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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 2, 2004


Pioneer Sun Valley
ski instructor

‘It’s all about being invited’

Express Staff Writer

Ed King is finishing his fifth year as a Sun Valley ski instructor in a career as a ski instructor that has spanned 37 years Thirty-five years ago he dreamed of being on the Sun Valley Ski School, but it took awhile. He says the ski school is "an organization of which I am proud to be a member. Some times dreams do come true. Many might take this for granted. I do not."

Ed King hangs out with his big buddy at the base of Bald Mountain. Express photo by Dick Dorworth

King is the only black member of the Sun Valley Ski School in its nearly 70-year history. King is a happy man and a pioneer, the Jackie Robinson of Sun Valley skiing. The role of breaking down barriers and stereotypes comes naturally to the 57-year-old Seattle native. His mother was the first black representative to the Washington Legislature. His aunt, Maxine Haynes, who died last month at the age of 85, was the first black nurse at Seattle’s Providence Hospital.

King began skiing at the age of 11 when he was invited to Stevens Pass by Jim and Hans Anderson and their father, Hercules, the best known and one of the few black skiing families in Washington at that time. "I took my first lesson and was hooked," he recalls. "I told my Mom I was going to be a great skier. She replied, ‘We don’t have that kind of money.’ I replied that I will earn it, which I did."

After several years in the Seattle PTA Ski School, which bused kids to the mountains on weekends, King became friends with Hal Khilman, director of the school. Khilman took an interest in King’s skiing and invited him to become an instructor. Moreover, he made King a part of his "ski family." "They made me feel welcome with a real sense of belonging," King says. "I will never forget when Khilman, Dan Coughlin and Kieth Boonder went to bat for me to become the first black member of the Seattle Ski Club. I remember them telling me it was quite a voting session!"

By 1968, King had passed his level 3 ski instructor exam and was ready for new horizons. Khilman introduced him to the late Gordy Butterfield of Sun Valley. Gordy, one of the most beloved people in the ski industry at that time, invited King to his home in Sun Valley while he tried out for the Sun Valley Ski School. Like so many skiers, King’s first visit to Sun Valley involved an all night drive. He says, "The next day we went skiing on Baldy. I was blown away. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I said to myself, ‘This is where I belong.’ Gordy and I had a great day skiing together."

Khilman had contacted Sigi Engl, Sun Valley Ski School director at that time, and told him everything about King and his abilities and credentials as a skier and instructor, but he didn’t mention that King was black. King recalls the first ski school meeting he attended: "Gordy and I sat along the back wall. Sigi explained how we would be breaking into our clinic groups. It was the 60s and I remember him saying in a certain room of the Inn they would have the Head Ski, which was the ‘Black Power’ ski; and in another room they had the White Star, which was the ‘White Power’ ski. I turned to Gordy (a Head Ski rep) and asked, ‘What happened to the Hart Javalin?’ a white ski with a black stripe down the middle."

After a week of clinics which King thoroughly enjoyed, he was told to be available and meet every morning in Sun Valley by the ski school office at the bus turn around. He says, "I showed up every day, but was never asked to teach. It was difficult watching others with lesser or no experience being chosen. I kept a positive attitude, thanked Gordy for his hospitality and generosity, and returned to the Northwest. Two years later I returned to Sun Valley and again went through the process and again made myself available every day, but I was denied the opportunity to teach. This time it was quite painful, but I did not let it show. I knew I was a good instructor, but I was never given a chance."

Sun Valley was not ready for a black ski instructor in 1970.

He returned to the Northwest where he was a ski instructor, supervisor, technical director and director for the next 25 years. He was the Associate Director of Recreation at Evergreen State College in Olympia. Part of his work involved an extensive ski program at Crystal Mountain, including educational credits. At Evergreen he worked closely with the legendary climber-philosopher-teacher, the late Willy Unsoeld.

But King never lost his original goal and dream of living and teaching skiing in Sun Valley. In 1995 he moved to Sun Valley with Eleanor, his wife of 34 years. He worked and skied and let it be known that he wanted to teach skiing. In 1998 Sun Valley Ski School Director Hans Muehlegger and ex-director Rainer Kolb invited King to join the ski school. Times and people’s heads had changed. King says of the past five years with the ski school, "It has been a very positive and enjoyable experience. And I would like to thank them (Kolb and Meuhlegger) and all of the ski school for bringing me into the ‘family.’ It is where I belong."


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