Mount Bonneville | The Place to Ski
Mount Bonneville, the highest mountain in the Portneuf Range, was formed as the range uplifted. The western slopes were left with steep grades while the eastern slopes rolled more gently towards Pebble Creek. In 1937, the U.S. Forest compiled a report classifying the eastern slopes of Mount Bonneville as superior for downhill skiing. Popular local folklore says that Averell Harriman had Mount Bonneville considered as a site for his Sun Valley, but found the road access to the east slopes too difficult. However, skiing on Mount Bonneville was destined to be.
Some young Pocatello dare devils longed to schuss down powdery snow-covered hills on their wooden slats equipped with bear claw bindings. Skiing near Pocatello was born in 1947 when these men formed the Alpette Ski Club. They pooled their resources and purchased a portable New Sweden Rope Tow, installing it in “Ski Bowl” near the present day Forest Service amphitheater on Scout Mountain.
In 1949, ski pioneer Paul Hill installed another rope tow down the road at Lead Draw. Paul then moved his operation to the west slopes of Mount Bonneville just south of Inkom, creating Skyline Ski Area. Skyline boasted two rope tows and a small warming hut. The joy of the challenge of early skiing fueled an increase in the number of people enjoying the sport. Other ski pioneers Chester Allen and brothers Robert and Joseph Primbs, Jr. saw the need to found a unit of the National Ski Patrol to assist the skiing public at Skyline. That same ski patrol is still serving skiers today.
Early skiing was for the hearty. The first challenge was driving up to the mountain on an unimproved road. Then, grabbing onto the rope tow for the ride up the hill gave the skiers’ body a jolt. The rope was so heavy that smaller people would grab on just behind a stronger person who had the strength to hold the rope up. The schuss down was on ungroomed slopes.
In 1957 the ski area was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Francis Ranstrom of Pocatello. Skiers excitedly welcomed a new Poma lift installed in 1958 and another in 1960. The Poma lifts were a great improvement over the rope tows, but still the ride was “almost as challenging going up as it was skiing down.” Most of the trails were about half as wide as they are today and grooming was done by foot and ski packing.
The Ranstrom’s installed the Minor Denver double chair lift in 1966. New terrain was opened, much of it being steep. Grooming was all still by ski packing and shovels, so the moguls grew and grew. A popular skiing style was “jack rabbit”, jumping from one mound to another. Skiers would proudly boast, “If you can ski Skyline, you can ski any where.”
The old day lodge has been described as having very little room and very little heat. A few snacks, candy bars and pop were available. Comfort for skiers increased in 1968 when the current lodge was built. It was spacious, warm and had a food service area.
The Ranstrom’s continued to operate the ski area until 1978 when they sold the majority stock to the R. J. Bowen Corporation. The area changed hands again the following year having been purchased by the Pebble Creek Land Company. The long talked about dream of expanding skiing to the east slopes of Mount Bonneville was a focus of the new owners. A Master Plan was submitted to the U.S. Forest Service and the name of the ski area was changed to Pebble Creek. The CTEC triple chair was added in 1980, current runs were widened and new runs were added.
In 1981 the area again changed hands being purchased by Pebble Creek Ski Area, Ltd., a group of local investors. While still keeping the dream of going “up and over”, the partnership began the difficult task of taming some of the west slopes focusing on the needs of the intermediate and beginning skiers. First, state of the art grooming equipment was added. In 1984 a large, gentle beginner area serviced by the Aspen double chair made learning to ski easy at Pebble Creek. “Summer grooming” was begun with a focus on clipping brush, removing rocks and general run enhancement.
Continued improvement of the lift served areas and guest services was the focus of the 1990′s. Snowmaking was installed in the Aspen and base areas. Parking areas were improved and expanded. Emphasis was put on rock removal and summer run “grooming” aimed at increased quality in winter slope grooming. The ski school and snowboard programs continued to grow resulting with the Ski School developing into the Winter Sports School.
In 2001 the old Minor-Denver double lift was replaced with a Yan triple chair and extended 200 vertical feet. The additional terrain brought new excitement and potential. Attempting to tame some of these new areas is the focus of the early 2000′s. The growth of beginner ski and board program necessitated the conversion of the Aspen double lift to a triple chair.
While old timers and our new young dare devils still loudly proclaim, “If you can ski Pebble Creek you can ski anywhere”, Pebble Creek is also a good place to learn to ski. The dream of going up and over to the “superior” slopes on the east side of the Mount Bonneville remains strong and planning continues. The memory of our skiing pioneers and the Skyline legacy carry us to the future.
Some of the above are excerpts from: “The Rock: History of Pebble Creek Ski Area” By:Julie Ro