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Valley Profiles

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


Sun Valley Magazine encourages its readers to post thoughtful and respectful comments on all of our online stories. Your comments may be edited for length and language.

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Feb 6, 2012 12:02 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Love these shots. And great stories too! Thx for sharing.

Oct 22, 2013 09:56 am
 Posted by  superskier

Bobbie Burns - I remember him when I worked on the Sun Valley Ski Patrol. Other characters were numerous - Les Outes, Cathy Palm, ALL 35 of the Ski Patrol and last but not least - Lea Bacos - my fellow Canadian who managed Dollar Mountain and was my room-mate. He called me his fellow wet-back.

Those were the days when moguls were moguls (not the whale-back shapes you find these days), men were men, and women were glad. We had 1st powder on our way to safe ski runs too steep for snowcats. Then packed the runs and then skied the rest of the time when not slated for the patrol shack.

The instructors hated us for that and we hated them for getting all the girls but never mind - we were there only for the skiing. One trick when en route to ski packing was to pick out a particularly unlikeable instructor addressing his class - and systematically ski over the back of his skis - one after another after another. Childish really, but the hatred was tangible and we couldn't help ourselves.

Wish I could remember the ski patrollers' names - but the guys from San Francisco and LA were as mad as hatters and the lieutenants were local ranchers when not skiing. And me - i was the mad Canuck. Not mad because of my behaviour but mad on my skis. I don't know why people made such a fuss over Bobbie Burns. In my mind - Exhibition after a good dump WAS ALL MINE. One explosion, then another, then another - avalement - sat waaaay back, arms in the air - but not in slow motion like Old Man Burns. I liked to keep my speed up and blast over those bumps. If i didn't fall 3 or 4 times a run - I wasn't skiing. No disrespect to Bobbie - just flying the maple leaf. Well done Mr Burns for all your successes - you certainly got me revved up. I can still taste those steaks in The Ore House on Fridays with pay packet in hand. And the heated outdoor pool each evening with a Coors in hand at The Ram Hotel. What a life - paid to ski, room and board and all the latest skis to try out. Lovely Job.

Oct 23, 2013 06:23 pm
 Posted by  superskier

And whatever happened to Moe on the ski patrol - I was The only Crazy Canuck on the Patrol...back in the winter of '68-69. I remember come springtime when folks would gather at the bottom of River Run at the end of the day to watch various Patrollers schuss from quite high up as the snow was slow and then jump the stream at the bottom. Moe was always asked to do silly tricks and he never shied away - even though he never managed to pull them off. I can still see Moe and his skis stuck in the river bank, vibrating until he gradually slid back into the water - what a clown! He's probably area manager today.

And there was some crazy yet colourful chick who skiied full out on hard pack down through the trees and if she ran into one - she'd break into fits of unconrollable laughter.

And then there were the wonderful jazz duos at The Ram - husband on piano, wife on double bass during Happy Hour after a hard day's skiing and a swim in the heated pool...with sometimes more than a few Coors. After the paid entertainment did their thing - i would sit at the piano and take requests - double shot of single malt if you please. i missed so many staff dinners that spring.

My room-mate and manager of Dollar Mountain - Lea Bacos - giving me a lecture for dating Cathy Palm - his future step daughter with him marrying her mother whose other daughter was possibly marrying his buddy Les Outes - Area manager which would make Lea - Les' step father in law. Lea had 3 pictures of himself on the mantelpiece standing as proud father of different families in each. And HE'S A CANADIAN.

What a laugh - it could only be Sun Valley...gosh - 1968/69 - that's 45 years ago. Raichle Red Boots and Head Killy 215 Downhill skis in moguls that were absolutely fabulous. THAT WAS HOTDOGGING !

Oct 23, 2013 06:40 pm
 Posted by  superskier

Part of our job on The Patrol was- first ride up to look for skiers who had sneaked in without paying for a lift ticket very early before the lifts had started and would hide face down in the trees and half way up the mountain. I could see them on a sunny morning as any metal bits would shine in the sunlight and we were supposed to catch them up and then escort them out of the area. I confess I felt if they went to that much trouble - leave them to it - bless them - lying motionless - freezing their backsides for the better part of an hour. they deseerved to ski for free...though these days I don't think the management would condone such tolerance.

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