Ullr and Red Eye Ski Club members headed for Big Sky, Montana this coming winter will be skiing and ‘boarding in an area very close to my heart. The memories are diverse and vivid and I hope sharing them, as follows, will add to the visit there.
My first encounter with Big Sky was when I was hosting THE SKI SCENE in the early 1970s on the Twin Cities’ then NBC-TV affiliate, KSTP-TV (now ABC). It was a half-hour show seen Friday nights (before THE TONIGHT SHOW), Saturday afternoons and Sunday nights. We taped three separate shows each week, for a total of almost 500 shows between 1971 and 1974. One of my guests (three times) was then retired NBC-TV NEWS anchorman, Chet Huntley. Chet and his news-anchor partner, David Brinkley, were the giants of the news business, many times eclipsing the audience-numbers of Walter Cronkite’s CBS EVENING NEWS.
Why would a retired NBC-TV NEWS “giant” agree to be a guest on my show? It was because Chrysler Corporation retained Chet Huntley to be part owner and spokesperson for a new ski resort named Big Sky. Chrysler was the primary owner of Big Sky. Chet was retained because he was born in Cardwell, Montana, not far from Big Sky. Chet’s father was a railroad man and Chet got to know his native state from one end to the other, accompanying his father on many train trips across the state. When Chet was a guest on THE SKI SCENE he related the fact, during one of the visits, that he felt skiing was “a very particular sport” wherein one could not, or should not, lose concentration while enjoying the “rides” down the mountainsides and hills. Chet’s final appearance on THE SKI SCENE was only a month before Big Sky opened. Sadly, Chet didn’t get to enjoy seeing the opening. He died of lung cancer on March 20th, 1974, at age 62, on the grounds of Big Sky, just three days before it opened. Chet had been a heavy smoker.
I’m honored to have a signed copy of the book he wrote, entitled THE GENEROUS YEARS. Shortly after Chet’s passing, Tippi Huntley, Chet’s widow, had me visit their hillside condo at Big Sky and had me sit at Chet’s historic roll-top desk, facing Lone Mountain, the mountain used in the Paramount Pictures logo. I felt unworthy to sit at that historic desk, but told Tippi I appreciated that honor, which I truly did.
When I moved to Detroit in 1978, Boyne USA Resorts, based at Boyne Mountain, Michigan, had recently purchased Big Sky. In addition to being on television in Detroit, including hosting THE SKI SCENE, I also wrote a weekly ski column for THE DETROIT FREE PRESS. Because of my media presence, Boyne’s owner, Everett Kircher, invited me to accompany him to Big Sky on his private jet, from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Bozeman, Montana’s airport. The plane was piloted by one of Everett’s sons, John Kircher, who has managed Crystal Mountain, Washington, another Boyne Resort, for decades. When John piloted that jet he was still in college and did a great job getting us to and from Bozeman, even flying through a blizzard near Livingston, Montana, en route to Bozeman. During the first night’s dinner at Big Sky, I made Everett aware I started my local broadcasting career in Helena and had worked in Missoula, Butte, Anaconda and Kalispell, thus knew Montana well. I also described my early skiing adventure days in the late 1950s at almost every ski area in the state. Everett kindly said he never knew anyone with as much knowledge as I had about the ski industry. I thanked him, profusely, for the honor of that kind comment.
One of the more “fun” things encountered during that trip with Everett was at Big Sky’s primary “watering hole”, named The Ore House, at Lone Mountain. It was where and when we all shared time with Chet’s widow, Tippi, having gigantic and pleasantly-inebriated laughs with her then fiancé, actor/producer William Conrad. Tippi later married Conrad, who had also been a World War II fighter pilot. Conrad had portrayed the original Matt Dillon on the radio version of GUNSMOKE, preceding the television series. He also portrayed Cannon in the television detective series of the same name.
Hopefully, some of this “back in the day” history will have Ullr and Red Eye skiers and ‘boarders appreciate their 2019-2020 season trips a bit more. Happy summer!