While some communities celebrate football stars, snow-based sports dominate in Jackson Hole. The Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club inducted 10 new members into the club’s Hall of Fame during a banquet Saturday at Snow King Resort. Among the new Hall of Famers, former U.S. Snowboard Team member and pro snowboarder Rob Kingwill had easy access to ski lifts and training living next to Snow King Mountain.
“This was my backyard, and I could ski or snowboard home every night from night skiing to my parent's house,” he said. “They’d just let me go and do my thing. And that really created a sense of freedom and connected me to my snowboarding life that at that point wasn’t even a life.”
Kingwill joined the first Jackson Hole Ski Club snowboard team, at a time when many thought snowboarding was just a passing fad. He continues to compete and coach.
The 10 members inducted on February 3 were Andy Chambers, Bill Saunders, Dallas Dunlap Robertson, Karen Budge Eaton, Nancy Bell Johnstone, Neil Rafferty, Peter Ashley, Rob Kingwill, Walt Berling and Willie Neal.
At Saturday’s banquet, Kingwill pointed out that half, or five, of the evening’s inductees, had all lived on the exact same street, Pine Drive, at the base of Snow King Mountain, Wyoming’s first ski area. Neighbors included Peter Ashley, who started racing downhill but excelled at Nordic skiing and eventually coached the women’s team in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Fellow Pine Drive resident Nancy Johnstone competed in the 1992 Olympics in the biathlon. Dallas Robertson and Andy Chambers, both grew up on Pine Drive and ultimately raced with the U.S. Ski Teams.
Among those honored, Neil Rafferty planned and built Snow King’s first chairlift in 1947.
Billy Saunders helped Rafferty develop skiing on Snow King. As a high schooler, Saunders petitioned the local school board to add skiing as a school sport creating the first Jackson Hole High School ski team.
The Club selected Hall of Famers based on their achievements as competitors, innovators, pioneers and inspiration. Hall of Fame inductee, Walt Berling, coached the Jackson Hole High School Nordic team for 28 years, helping grow the team. Berling already belongs to the Wyoming Coaches Hall of Fame. Coaching Nordic racing in a town like
Jackson means rubbing elbows with Olympians.
“Obviously, there are people like Martin Hagen, who drives the buses to our races and he’s a three-time Olympian. So the Nordic world is pretty small, so not only do you work with beginners but I probably know like eight or 10 people who skied in the Olympics,” Berling said.
Berling fell into the sport buying his first pair of Nordic skis at a ski swap when he moved to Jackson. Nordic competitors named to the Hall of Fame also included Willie Neal, who grew up in Wilson, Wyoming, and won an unprecedented 8 Nordic skiing championships in high school.
Neal is also remembered for spearheading a “No Idling” resolution in the Town of Jackson to reduce air pollution. Neal’s brother, Peter, said Willie’s legacy shows how ski champions in Jackson lead both on the podium and in civic life.