Summit Old-Timer: Jim Bowden
For Wildernest resident Jim Bowden, it was a trip to Aspen in December, 1963, that sold him on Colorado, but it took him five more years to “escape” from western New York.Bowden was born to Harold and Charlotte Bowden and is the oldest of three children. He grew up in North Tonawanda, N. Y., where his father was one of three partners in an industrial piping business in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and his mother was a housewife.Bowden graduated from North Tanawanda High School in 1959, then went to college at State University of New York (S.U.N.Y.) at Buffalo on a four-year football scholarship.He played offensive and defensive end for the Bulls, who were then coached on defense by Buddy Ryan and was selected to the All-East team in 1962. “Everyone went both ways back then,” said Bowden of playing both offense and defense. “That’s just how it was. Those were the mean days of football.”He graduated from S.U.N.Y. in 1963 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education, but more specifically in Health, Physical Education and Recreation (H.P.E.R.).He learned to ski in his youth at Lockport Country Club beginning in 1952 and later at Kissing Bridge – a ski resort still in operation with a whopping 400-feet of vertical.”We went straight down everything,” said Bowden from his Frisco ski shop Friday morning. “Nobody knew how to turn. It was a good thing the hills weren’t that big.”During college, when not playing on the gridiron, Bowden was teaching fellow students how to ski through a majors program, and in 1963 he was hired to work at the ski school at Kissing Bridge.
But then, Bowden came to Colorado on a December ski outing, which eventually changed the direction of his life.”I took a plane to Denver,” said Bowden. “I heard three other guys talking on the airplane about taking a bus to Aspen, so enterprsingly I told them I was renting a car and asked them if they wanted to share the gas. They said they had a place on East Hyman Street and I could sleep on the floor. The perfect trade!”That was an adventure,” he continued of his drive to Aspen. “I was blown away (by the mountains), the scale, the grandeur. It was a powerful experience.”Back then, there was no Interstate 70 or Eisenhower Tunnel, and the four skiers climbed over Loveland and Vail Pass along Highway 6.”Secretly I said to myself, I am going to live here,” said Bowden of his first trip to Colorado.”It took me five years to escape,” he said, explaining that many people had a lot of expectations of him at the university having gone to school on a four-year scholarship.”They had it all planned out,” he said of him staying in the program to coach young recruits. “I did it one year, but it wasn’t my thing.”His love for skiing continued to grow, however, and in 1968 he came to Arapahoe Basin, then over to Aspen again for the 1968 Inner Ski – an event which featured the best skiers from all the alpine nations – France, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Italy …”I wanted to see them all,” said Bowden. “It was a really big deal.”The Europeans left an impression on him, and in January, 1968, he went to Europe and skied out of Kitzbuehel.
“Oh man, that was impressive,” he said of his European ski tour. “I went back to western New York and decided there was nothing there for me. I was leaving forever.”He returned to Summit County and took a room at the Moon Valley Lodge in Keystone. (It is no longer there, but used to be where the former Gardner Tennis Center outdoor courts are located.)”It was notorious,” said Bowden of its reputation as a party place. “There were 15 rooms and I paid $50 a month.”He went to work for Max and Edna Dercum at Keystone the first year it opened in 1970 – teaching as a ski instructor and building lifts in the summer.Over the years he helped build Keystone’s Peru Express and Montezuma chairlifts, and Copper Mountain’s A-lift, both B-lifts, F-lift, G-lift, and E-lift.”You did whatever you had to do to make ends meet,” said Bowden. “Summit County was primitive back then, just a bunch of hokey little towns. The only thing in Silverthorne was the Old Dillon Inn and The Mint. The streets weren’t even paved. No stoplights. I remember it always being dusty.”In 1974, he opened a ski repair shop on the bottom floor of the Holiday Inn, where he still continues to repair skis as the “Ski Doctor.” It’s the oldest shop in the county that hasn’t moved.In 1984, he expanded the business to include a rental, retail and gift shop. The following year he met his wife, Jolanta, who was visiting her sister, Elizabeth. The sisters were from Warsaw, Poland, and both still live in Summit County. Elizabeth manages the Calvin Klein factory store in Silverthorne and Jolanta helps Bowden run the shop.”She’s the brains,” he says. “She shouldn’t even be here. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Warsaw Law School (the oldest and most prestigious in the country).
The couple married on June 1, 1986.Along the way, Bowden was making a name for himself in the ski world – skiing in movies for Warren Miller, being a professional representative for Head Ski Company for a decade, tuning skis for the likes of Stein Erickson and Alf Engen, and dropping everything steep and deep wherever he could find it.”Heavy games were being played around here,” he said. “There was a group of guys expanding from the areas to the backcountry and always wanting to have first tracks in Death Gulley, up on the pass, wherever we could find it.”The adrenaline rush didn’t stop with skiing for Bowden, who said he believes he was the first person in Summit County to own a skateboard. He recounted stories of passing 16-wheelers going down Loveland and Vail passes at speeds of 70 mph.”We’re lucky to still be around,” said Bowden, who once got arrested by the sheriff for operating an illegal vehicle. “He said I was the oldest juvenile delinquent in Summit County.”Bowden laughs at some of his past antics, admitting that he and a group of ski and skateboard friends were just adrenaline junkies looking to have good times.”Our philosophy was ‘no risk, no rush,'” he said.On a more serious note, Bowden says he has accomplished all his goals in skiing – he’s a professional ski instructor, operates a guide service (Ski the Divide), and has an avalanche credential from the Department of Agriculture.He, Jolanta and their dog, Akasha, recently moved from their Orofino condo in Dillon Valley, where they lived for 18 years, to a new place in Wildernest.”It is a step up for us,” he said. “A lot more peaceful.”
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