Wednesday, February 29, 2012

King of the hill

Ski instructor Ed King has a passion for Baldy, sport

Express Staff Writer

Ski instructor Ed King takes a break on Bald Mountain, where he has taught skiing since 1998. Photo by David N. Seelig

This week, Sun Valley is welcoming the National Brotherhood of Skiers, a 39-year-old ski club established for African Americans.

The last time "the Brotherhood" came to town, about 10 years ago, Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey were part of the group.

This year's "mini-summit" of the Brotherhood has gathered more than 600 skiers from around the country to party and enjoy the slopes.

For Ed King, a 14-year veteran of the Sun Valley Snowsports School, it will be a chance to celebrate with old friends and perhaps reflect on the old days, when minorities were not as well represented in winter sports.

"It's a lot of fun when they come to town," King said. "There is such a feeling of comradery among the group. I think the appreciation and love we have for one another rubs off on the entire community."

King is a Seattle native and Level 3 certified ski instructor who first dreamed of teaching at Sun Valley more than 40 years ago when he was invited to the area by resident Gordy Butterfield.

King started skiing in 1958 after being invited to give it a try by his friends Jim and Hans Anderson and their father, Hercules Anderson.

"The Andersons and I were on the Seattle YMCA swim team. The Y is responsible for many of the positive experiences that have happened in my life," said King, who took his first lesson on Stevens Pass in Washington state.

"I remember coming home and being so excited about this sport. I told my mom I was going to be a great skier! She replied that we did not have that kind of money. I said I would earn it, which I did, working many different jobs—washing cars, mowing lawns, collecting returnable bottles to Safeway every Saturday, doing whatever it would take."

Hal Khilman, director of the Greater Seattle Ski School, and others backed up King in his bid to join the exclusive Seattle Ski Club in the 1960s. The effort resulted in a break in the racial barrier at the club when King was admitted.

But the early days of King's career as a ski instructor were marred by prejudice.

"I remember when Hal Khilman told the owner of Snowqualmie Pass I would be teaching full-time for the resident ski school. The owner replied, 'We really don't mind colored boys coming up here to ski, but I don't think they should be teaching here.'

"Hal replied, 'Well maybe I should take my 100 instructors down the road to Ski Acres instead.' Not another word was ever brought up on the subject. Hal was a quality individual with great integrity."

King applied to teach at Sun Valley in 1968, enlisting in a hiring clinic prior to the Christmas holidays, but was passed over by the ski school directors.

"Two years later I returned to Sun Valley and again went through the process, making myself available every day, but I was denied the opportunity to teach. This time it was quite painful, but I didn't let it show. I knew I was a good instructor who was never given a chance."

King returned to the Northwest where he worked as an instructor, supervisor, technical director and director for the next 25 years. In 1972, he became associate director of recreation at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. While at the college, King and his associates started a ski program at Crystal Mountain that included college credits.

In winter 1998, with the encouragement of then ski school Director Rainer Kolb and Assistant Director Hans Muehlegger, King finally joined the Sun Valley Ski School, the first African American to do so.

"It has been a very positive and enjoyable experience," King said. "I would like to thank them and all of the ski school for bringing me into the family. It's where I belong.

"Skiing is one of the greatest common denominators in our society. I think we sometimes overlook it as common ground. We have the opportunity to meet so many people from diverse backgrounds, and in teaching, spend quality one-on-one time sharing with one another."

King said he has many clients who return year after year. He said the highlight of his ski seasons are often the local clinics, in which a growing base of Hispanic skiers are learning how to make turns.

"It would be great if we could encourage some of these skiers to take it to the next level and become instructors," he said.

Tony Evans:

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