Profiling skiing icons Bobbie Burns, Chuck Ferries, Rick Kapala, Langely and Wiz McNeal, Phil Puchner and Penelope Street.
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About Chuck Ferries ...
The first time Chuck Ferries was in Sun Valley it was for a mere three hours. Arriving by train with a one-way ticket, he was a 16-year-old with a dream to ski a big mountain. Just days before, he had lowered his suitcase and ski gear by rope from his bedroom window, running away from home in upper Michigan. But it was November in Idaho and there was no snow. So, on the advice of “some guy I met,” as he explains, Chuck hopped the next train for Alta, Utah, where he worked for room and board and happily skied powder for a few weeks until he broke his ankle.
Ferries then returned home where his relieved but understanding parents agreed that he probably needed to “get the skiing out of his system.” He had obviously outgrown the Mont Ripley Hill and its 423 vertical feet, where he had learned to ski and race, so in the fall of 1956 he moved on his own to Aspen, Colorado, to finish high school and hone his racing skills.
Through tough training, perseverance and focus, Ferries made the Aspen Ski Team and became a talented slalom specialist. He then raced on scholarship for the University of Denver, coached by the infamous Willy Schaeffler, who was quoted as saying, “Chuck has made his own way and never asks anything of anybody. He has tremendous concentration, determination, and spirit and is mentally perfect … if he makes a mistake he forgets it, goes back, and does it right.”
Ferries went on to prove that his parents’ support of his passion was the right thing to do. He was named to the U.S. Ski Team (USST) in 1960, ’62, ’63 and ’64, made two Olympic teams in ‘60 and ’64, and became the first American to ever win a European classic gate race, Austria’s famous Hahnenkamm slalom.
Although he retired from competitive skiing at age 24, Ferries remained immersed in the culture. He coached the U.S. Women’s Team at the ’68 Olympics. And then he heard about a special company on Seattle’s nearby Vashon Island that was developing a commercially viable, light, resilient, foam-core fiberglass ski. So Chuck asked Bill Kirschner, who had just formed the K2 Ski Company, for a job, specifically to develop a fiberglass racing ski. They shook hands and Chuck came on board.
Ferries laughs, “That handshake was the only contract I ever had with K2. Bill was wonderful, a genius kind of guy and he never said, ‘no, it can’t be done.’ Instead he would say that we’d figure out a way.” Chuck wound up developing a relationship with the USST, especially Marilyn Cochran, to test prototypes. Building skis to Marilyn’s specifications led to success; in 1969 she was the first American to win a World Cup on American-made skis, a fiberglass K2 model.
Kirschner sold the company in 1972, but Chuck stayed on to build skis. In 1976 he decided to move his family to Sun Valley where he had always wanted to raise his kids, Annie and Tom. Chuck had just launched PRE (Precision) Skis as K2’s second brand and moved that part of the company to Sun Valley for a short time.
Looking for a long-term opportunity, Ferries and Bob Smith (the owner and founder of Smith Optics) found one: the 1981 Scott USA bankruptcy. Together they bought the company, a technical product leader in the skiing market. Chuck guided Scott USA into a very profitable brand as they became the top global developer and distributor of ski poles and goggles, mountain bikes, motorcycle goggles, and accessories. Reflecting back on those days, Ferries says, “I feel that you make choices and decisions based on inspirations. I have always tried to learn from the best, find out who has the best product, observe and ask questions, and then come up with new ideas.”
In 1989 Ferries was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. He is proud and quietly passionate about his longtime USST affiliation, including his involvement as a member of their Board of Trustees, which is directed by his close friend and former Olympic teammate, Bill Marolt. According to Marolt, “As much as anyone I know Chuck has played a major role in the growth and development of the USST and the USSA (United States Ski Association). Through his leadership, USSA has become a huge success when measured against any standard of excellence.”
Still enjoying the Sun Valley lifestyle with his wife, Nancy, Ferries also mentors his son and son-in-law who own a local outdoor product manufacturing business, Chums. “Sun Valley is the best place in the world to live,” Chuck exuberantly laughs. “How could you possibly have a better life? I consider myself very, very lucky.” -Julie Gallagher