Profiling skiing icons Bobbie Burns, Chuck Ferries, Rick Kapala, Langely and Wiz McNeal, Phil Puchner and Penelope Street.
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About Bobbie Burns ...
Bobbie Burns is a slightly subversive icon, an irrepressibly flamboyant showman who has pretty much always done his own thing, and happily at that.
There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind, however, that Bobbie Burns was the first real “hot dog” skier. Back at the beginning of the freestyle movement, Bobbie had a kamikaze style of skiing bumps; he skied as fast as he possibly could, shooting his skis forward as he sat back with his heels locked together and held his hands and poles high over his head. The poles were his only real form of control because, as he says, “All I needed was balance.” His eclectic style quickly became famous. Everyone had larger-than-life stories about what they had seen Burns do on Sun Valley’s steepest runs. But the thing is, they were all true. Bobbie Burns owned the moguls!
Born in 1935 in south-central Idaho, Burns grew up in Ogden, Utah, and learned to ski at Snowbasin. He had been a gymnast and dancer as a kid and then a competitive diver, but in skiing he exhibited absolutely no control. “I was an accident waiting for a place,” Bobbie explains. “The only thing I had was a lot of guts, balance, and the ability to have fun.”
In the late 1950s, Sigi Engl and Sepp Froelich of the Sun Valley Ski School told him he could get a job teaching, “if you think you can learn to ski.” Bobbie did learn to ski and ended up teaching in Chile, New Zealand and Sun Valley. He also started skiing a lot of bumps. Burns noticed that he seemed to have a higher balance point than most, so with his hands and arms up high over his head he learned to absorb the bumps better. “Hot-dogging” was born.
Racers couldn’t believe that Burns could do what he did on skis because it was so contrary to the technical control they aspired to … and that on top of his unique skill, he did it laughing the whole time! Dick Dorworth, well known for a multitude of legendary mountain endeavors, was training for ski races in 1963 in Sun Valley and was Burns’ roommate in the dorms. As Dick remembers, “Nobody could ski the bumps on Exhibition like Burnsie and none of us even tried to keep up with him. He was this great guy, but an anomaly, so unlike us serious, almost grim racers. He skied the entire time smiling as if he was actually having fun.”
Burns says for him it’s always been about how much fun you can have, how big the bumps are and how fast you can ski them. He adds, “Racing was never for me. What possible fun is it to run gates? You have to slow down to do it!” Bobbie didn’t believe in many barriers and perhaps this is because of his innate talent. He laughs at that suggestion. “If you’re coming down the mountain and having fun, then it’s right!” he says with a smile. “Once, Jean Claude Killy told me, ‘there is no wrong way.’”
The late filmmaker Dick Barrymore called Burns the “first hot dogger” and described him as a “handlebar-mustached, steel-thighed skier attacking a field of moguls like Errol Flynn attacking a band of pirates … no one can ski like him.”
Burns really became famous after starring in the cult classic ski film, “The Performers,” while working as a rep for K2. He was called a “genius” for his knowledge of how to tune skis for the best results and he also helped design skis in the K2 factory.
A creative, albeit non-conforming kind of guy, Bobbie wanted to make a high performance bump ski that would allow for torsion and ultimate forgive-ability. With backing from friends, he began building his own personal brand, “The Ski,” in his garage. The Ski became an instant favorite on the freestyle circuit. By 1980 Burns was selling 10,000 pairs a year. Burns successfully sold the company in 1985 and began to produce a casual outerwear clothing line known as “Bobbie Burns,” which he still sells in Sun Valley.
For Burns, no mountain community in the world compares to Sun Valley. The last few years have found him on Dollar Mountain teaching his two young daughters to ski. His oldest child has just completed medical school. Bobbie says, “I always tell them: Be the best you can be and have fun, no matter what it is.”
He obviously follows his own advice, for Bobbie Burns is still having the time of his life. At Sun Valley’s Freestyle Reunion last winter, he was at every event, joining in the re-telling of stories from the glory days with ribald enthusiasm. “Probably only slightly embellished,” he laughs. -Julie Gallagher