195 men to come out and work on the road. Groundbreaking for the road was November 28, 1938. They had a big parade downtown which wound up Harrison Boulevard and right up Slaughterhouse Gulch at the beginning of Bogus Basin Road. They had the governor, the mayor and the Chamber of Commerce. The Hotel Boise provided sandwiches and coffee. They had a big band, and they broke ground for the road.
It took two years and $307,000 to build the road. They first anticipated it would be 25 miles long. But by the time they finished the road, it was only 18 miles. Since rebuilding the road in the ensuing years, they've whittled it down to 16 miles. They used decomposed granite as the surface, which would later be a huge problem because that decomposed granite would just wash out. It was a mess.
Before the road was even finished, they put in the very first rope tow. Edward Gillis, who was the supervisor at the Forest Service office down on Myrtle Street, installed a 200-foot-long rope tow that was levers and pulleys, and they used an old Model A engine. They loaded this rope tow onto a sled and walked it into the basin. The Boise Ski Club actually cleared the slope where they put the ski slope. They literally hung it on a tree. They were diesel fueled. But they put that engine up on the top of the rope tow. And whenever they'd use it, it would overheat and they would have to climb up to the top with water and pour water into the engine to stop it from overheating. Finally, after two years, they reversed it and put the engine at the bottom of the rope tow. That was 1939. By 1940, they had completed the road.
A number of people were up skiing, walking in to the area, or finally they were able to drive to the area. There were no snowplows. They just took their chances. In the early years of the road, it was one-way going up in the morning and, at 3 o'clock, it was one-way going down.
They were planning to open the ski area in 1941. But World War II broke out. In fact, [a group of young men] were all up skiing on December 7, 1941, and they came back to their car, turned on the car radio and heard President Roosevelt announce that the U.S. was entering the war.
The next year, all five of those young men were enlisted and were not skiing.
Bogus Basin finally opened on December 20, 1942.
The Early Days
There are a lot of reasons why the Boise Junior Chamber of Commerce was interested in starting a ski area. One, there was growing interest in the sport. Sun Valley had opened and really piqued a lot of interest in skiing. People went over to Sun Valley from Boise. And the chamber thought skiing would be an economic boon to the area. They envisioned Bogus Basin being a year-round resort, with both summer and winter activity. When the [Civilian Conservation Corps] built the road, they also built a lodge that was used, and barracks that housed the men out there.
On December 20, 1942, when Bogus Basin opened, they were in the middle of the war, and there was gas rationing. And so the Chamber of Commerce arranged for carpooling from City Hall. They estimated it took about four gallons of gas to get up to Bogus Basin and back, and that was their weekly allotment. So they would take turns driving the road, different skiers, in order to get people up.
It was always a nonprofit, community-based ski area. It was run by the Bogus Basin Community Recreation Organization. In those days, during the Depression, I don't think there was anybody looking to start a ski area in the Boise area. Now, Sun Valley had the Union Pacific Railroad to bankroll them. Boise Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Boise Ski Club really did it as a gesture of pride in the community, to provide something for youngsters and young skiers.
They did not receive their 501(c)3 status until 2005. The government just does not give that tax status to areas like that. People donated money, but they just did not have [official nonprofit status until later].
So when Bogus Basin opened, 200 people showed up. They had three feet of snow, plus a foot of fresh powder for opening day. Fett Benetikter was the area ski instructor. He had been at Sun Valley. He was an Austrian who did not speak very good English. He used a lot of hand gestures. He could always be heard yelling, "Bend ze knees!"
Most of the people that were skiing were soldiers from Gowen Field. The Gowen Field officers proved to be really vital to Bogus Basin. In the second season, they kept the road open, they plowed the road, and they ran the rope tow.
The very first season, the Bogus Basin Ski Club ran the rope tow. They didn't charge for the rope tow, but you could buy a $25 membership in the Boise Ski Club. They had social events that they would hold.
Sid Klessners's was an early sporting goods store. In 1942, they were advertising ski boots for $4.95 and up. Skis were $3.49 up to $15. They sold gabardine ski trousers for men and women, and windbreakers. The local stores all advertised leading up to opening day. I think they were doing a brisk amount of business selling ski wear.
But a number of people going up there made their old skis out of hickory and pine. Bill Bock said he didn't have the money for ski boots, so he just used a pair of leather logging boots to ski in. He said he never turned. You just reached out and grabbed onto a tree to stop.
On opening day, Bogus Basin had a ski patrol. Their first five charter members were Ernie Frahm, Hugh Hough, Frank Lebert, Wally Emerson and Rufis Hall. They used the American Red Cross First Aid training class. They had old toboggans that were made of wood, and they were just out there picking up injuries. The ski bindings were very rudimentary. Some of the bindings were simply laterally drilled into the base of the ski, with a leather rope going over the toe and a leather cord going around your heel. And then the beartrap binding came along next—a metal plate around the toe that you fit your boot into.
They really encouraged everybody to keep skiing. They didn't have snowplows then, so they were hoping that traffic would keep the road open. Nobody took responsibility for the road. The state was supposed to take care of the improvements, Ada County the lower part, and Boise County the upper part. And they just wouldn't show up. So there were 20 days in 1947 when they had so much snow they had to shut down because there was nobody to plow the road.
An interesting side note: The day that Bogus Basin was open, Sun Valley closed. They did not have the employees to keep it open, because of the war. They were being rationed for everything. So they just had to cancel all of the reservations, which included 900 reservations for the Christmas week and 4,000 reservations for that whole year.
When Bogus started, they only had the 100-foot rope tow and two runs for opening day: You could ski the ridge or the lower bowl. Then in 1946, Fentress Kuhn, who had the Kingsliffe Corporation, got the lease from Bogus Basin to run the ski area. He had just finished serving in the war and had come from the East. He put in the first T-bar in 1946. He called on Morrison Knudsen to help build it. Fentress was married to Mary Pierpont, who had a certain amount of money that he could invest in the area. He ran Bogus Basin from 1946 until 1953.
The T-bar really opened up a lot of terrain. It went to the right of the bowl, up to about where the radio towers are now. I just interviewed his daughter, Evie Kuhn-Frost, who lives in Boston. She said that they used to play German yodeling music on the loudspeakers and serve hamburgers and hot dogs in the lodge.
Keeping it Going
But Fentress was always having trouble finding people to plow the road. He ended up losing a lot of money on the venture of operating Bogus Basin, and he pulled out before the 1952-53 ski season.
When he pulled out they really thought Bogus Basin would shut down. In fact, he hadn't paid the State Lands Department for the lease on the land. Bogus Basin Recreational Association jumped in and paid the $50 and the $1.50 delinquency fine and renewed the lease on the land that was used for Bogus Basin.
When Fentress Kuhn pulled out, J.R. Simplot was a shareholder in Kingscliffe Corporation. He bought the remaining shares of the corporation and then leased it back to Bogus Basin, and allowed them to keep running. That was a critical point.
A group came together. The Idaho Statesman loaned the Bogus Recreational Association some money. The city agreed to allow Bill Everts, who was then the city recreation director, to become the volunteer director of Bogus Basin. They ran Bogus Basin from City Hall. From 1953 until 1958, Everts did this as a volunteer job on top of his job of being city recreation director. He's still alive, he's 93, and he skied last spring at Bogus Basin.
Today, we have the Coach Lift, which is right by the Pierpont quad lift. That's named for Bill Everts, who was always called "coach" because he had coached a lot of baseball and swim teams. When he took over, they scaled back the skiing to just Friday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday. And they managed to turn a profit that first year. Bill Everts got school buses to bring up school kids. Sveri Engen, the brother of Alf Engen, was director of the first ski school.
In 1948, Lea Bacos, who had skied at Bogus before fighting in the Canadian Army, came back and was an instructor and the Bogus Basin ski racing coach. He convinced the U.S. Ski Racing Association to allow him to hold the first-ever junior national ski championship. Sixty-six males from around the country came. That was 15 Western states along with Maine, Vermont and Massachussetts. And they had 15 females come out to race. The skiers from the East took the train out. The out-of-town skiers stayed with local families. Most of the kids from out of town got sick driving up the road.
They held the downhill on Shafer Butte. There was no lift. It was the first time even the local skiers had skied Shafer Butte. They just simply climbed up the rocky face leading up to Shafer Butte. There was no training run. They had to side step up and pack the course as they went, and then take one run for the downhill. Dick Ireland from Bethel, Maine, and Muddy Numbers tied for first in the downhill. Muddy Numbers was a McCall skier.
But on the second day, they held the slalom, off of Suicide Drop. There was fresh powder. And deep ruts formed. And Dick Ireland just smoked Muddy Numbers and ended up winning the combined title.
They had a big banquet at the Hotel Boise ballroom. The governor was there. It was quite an affair.
By 1954 and 1955, there were long waits for the rope tow and the T-bar. So they started looking into adding two Pomas to Boise. Bob Loughrey, who was on the Bogus Basin Recreational Association led the committee to raise $45,000 to add two poma lifts. They raised the money, and they managed to put the Poma lifts in by the summer of 1957, and they managed to have them operational by winter. The lower Poma ran up north slope. The upper Poma ran between Alpine and Showcase runs.
Loughrey, who just loved to ski, then became the paid general manager.
They put in the first chairlift in in 1959. They also started a campaign to improve the road. They raised a lot of money to improve and straighten the road. That was done in 1961.
The banks have stepped in and given funding to Bogus Basin. They really didn't get funding until the early 1960s. They've really been patient when the area went through the horrible drought years of 1976 and 1977. They had embarked on a big expansion. In 1973, they put in the upper lodge, the Pioneer Lodge. They put in the Morningstar chairlift. They put in the Pioneer condos in 1975 and installed Pine Creek chairlift in 1976.
Then we went into one of the worst drought seasons we've ever had. They had to close down in 1976. The banks were patient and allowed Bogus a little extra time to pay off their loans.
The Bogus Legacy
It was just truly a community effort. Everyone just pitched in. People were just out there doing whatever needed to be done. They were always looking for cheap labor. Teenagers from the 1940s and onward were allowed to work off their passes working on the ski area, clearing brush or fixing the buildings. In 1946, they were paid 50 cents an hour toward their $57 ski pass. In 1948, they used prison parolees to help clear brush and fix the lodge.
The whole goal was to make it affordable for kids and families to ski. Bill Everts started the ski swap in 1953. People brought their used ski equipment and Army surplus equipment. They just made sure that if anybody wanted to ski, they could afford it. They also had young kids working in the lodge. They could work off their season passes that way.
One area that used to be comparable to Bogus is Winter Park, Colo. At one time, they were very similar in how they were run. Winter Park has since been sold to a private outfit.
We've produced some terrific skiers. Bill Johnson, the first downhill gold medalist in the Sarajevo Olympics, started out at Bogus Basin.
In 1964 and 1965, Bogus put in the longest illuminated ski run, lighting the whole way. It was 4,200 feet, the country's longest lit ski run. In 1965, they put in the Shafer Butte lift. They had to spend $100,000 to install new power lines.
They had so many obstacles. There were times when they just didn't have any money, and they just managed, by hook or by crook, to stay on.