Downhill skiing has been around for a while, but maybe not as long as you think. It started to emerge as a recreational pursuit in the 19th century and didn’t become an Olympic sport, in the form of slalom racing, until 1936. That same year, in December, the Sun Valley Ski Resort opened in Idaho, becoming the first destination winter resort in the U.S.
Young fit Boiseans, enthralled with Sun Valley, were eager to bring this new sport of downhill skiing closer to home. They formed the Boise Ski Club at a time when all skis were made of hickory and ski poles were made from bamboo.
The most convenient places to ski were at the American Legion Golf Course at the end of Eighth Street and on the summit of Horseshoe Bend Hill. Both meant a fair amount of trudging. Even so, the members of the ski club were hooked. They began looking for a better place to ski close to town.
Alf Engen of Sun Valley was an early competitive skier and ski jumper commissioned by the Forest Service to look for a site on the Boise National Forest that might work. Joining him in the search were Boise Ski Club President John Hearne and Boise Forest Landscape Architect Yale Moeller. They did some trudging, some looking and a lot of skiing from Horseshoe Bend Hill to Pilot’s Peak near Idaho City — some 85 miles across the ridges — before settling on Shafer Butte and nearby Deer Point, a site that seemed to offer dependable snow.
Of course, finding the site and getting people up the hill to enjoy it were two different things. The Boise Jaycees backed the effort to develop a ski area. They applied for and received a Works Project Administration grant to build a road to the site and provide some basic utilities along with picnic and camping facilities. The road project began in 1938 and would end up costing $307,000.
Bogus Basin Road is today one of the most prominent facilities in southwestern Idaho that owes its existence to the Civilian Conservation Corps. It took 120 men to accomplish the road work, while another 75 CCCs built facilities on the mountain.
The opening of the ski area was delayed a year because of World War II. Bogus Basin opened on Dec. 20, 1942, with 200 skiers coming out to test the slopes, 50 of them soldiers from Gowen Field. Many carpooled up the road because of gas rationing. Skiing that day was delayed a bit because someone had stolen the cable from the lift, and it had to be replaced.
Early in the road’s history, the popularity of the ski area caused a major change to something we take for granted today. The City of Boise had selected a site not far from Bogus Basin road as the location of a landfill. Skiers put the kibosh to that, and the landfill was built where it is today, near Seamans Gulch.
Bogus Basin today is better than ever with snow-making capabilities, jazzy lifts and a panoply of summer activities from a climbing wall to the Glade Runner mountain slider. During the 2018-19 season, they hosted 377,000 visitors, quite a jump from that first 200-visitor day.
There is much more fascinating history than I can plug into a short column. I recommend “Building Bogus Basin” by Eve Chandler if you’d like to find out more.