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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 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


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.

Old to new | New to old
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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