Meet Junior Bounous, the 98-year-old powder skiing pioneer
Dec 11, 2023, 12:30 PM
(Mariah Maynes/KSL NewsRadio)
SNOWBIRD, Utah — Junior Bounous, who is 98 years old, has been called a pioneer of skiing. Well known by many at Snowbird, Bounous is still making turns on the steep, powdery runs of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Additionally, he is still sharing his wisdom with skiers from all over.
Bounous’ contributions to ski instruction and the building of Snowbird helped skiing arrive where it is today. The 98-year-old shared his stories and wisdom in his private room inside of the Snowbird Lodge.
Junior Bounous’ beginnings
Junior Bounous grew up in Provo, Utah. He learned to ski on his family’s farm using homemade skis fashioned from barrel splits.
“I had to learn to turn to miss [the] manure pile and where the cattle and horses were, and so I developed a left turn,” said Bounous.
Bounous received his first pair of skis from his mother when he was 10 years old. They were five feet long.
“[My] first wedge turns came in a fruit orchard where it was frozen. And I wanted to go down through the orchard,” said Bounous.
He added that his ice skating experience helped him with turns. “A hockey stop on ice skates, that helped get into doing Christie’s on skis,” said Bounous.
When he was in high school, rope tows began popping up all over Utah County.
“Some of my favorite skiing was North Fork which became Timp Haven and [later] Sundance … it had scattered aspen trees, in these Aspens, you had to turn. You couldn’t go straight. You would run into a tree,” said Bounous.
After high school, Bounous met his wife, Maxine. On their second date, Junior took her skiing.
“Maxine’s first experience was in my ski boots, my skis. [I was] standing behind her stocking footed … in the snow,” said Bounous.
He said that shortly after that second date, Maxine purchased her own equipment. Bounous said she was a dancer who took to skiing naturally. It made him happy that she got into skiing.
“It wasn’t long before we had her hiking up these miles to get to a rope tow,” said Bounous.
Early powder skiing at Alta
Bounous studied powder skiing with Alf Engen. Engen was a competitive skier and pioneer of powder skiing technique, according to the Alf Engen Ski Museum.
Engen, who is known as the “Father of Powder Skiing Technique,” according to the Engen Museum, served as Alta’s Ski School Director.
There was no snow packing unless there was a race. In the pre-corduroy days, they had to pack the snow down on foot. Ski school instructors or resort patrollers had to sidestep down the mountain, according to Bounous.
Bounous went on to work as a ski instructor at Alta Ski Resort. He said that the instructors taught all levels of skiing in the powder.
The instructors would dismiss their students at a “quarter to four” so they could be on the last lift chairs of the day. According to Bounous, the instructors and patrollers would hike up to High Rustler, Eagles Nest, and Greeley. Those runs have become known for their steep slopes and plentiful powder.
“We always had the last run and we tried to be down before dark … that’s how we explored Alta,” Bounous said.
In the early days of powder skiing, skis were made of wood. The front tips would dive into the powder. “You had to fight to keep them up,” said Bounous.
The way to keep them out of the snow was to put your weight on one foot as it sank and then pull the other one out, according to Bounous.
“That was the way we learned to ski powder,” he said.
Bounous added that Jim Shane, who built the Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge at Alta, sanded wood skis down to make them more flexible.
“[He] started out sanding the tips in order to make them turn up. And then we found that they were so diving … the tails were still stiff. And so next was to sand and soften that tails,” said Bounous. Eventually, the tails of the skis went down into the snow, keeping the tips up.
After the early powder skiers had altered the shape of their skis, they moved the position of the bindings, according to Bounous.
He referred to his days as an instructor at Alta as “priceless.” As the early powder skiers explored the mountain, they also went through experimentation. He said teaching methods for powder skiing “became obvious.”
Junior Bounous’ career
Bounous said that he entered the first Wasatch Mountain Club cross-country skiing race. He won by “two or three minutes,” and credited his success to his high school running career.
“I had kind of a breakthrough with winning that race, and I guess I was the Intermountain Champion for about 10 years,” said Bounous.
In 1958, he left Alta to become the ski school director at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in California.
When he returned to Utah, Bounous was hired to design the ski runs for Snowbird. “I started at the end of April with topog [topographical] maps and then heli-skiing the runs and designing ski runs,” said Bounous.
He added that his experience skiing in Utah and California guided him. “This was a difficult mountain to get ready to ski on,” he said. He added that it was a difficult mountain for ski instructors to teach on. Bounous recognized the challenges.
When September came around, Ted Johnson, the man who had hired him to design Snowbird’s runs, asked him to be Snowbird’s ski school director. Bounous said that he was hesitant to take the job at first. He had a big ski school established in Utah County. However, after some thinking, he decided to take the position.
Bounous’ longevity and love of the mountains
When Bounous was asked what his secret for skiing longevity is, he replied with two words: “don’t stop.”
The 98-year-old hikes in the off-season. He said, “There’s never a day that I haven’t enjoyed coming up the canyon.”
Following his wife Maxine’s death, Junior said he almost quit skiing. He said he didn’t leave the house for a month until his son, Steve, took him into Provo Canyon. “Then he made me come up [to Snowbird.]” That summer, he hiked “in the wildflowers.”
Bounous said that his first time back on skis following Maxine’s death, he felt the ability to ski had left his body. Steve, a retired Snowbird Ski Team coach, became his father’s coach.
At 96 years old, he set the world record for the oldest heli-skier.
“In skiing and teaching, you can look at a run, regardless of ability levels. And you can think of it passively or negatively, or aggressively. There’s an attitude adjustment that goes through your mind,” said Bounous about the challenges of skiing.
He said that when he begins a run, he starts on the fall line. “Straight down, turn the half a turn. And then their turn like this,” he gestured, replicating his movement. “To get the feeling of momentum, weather, and commitment,” he said.
“Skiing is easy. All you’re doing is letting gravity take you down the hill. Walking is not easy, and so I walk like a 90-year-old [wearing] ski boots. Skiing is better. I’m only 89,” said Bounous.
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