After almost 80 years, Eskimo Ski Club shuts down due to growth of Winter Park Resort
When the Eskimo Ski Club was first opened in 1939, students would rise before the sun, gather their gear and board the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad to make it to Winter Park early enough to get a good spot on the mountains. A lot has changed since then and, despite a loyal following, the ski club now faces changes it can’t overcome.
After almost 80 years and thousands of students, the Eskimo Ski Club had its last season and won’t be returning this year.
Recent growth at Winter Park Resort means that the space in the Balcony House, where the ski club is located, is now needed for employee lockers.
“It was our decision,” said Annie Bulkley, daughter of one of the club’s founders. “We just can’t run the same quality program and that’s the bottom line. … We could not take care of our kids the way we need to take care of them because their parents aren’t there. It didn’t seem right to do that to our kids or our instructors.”
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The ski club’s mission was to provide a safe, quality and affordable program for children from Grand County, and the Denver and Front Range areas to learn how to ski. The program would run for at least 12 weekends during ski season and taught downhill skiing and snowboarding to children of any experience level.
A Winter Park tradition
The ski club’s roots date back to 1939, when Bulkley’s father, Frank, worked with George Cranmer, manager of Denver Parks and Improvements at the time, to create some of the first Winter Park ski trails.
During World War II, Bulkley was assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division and the club paused until he returned in 1946. The club grew in popularity and had 100 instructors with about 1,200 students at its height.
Bulkley said the program helped support the resort then and has always had a good working relationship with management.
“Winter Park has been great to us for years and years,” Bulkley affirmed. “We just want to thank them for all the great years.”
As years passed, the program became smaller, teaching about 200 to 300 students with 52 instructors. But that didn’t stop the ski club from providing a quality program that taught children more than how to ski.
“It was a total program for independence and gaining friends,” said Gary Harris, the head trainer for the ski club and an instructor since 1965. “The progression that (the students) went through was really coordinated because our instructors understood how kids moved through developmental stages physically and mentally, and also how they develop in their skiing,”
The program, according to Harris, wasn’t just about meeting the children and skiing, instead focusing on problem solving and creating friendships.
Ultimately, Frank Bulkley, Tom Branch, another director for the club, and Gordy Wren, U.S. Olympian and organizer for the club, were all inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame.
With the rising popularity of the resort it became difficult to provide a safe learning environment for the students, according to Harris.
“It can be so crowded out there that you really can’t lay your skis down, step into them and move through the crowd easily,” Harris said, referring to the area between the Balcony House and the ski lifts.
Steve Hurlbert, director of communications and public relations for Winter Park Resort, said they had suggested moving the club to the Mary Jane Base because the resort had hoped to keep the club open and continue its legacy.
“We had just simply run out of space,” Hurlbert said. “So they will not be here this winter and we’re disappointed in that. They’ve done a lot of good in the many decades they’ve been here. Their contributions, not only the resort, but to the sport of skiing and to Colorado is immeasurable, so we are sad about it.”
While the club considered relocating to the Mary Jane Base, it didn’t offer the space they needed and wasn’t a good fit.
“… There’s no way the kids could ski Mary Jane if they’re beginner,” Harris said. “There wasn’t enough room in Mary Jane for us to organize our kids, nor for there to be any kind of shack to be brought in for a headquarters.”
Bulkley said it was just the right decision to close the club, even though it was a tough one. There was no way for the club to operate the same program without space for a headquarters, she explained, which they used for training, storing equipment and a home base for students.
“If you have a little frozen kid, there’s no place for that kid to go anymore to go get hand warmers, or get his bindings fixed or they blew out the binding on their boot, or they grabbed their brother’s boots instead of theirs, or they left their helmet, or their goggles are cracked,” Bulkley said. “If they got separated from the class, they knew to go right back there.”
Bulkley is grateful for the many years that the club had at Winter Park Resort and for its efforts to find another option for the club. She briefly considered moving the club elsewhere, but didn’t feel it would be fair to the instructors who moved to the Winter Park area to teach.
What she will miss most are the relationships the club built and the “cute little kids who come up and get better and better.”
“We have a really good camaraderie with all of our instructors and it (was) just a really unique program,” she said.
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