Chasing the wind: The remarkable life and astounding adventures of freestyle skiing icon Bob Singley
Bob Singley is cooler than you, but don’t feel bad about it.
Truth be told Singley, a multi-decade Winter Park resident, extreme sports icon and quintessential ski bum, is pretty much cooler than anyone. Raised in the Denver area before transplanting to Winter Park when he was just 18, Singley has lived something of a charmed life. From his early years as arguably one of the first true “ski bums” in the world to his participation in the development of freestyle skiing and hang gliding to his later years as an easy going fixture of the Fraser Valley Singley’s life has been marked by unparalleled adventure.
Singley’s life began 77 years ago in Idaho but his family moved to the Denver area while he was still a small child. His appetite for skiing was first whetted after finding a book about the sport in grade school. He and his friends began making their own skies from wooden planks and leather straps and would slide down hillsides in Denver. It was not long before Singley purchased an actual ski set up, old 10th Mountain Army surplus skis, and began making treks to the high country.
“Eventually the ski train became available,” Singley said. “I had a paper route and would save up a little bit of money. It was five bucks for the train and $1.75 for a student lift ticket. We would ride the ski train up and down and try to get into all kinds of trouble.”
Singley said his early days skiing at Winter Park and Loveland seeing the older skiers inspired a lifelong passion. He felt called not just to the powder and speed that accompanied his downhill descents but to the freedom, fraternity and lifestyle enjoyed by the skiing world.
“I wanted to be one of those guys that was a skier,” Singley said. “I liked the feel of the guys that I first met. They were just old dudes, sitting on the porch in the sun, drinking beer, loving life. I thought man that looks good to me. I want to do that.”
Singley moved to Winter Park shortly after graduating from high school. Just 18 years old at the time he spent his early years in the Fraser Valley working as a waiter and later a bartender before joining the Winter Park Ski Patrol. Joining ski patrol was a major event in Singley’s life that transformed him from an enthusiastic young skier into what we think of today as a quintessential ski bum.
His life at the time was dedicated to skiing, partying and all around adventure. He would spend his winter days patrolling the mountain. His nights were typically spent drinking with friends at one of the local bars. According to Singley the scene around Winter Park at the time was much more low-key than today, though significantly more wild.
“Every bar was packed every night and there was always live music,” Singley said with a nostalgic grin. “None of us had any kids. People used to get crazy. They would race naked down the roofs of buildings on kitchen trays. We would get into fights with the loggers from Fraser.”
After patrolling in the US for a period Singley headed to Switzerland one winter to visit a friend and was offered a spot on a local ski patrol. While working in Switzerland as a ski patroller he was offered a gig working on the early James Bond film “In Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. That opportunity led to another gig working as a ski patroller for the Robert Redford film, “Downhill Racer.”
At the time the world’s ski culture was much more regimented and most skiers fell into one of two camps: ski racers and skiers who focused primarily on the execution of perfect ski school turns. It was in this highly structured skiing culture that Singley and other kindred spirits inadvertently created the discipline of freestyle skiing.
“We didn’t call it freestyle when it started out,” Singley said. “We called it hot dogging. We didn’t want to be racers. It was way too regimented with lots of waiting and meetings. But we didn’t want to ski a run and turn in specific spots. We just wanted to go fast, get air and do tricks. So instead of doing ski school turns we started going little kick outs.”
Singley and a small cadre of other American skiers who developed freestyle skiing were never trying to create a new ski discipline. For them it was simply about the pursuit of fun and speed and that ethereal feeling that comes from charging down a mountain slope.
“The essence of the sport is to enjoy yourself as much as possible,” Singley said. “You have to enjoy the beauty and the freedom, being out in the woods in winter, ripping down the mountain with the wind tearing at your face. We would ski all day and party all night.”
Despite Singley’s claim to being one of freestyle skiing’s founding fathers he demurred about his own significance to the sport. He noted that the tricks he and other pioneers of freestyle skiing once used to wow spectators at ski areas in the US and Europe are quite tame compared to the remarkable feats of athleticism displayed by the world’s elite freestyle skiers today.
Eventually Singley returned to the Fraser Valley to settle into something at least more closely resembling traditional adulthood, including business ventures with Deno Kutrumbos at the old SilverCreek Ski Area near Granby. He was among the group of locals who formed the iconoclastic Tirebiters Ski Club several decades ago and its ancillary summer ski race known as the Epworth Cup. Singley stressed the significance of both the club and the cup in terms of helping raise funds for budding young skiers.
“We have had these events, and made a little money to help out the high school and junior high ski teams, for 50 years now,” Singley said. “You look at Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, we have some girls here who could probably ski that well if they had some help. But as much as this costs now, pursuing a competitive career, it is crazy. It is fun to help raise funds for these kids who want to get to that level.”
During Singley’s many years as a fixture within the skiing world he has seen significant changes in the industry, both positive and negative. He lamented the way the modern world has become more regulated and noted that litigation was less of a concern years ago, allowing for more freedom but also more danger. His biggest complaints were largely reserved for the ever increasing costs associated with skiing and the way those costs prevent people from entering the sport.
“I don’t know how much more skiing can grow, it is so cost prohibitive,” Singley said.
He said he sees the I-70 corridor and its related traffic congestion problems as the biggest issue facing the local ski industry.
“How people drive through that every weekend, I don’t know,” he said.
As Singley prepares to enter his eighth decade on earth he said he is surprised to have lived this long. Looking back on a life filled with many remarkable moments there are several unique experiences that stand out for him. From riding early homemade hang gliders through the Alps to spring breaks spent camping on the beach near Mazatlan. But it is the memories he has of skiing wide-open steep powder fields on alpine ridgelines that he most cherishes.
“When you are on those long downhills, riding right on the edge the whole way, that sticks in your mind for a long time,” he said, with a wink and a smile. “For me, it has always been about the beauty and freedom of the sport, and the lifestyle; chasing the wind.”
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