47th anniversary of the Austin Skiers as a club
Note: This history was extracted from a series of articles that appeared in the Austin Skiers Newsletter in early 2000
From the Newsletter Editor
January 2000 (Mike Hagye)
With the new millennium upon us, what's the first thing Austin Skiers does? Well, looks backward, of course! But we have a good reason! February 12, 2000 marks the 30th anniversary of the Austin Skiers as a club. For this reason, this month's Newsletter takes on a sort of commemorative feel, including using an old logo from our first years in the 1970's (see above). We're also privileged to be able to present two special articles for this month (below); one is an interview with one of the "founding fathers" of Austin Skiers, Roger Beasley; the other is the first of a 3-part series on the 30-year history of the Club. This month focuses on its founding and first ten years (the 70's); February's Newsletter will detail the 80's, and March will look back on the 90's. We hope you enjoy the history, but more importantly, see how the combined efforts of what amounts to hundreds of volunteers have kept organized skiing going in Austin. Through good and bad times, prosperity and poverty, and through the many cultural and social changes a rapidly growing Austin has experienced in thirty years, we hope you can appreciate all the effort that's gone into running this Club.
We also want to wish the Texas Ski Council a happy 30th birthday! Austin Skiers was a charter member of the TSC in 1970, and we join them in celebrating 30 years of skiing success.
An Idea Turned Into Reality: the 1970's
A Different World
So, what were you doing in 1970? Well, assuming you were even around (this excludes you, twentysomethings!), you know how different things were: a car cost $2,300 on average; a mortgage just over $23,000; a first-class stamp was 6 cents. The median household income was $8,374. The Beatles released Let It Be and would break up that December. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin entered 1970 alive but never left it. Igor Stravinsky won a Grammy and was alive to receive it. Something called Sesame Street, modeled after Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, was struggling to capture children's attention. Patton won Best Picture over Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love Story, and M*A*S*H. Something called the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) began to pop up in something else called the pocket calculator. The floppy disk was invented that year, but it went largely ignored, as did its compliment, the personal computer. And, events were unfolding rapidly: terrible starvation in the African breakaway republic of Biafra, and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia which in turn sparked the infamous Kent State killings.
Skiing was also changing rapidly in 1970. The world watched Jean-Claude Killy win three gold medals in 1968, and skiing participation shot up at the rate of 138 percent in two years. Ski resorts were expanding rapidly; triple and quad chairs were being refined to accommodate the upsurge in crowds. Equipment was also going high-tech, like the recently-invented hard-shell plastic boot; lace-up boots were the norm before 1968. Boot maker Nordica had the gall to produce a florescent yellow (yellow?) "banana boot" with a revolutionary high back for recreational skiers, which jumpstarted the boot industry. New strides in bindings allowed one to step in rather than wire, cement, or hammer on, and they also performed a radical new feat: releasing the foot and leg generally before they would break (and they could be adjusted)! This technology resulted in the decrease of serious leg injuries by over 400 percent from 1970 to 1979.
Austin in 1970 was a much smaller town, whose population of 256,000 placed it as the 56th largest U.S. city (now it's skirting the top 20 with over a million). It was an Austin without instantaneous high-tech communications or traffic snarls, it was slower, less complex. Word got around faster by mouth than almost any other way. And skiing? Well, that was something that Yankees and wealthy, unbridled Texans (who flitted off to Colorado during Holidays) did. And neither were all too common in 1970 in Austin. Rather, "cosmic cowboy" hippies hung out at the Soap Creek Saloon and Armadillo World Headquarters, where Jerry Jeff Walker, or a longtime, relatively obscure songwriter named Willie Nelson, and a firecracker 15-year-old blues prodigy named Steve Vaughan were just coming into public attention.
Some Friends Get Together And ...
Yet, skiing did exist among Austinites back then. A close-knit group of over a dozen Austin friends had been skiing together on family trips since 1958. And, it's also interesting to note that most of these were native Texans! So, organized skiing in Austin wasn't imported from some Northerner named Lars, but rather established by Sons of the Lone Star State! These friends, faced with the rapid rise of the sport and associated jumps in air, lodging and resort prices, set their sites toward organizing group ski trips for better rates. And how they got them! Then one day, one of them told a resort operator over the phone that "the Austin Skiers" wanted to book space for a trip, and the name (if not the club!) was born, just like that.
Soon, this group of friends, buoyed by the group rate savings, began to ask themselves if these deals weren't something that more of their friends, and indeed, strangers, would enjoy; maybe they could even promote skiing as a viable activity in hot, southern Austin. By late 1969, Austin's "word of mouth" line was bringing a lot of questions and potential business to these "founding fathers". Soon, they set their sights on a "barometer meeting" to see what type of interest this idea might have. They set the "test the waters" meeting for January, 1970.
Expecting 30, hoping for 50, they were dumbstruck when over 300 people showed up at that meeting (thanks to Austin's "word of mouth" network)! They enthusiastically scheduled another meeting for the next month, and voted to become an official club the Austin Skiers, incorporated February 12, 1970. So, who founded the club? Among the early organizers were Roger Beasley (yes, that Roger Beasley!), attorney Joe Colbert, and Dr. Fred Hansen. Although these three get much of the credit for the club's first days, they insist that others in the original large group deserve equal billing and credit. So, one would have to say that the club's founding was indeed a collective experience! Officers were chosen from the core group of friends (Joe Colbert was selected as the first President) and voted in.
Soon after incorporation, the founders planned their first Club trip to Vail. Why there? Mostly because it was many of the founders' favorite resort. Besides, Texans had heavily invested in Vail, and had a lot of say in running its operations (thus, Vail was friendly to Texans). So, in April 1970 some 50 skiers headed off to Vail, paying the all-inclusive price of $198 for air, lift, bus, and a week's worth of lodging. The trip was a rousing success, and by late 1970, some 500 members had joined, and three trips were organized for the 1970-71 season. Despite the club's huge size and organization, it retained a somewhat informal feel. Often, trips were formed and "squeezed" between published trips; other trips were suddenly dropped if conditions or signups fell below expectations. Some old timers will tell you that they took seven or eight trips during those first two years, although only three published trips show up in records. Money? You paid it often when you actually got to the slopes!
As with any new organization, rules were needed. First, membership was extended to anyone over 21, but candidates had to be recommended by at least two current members. Guests could go on trips, but they had to pay a $5 "guest fee" and be with a club member. There were no rules regarding trip sign-ups, cancellations, or refunds. People did each, and they were settled in as good faith as possible. And to become a member? It cost you $10; families could join for $15. By 1972, the club was so successful that it mushroomed into having 10-15 trips per year! It seemed that as one bus pulled out, another was leaving! Actually, although these were the freewheeling early "salad days", much of the Club's current organization was established even in this earliest period: monthly meetings with specific programs, non-skiing excursions (e.g. to Cancun, Puerta Vallarta, etc.), and the by-law and Executive Committee structures. Like the Constitution's Founding Fathers, these Ski Club pioneers produced early laws that have remained remarkably intact, and more amended rather than scrapped, through the years!
Growing Pains and Help Needed
Despite this hearty start, again, like any organization, Austin Skiers experienced growing pains. Success breeds its own set of problems, and the Club started seeing them by 1973. All this activity and growth began to take its toll on the volunteer founders, who were working overtime and trying to devise policies as they went to keep up with a growing number of problems. It was during this time that the first policies on Trip Chairs were formed, as many responsibilities were transferred to them. Many of the events we've come to know (pre-organizing the trip, pre-trip party, good packets of information to trip members, post-trip party, and lots of activities during the trip), along with some that seem to have gone all too quickly (wine and cheese parties on the mountain) were developed during this time. Yet, this apparently didn't reduce the huge amount of work to perform all the booking, arranging, and overseeing trips, plus doing club business.
Although no exact figures are available, records indicate that club enrollment fluctuated markedly from 1973-76. Some months reported no more than 50 skiers in the club (whether these were "haven't paid yet this year" totals is unclear). Also, a number of complaints about the club's philosophy, direction, and efficiency developed, along with financial solvency questions (during this time, a number of discussions ensued about getting bank loans to underwrite trips). Some oldtimers talk of friction between family members and "mostly skiers", and mostly single, younger, "party event" oriented members, who wanted to pull out and form their own organization.
These "crises" were opportunistically met in 1974. An organization called Ski International (formerly located on West Avenue) graciously "provided" the Club with a proposal for fixing what appears to be a number of problems. Of course, many of the solutions were found in having Ski International fix them (for a fee, of course!). This proposal ominously mentions "a threatening atmosphere" in the club, with "declining participation" and "faltering membership". The proposal also reports "disgruntled members", a "distant atmosphere between members" and a "lack of enjoyment of skiing together." It goes on to propose that Ski International assist the Club in trip planning. So in late 1974, the Executive Committee voted to have Ski International handle the nuts and bolts of booking ski trips. Ski International would suggest trip locations and present costs; the Executive Committee would confirm or veto destinations and make final choices for the club. For this effort, Ski International charged the Club about $275 per month.
Actually, this effort seemed mutually beneficial for the next several years. Austin Skiers officers focused on Club direction and policy, and Ski International actually presented trip choices and handled the bookings. Trip Chairs reverted to mostly overseeing the trip once it was underway, but they gave up their pre-trip organizational duties. However much good (or bad) Ski International's involvement did for the Club, and however exaggerated it made the Club's problems appear, it did appear to stabilize its operations.
During the middle 70's, most of the changes appear to be administrative. By 1976, minimum membership age was reduced to 18. The 2-member recommendation was scrapped. Membership fees increased to $12 (single) in 1976, then $14 (single) and $18 (family) by 1978. Until 1976, the second ranking officer was Programs VP; after this, the Trips VP rose to the second rank. In 1975, standing rules were formed that granted trip credits (as opposed to receiving money) for officers, and the first refund and cancellation policies were instituted. Also in 1975, the Club Treasurer acted as Assistant to the Trips VP, performing bookkeeping and trip planning duties! However, this apparently produced a lot of medical problems for Treasurers, as by 1977 not only was the Treasurer reinstated to a unique position, but it even had its own assistant, the Assistant Treasurer! The club experienced a hardship year in 1976 as three Colorado trips were cancelled due to lack of snow; good thing those policies in 1975 were in place! Most importantly, the vaunted Newsletter Editor position was finally granted officership in 1976 (about time!).
The logo we see today in Austin Skiers was still a Great Unknown Idea in the 1970's. The first logo was a simple, hand-drawn "A" on top of an "S" (for Austin Skiers), looking something like a mountain peak (see above). By 1976, a proposal was made for a red, white, and blue star inside a circle, with "Austin Skiers" written on the top and bottom of the circle rim (not unlike our current State seal!). Whether this design ever appeared is unclear (our current logo seems to have made its first appearances in 1982).
The end years of the 1970's were most notably characterized by the end of Ski International's services, and the return of the Club's performing all of its own activities. Mention was made of "grumblings" of increased trip costs, and the Club fees paid to Ski International provided them with a $10,000 bonus per year! So, Trip Chairs were returned to their pre-trip duties, but this time with trip reimbursements and credits, as the Club's financial solvency was improved. And, at least you could pay for your more expensive trips by credit card by 1978 (not sure when this was revoked!). All in all, some apparently good leadership increased stability while apparently reducing club tensions by the end of the decade.
A Legacy In Progress
Thus, the 1970's were a time of impromptu formation, quick expansion, fluctuation, then stability. From the fuzzy dreams of a group of friends came the tribulations and successes of the Club's first decade. In many ways, this was its most important one. The critical young years of any organization, when it would either sink or swim once and for all, were tested and met by those diligent founders and officers. And yet, we find that they often struggled with the same things (no Thanksgiving snow, haggling over refunds, how to get and keep enough money to continue, etc.) that we do thirty years later. And the original founders, that "core dozen" who had the foresight to envision organized skiing in Austin? Well, it seems that by 1975, most of them had turned over their duties to the sophomore officers, the new blood. Did they leave the club or stay? It's unclear from the records, but the fact that this transition appears seamless and that they "just faded away" is tribute to the quality of their product. To think that many of these founders, who were in their 30's and 40's when they started the Club, are now well into their 60's or 70's, is to realize how solid and long-lasting was their vision. What they founded might not be essential for our living, but their diligence and effort has proven 30 years later vital to our enjoyment. Our hats (or ski caps) are off to all of them.
An Idea Turned Into Reality II: the 1980's
by Mike Hagye
Editor's Note: This is the second of a three-part series on the history of Austin Skiers. Part I the founding and the 1970's was in the January Newsletter. Part III the 90's will appear in March's Newsletter.
The 1980's entered bleakly: the infamous Iranian hostage crisis was in its 2nd year; Beatle John Lennon was assisinated outside his New York City apartment; an economic recession was killing the music industry until 1981 and a rocket shot album, Thriller by Michael Jackson ended it; and a brutal killing of three nuns and a lay worker in El Salvador shocked the world. The "Ronald Reagan Years" saw a return to conservatism after the excesses of the '60's and '70's, and for whatever reasons, events seemed to unfold such that the 1980's ended with an upswing: the fall of European Communism and the end of the Berlin Wall; a wave of democratic revolution sweeping through China (although Tiananmen Square would earmark unparallel tragedy); the fall of Apartheid in South America, and the advent of the Bush "kinder, gentler" (and "read my lips") years. Even movies seemed to reflect this change in attitude. The most popular films of 1980 were the decidedly downbeat Raging Bull, Ordinary People (Best Picture), and The Elephant Man (though the ending was a bit promising), whereas the most watched films in 1989 included the ethereal Field of Dreams, Driving Miss Daisy, and Glory. Household income went from $17,000 in 1980 to over $28,000 1989. And, who knew that something called the World Wide Web server and browser, developed by Tim Berners-Lee while working at CERN laboratories in Switzerland in 1980 (for about 12 of his colleagues to share computer information) would become the crux of world business and social culture ten years later? In 1980, there were a couple hundred personal computers in the world; by 1989, this number had grown to 20 million.
Bucking the Trend
Austin, like it's only organized ski club, seemed to buck the trend. Fueled by the Iran hostage crisis and sanctions on Iranian oil, the boom in Texas oil funneled large amounts of wealth into Texas (and eventually Austin) in the early 1980's. This led to an unprecedented real estate boom in the decade's early years. However, over speculation and cavalier overspending sent the local economy into a tailspin by 1987, as oil (which Texas had plenty of) was slowly giving way to technology (which Texas didn't) as Texas' most prosperous resource. Oil prices plummeted along with land values. Office and apartment vacancies reached over 40 percent (today they're down below 1 percent). The price of homes actually came down by 15-20 percent from 1985-1990. It was only the rebound of the early 1990's, with Austin land prices and cost of living so low, that once again catapulted the city to prosperity and national prominence, as a tech Mecca.
After an up-and-down ride in the 1970's Austin Skiers entered 1980 on a solid financial and organizational footing. However, the subtle underlying conflict of the club's social philosophy, especially between being a "party" singles and family club, appeared to serve as the focus of its direction throughout the entire decade. Mention was made at one 1980 monthly Officers' meeting of "working together and being more cooperative regarding the longstanding conflicts". What were these conflicts? It's difficult to say, but evidence points to the family vs. singles dichotomy which developed during the '70's. An invitation to run an Austin Singles Club (a separate club) ad in the Skiers Newsletter was nixed that September by the Executive Committee after much apparent argument. There was also concern over the lack of interest in special activities (which might have been too boring for singles(?)). In fact, the VP Special Activities position was almost eliminated, again after a lot of discussion. Membership appeared to be down somewhat from the 600 average of the 1970's, to about 385. In order to increase pride in membership, Club members were issued membership cards. Also, in order to make the Club more geared to the new "yuppie" contingent, adopted a more professional logo (see picture) for several years. The Club was struggling to become a registered non-profit organization; finally getting the IRS tax-exempt number would take four years! Finally, Austin's affiliation with the Texas Ski Council (TSC) culminated in one big TSC trip per year, Texas Ski Week. There were rarely other TSC trips per year at that time. In 1981, the Executive Committee devoted much time and energy to upgrade special activities, especially for singles (i.e. beer parties, trips to Cancun, etc.). There was almost always a summer large, non-skiing excursion week to a beach resort or foreign destination.
High (or Low?) Times
Ski trips varied greatly in price, e.g. from $189 (Ruidoso) to $1039 (Europe); the average trip was up over $400. The Club even distinguished between some trips as "party" trips and "family" trips (the party trips were, judging by some of the pictures and write-ups at the time, raucous in nature!). This had two effects: first, it did increase club membership to over 600 by 1983, (to accommodate this upsurge, the first membership applications began running regularly in the Newsletter in the summer of 1983); second, it caused some officers and members to become outspoken in their criticism of Club activities as "offensive and distasteful". A major fight even broke out at the 1981 Christmas Party, for which the Executive Committee sent out two letters of reprimand to club members. The Committee continued to battle over advertising in the Newsletter (much of which included singles clubs and personal ads); the answer was usually no. Nevertheless, membership continued to grow. By-laws were changed to allow guests more participation, and by 1983 the special activities were now so popular that the Club was regularly scheduling 2-3 yearly trips as complex and involved as the ski trips. To accommodate these travelers, the Club struck a deal with Avis car rental for a 10 percent discount card. And, Austin Skiers became the total marketplace, offering T-shirts, patches, pins, and other such accoutrements at that time.
This publicity push continued into the mid-1980's and membership remained steady and relatively high (500-600). Numerous public service ads were run on radio stations and TV commercials; interviews with Club personnel were featured on local newscasts; newspapers constantly featured Club ads, complete with the new (and present) "solid skier in front of stripes" logo first seen in the December 1981 Newsletter. Also, the first softball teams were formed. Yet high membership and involvement was not entirely focused on skiing as evidenced by two items: first, trip involvement was relatively low in proportion to membership (numerous trips were downsized or cancelled in the early '80's); second, there are numerous complaints that trips were becoming too expensive and not worth the investment.
Staying On Track
Despite the "carefree" atmosphere that sometimes comes through records, attempts were also made to add responsibility and stability to club operations. In 1983 for the first time, by-laws stipulated that an independent, internal audit (as opposed to a generic audit) be performed yearly on Club financial records. Also, two signatures were required beginning in 1982 for expense checks over $1,000. A lifetime membership was voted in that year for all former presidents, and to add stability to the newsletter, the President began writing his own column in 1981. The TSC, which was fighting its own credibility battles, took all of its marbles out of Texas Ski Week and began offering four to five TSC trips per year (the current process). By 1985, several new clubs joined the TSC: Dallas, Texas Twisters (Lubbock), El Paso Powderhounds and several which are now out of existence. The Club also for the first time purchased General Liability Insurance in September 1984. And, the birth of the Technology Age is also reflected in the Club. In 1985, officers were "encouraged to learn computer application programs to process the Club's work" The Club started using an Apple II computer in 1984, but the minutes reflect a number of problems with it (hard drive crashes, terminal problems, etc.). However, the Club purchased a whopping 512K of new RAM in 1985, which was guaranteed to meet demands "for years to come". Eventually, like the rest of the world at the time, the Executive Committee had a long and heated discussion involving switching to an IBM-compatible PC in January 1986. They eventually did (but got $2,000 for the Apple!).
We're Not Gonna Take It
Just when the Club seemed to successfully ride the fence between family and singles/party factions, and successfully increased its membership, the conflicts continued. Some meetings took on the look of concerts, with bands, DJ's, lots of beer, and possibly a ski program somewhere in between (if the speaker even bothered to show up, which didn't happen consistently). The trips could be rowdy; in January, 1984, one member physically assaulted an Assistant Trip Chair then left the trip on his own midweek. He was ordered to forfeit his trip deposit (for late payment) and to reimburse the Assistant Chair for damaging his shirt. He did neither; therefore, the Executive Council removed him from the Club in March. Additionally, records make mention of numerous hot tub and toga parties, and Newsletter photos regularly show unabashed "good times" (see picture, p.7).
For some family oriented members, all of this was too much. Therefore, in the summer of 1985, a contingent of members broke off from Austin Skiers and formed their own club, Capital Downhill Skiers. No mention is made of the size of the offshoot club, but it must have been significant, because in September of that year CDS was granted TSC membership. Although little mention if any is made of this event in Austin Skiers records (only a brief mention of the TSC membership in meeting minutes), it must have had a significant impact on the Club. There was a marked and unmistakable change to the Club's environment, as evidenced in three ways. First, family membership after 1985 increased substantially in the club (up over 45 percent) whereas singles membership plummeted (down by 25 percent). Second, overall club membership plunged by 1988 to 282 total members. And third, meeting attendance dropped sharply (some meetings between 1986 and 89 had no more than 20 members). Clear concern over this downturn also shows up in several discussions of fluctuating membership, and whether skiing or social events were the primary focus, at '85-'86 Executive Committee meetings. Usually skiing prevailed as the fait acompli, but the consistent challenges to this appear in arguments recorded in the minutes.
Despite the Club's ability to get trip costs down by about $100 in 1987, Club membership and attendance suffered after 1986. New attempts were made to bolster involvement: Friday Movie Nights were instituted during the mid-1980's; the Newsletter finally began (after 10 years of debate) allowing advertising in 1988; trip credits for officers were extended to be valid for up to two years after officer service; Trip Chairs received $400 compensation, up from $300 in the early 80's. Despite all this, membership suffered, and only six trips were offered in 1987. The decade ended on a litigious note: the Club went to court to force a former officer to return Club financial records and court motions were filed; it is unclear what the outcome of this lawsuit was.
Thus, the Club, after surviving the organizational problems of the 1970's, went through several identity crises in the 1980's. Members tried to negotiate the space between social club and skiing group, often with conflict and even a schism. Austin Skiers was nevertheless strong, if not somewhat factional, during this time. And the Executive Committees of the 1980's, while reflecting the usual ideological conflicts, tried hard to maintain stability and unity in the face of economic and philosophical challenges. By the late '80's, the first of the current generation's leadership began to appear, and the Club would eventually achieve a remarkable degree of stability, as the 1990's would provide the tools to refurbish the Club's membership and direction: the Tech Boom would provide a new wealth of non-Texas transplants.
An Idea Turned Into Reality III: the 1990's
by Mike Hagye
Editor's Note: This is the final of a three-part series on the history of Austin Skiers. Part I the founding and the 1970's was in the January Newsletter. Part II the 80's appeared in last month's Newsletter.
Change Through Stability
A case can be made that the historical theme of the 1990's was chkúge for stability's sake. After the 1989 Berlin Wall fall, Europe witnessed almost domino-like collapses and transitions of its communist/socialist countries into capitalist/democratic ones. Many were orderly (Germany, Hungary), a few had sporadic skirmishes (Soviet Union) and some resisted change, and were violently brought down (Romania). And talk about changing to preserve stability? How many of us remember that queasy, uneasy changing moment of shocking disbelief that January 15, 1990 night in front of our TV's, telling us that we were again at war, this time in the Persian Gulf? But this was no conventional war. The world's first "high tech" war was different. Not men nor troop movements, but rather sophisticated high-tech weapons and inventions were the newsmakers and determinants. The results were unbelievably lopsided: the U.S. led Coalition suffered about 400 casualties, whereas Iraq's military losses were estimated in the tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands (no one knows for certain); the strategies and technology used in this changed and redefined warfare forever. All for a return to a stable Middle East political and economic (read: oil) environment.
Numerous other examples of "stability through change" occurred throughout the early '90's. For instance, the re-emergence of South African Nelson Mandela from an almost 30-year imprisonment evidenced a bulwark of Black African stability returned to society in one sweeping act of change. Two new TV shows, Seinfeld and The Simpsons debuted in 1990 and would remain stable fixtures for the entire decade, and the subject of endless next-morning-at-work conversations. The rapid spread of AIDS during the 1980's led to a reevaluation and change by many through the '90's of social-sexual habits and behavior. But above all, the "stability through change" concept revolutionized the world through technology. Clearly, the 1990's will be remembered as the decade when the everyday world went high tech, as computers became the primary means of performing most of our everyday work, commercial, and leisure activities. Spearheaded by the development of the Internet's (in particular the World Wide Web's) hypertext-driven, graphical interfaces, Mosaic (1993) then Netscape (1994) the one million computer users in 1993 exploded by 1999 to 300 million. As high tech became the new worldwide employer, the emergence of the technological mercenary, jumping from firm to firm, driven by lucrative market demand forever challenged the old guard of the loyal career "company man". And for these in-demand workers, stability clearly existed through change! Yes, the 20-years-in-the-making, high-tech revolution finally climaxed during this decade, and the controversial "Clinton years" saw high tech's reward in an expanding and booming, seemingly topless stock market. Prosperity, technology and stability defined this last prosperous, stable decade.
Stability Plus Change Equals Prosperity
Unlike the 1980's, instead of bucking these "stability through change" trends, Austin was right in step with them; in fact, many would submit that Austin set some of them. Cheap land from the real estate busts of the late '80's encouraged many out of state high tech companies (paying skyrocketing land prices) to relocate around Austin. The city's easy, eclectic lifestyle not only caught the eye of high-techies, but of the nation in general. Austin became a minor film/art haven with the likes of Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez; music was already a fixture, and well-established government and educational opportunities thrown into the mix made Austin the hottest city in the country. Consequently, Austin's "secret" was out, and thousands began flocking to the Capital city in the 90's from all over the U.S. in search of good jobs and a favorable lifestyle. Austin became a minor Mecca of culture, technology, education, government, and leisure, and the population of the region exploded (from about 600,000 in 1990 to about 1.2 million today). That all this happened in virtually ten years borders on astounding.
Moreover this time, unlike in the previous decade, Austin Skiers closely followed contemporary trends. An examination of the minutes and other records through the decade reveals a transformation from an organization frequently at odds with itself into a remarkably (and almost inexplicably) stable one as the decade progressed. Many of the issues present through the '70's and '80's (fluctuating membership, personality conflicts, philosophical conflicts over singles vs. families, etc.) eventually simply disappeared off the radar screens! Why is this? How does one explain such a marked "change into stability"? At the risk of playing social scientist, one general possibility seems the most plausible here: during the 1990's, more than any other point in its history, Austin Skiers more than just echoed many social and scientific trends at the time; indeed, the Club was directly affected by them as never before. Following are possible scenarios to illustrate this.
As high tech fueled the local population boom, Austin Skiers picked up an increased proportion of non-Austinites (and non-Texans), transplants from throughout the state and country. Whether single or as part of families, a more eclectic mix of people, who knew nothing about the historic "singles vs. families" dichotomy, and who were from ski regions, began to comprise the Club roster. Also, it is reasonable to speculate that, with the changes in social attitudes and behavior of singles throughout the 80's into the 90's, the Club's members in turn began to reevaluate their singles/party focus. Certainly today, most members will tell you that they're in Austin Skiers primarily to ski (or board); parties and social activities are enjoyed but almost certainly secondary. These assertions were less certain ten or fifteen years ago. Another factor: with the increase of high tech into Austin came relative affluence. Many current Club members make proportionately higher salaries than Austin could provide 10 or 20 years ago. This has resulted in stable trip participation, relatively longer membership duration (as more people have moved into Austin as final destination rather than college-based transitional stop) and more consistency as trip schedules, programs, and operations have been less likely to be changed or abandoned for money or interest's sake. Finally, some credit has to be given to the leadership throughout the decade. While many things no doubt "worked out" without much intervention, a reading of the minutes reveals concern on the part of many early and mid 90's officers to work hard at de-emphasizing any "cliquish" image in the Club, and encouraging members to welcome new participants and outsiders. For a time in 1991-93, a suggestion box was present at Club meetings encouraging ways that people can feel included within the Club. Certainly there are other factors, and even if some of the above is "educated speculation", it has a solid basis.
Business As Usual
Otherwise, historically, operations throughout the decade were so consistent and routine that few exceptions of interest can be found. Administratively, the 90's saw a few watermarks: by 1991 the Board began to consistently discuss removing the Assistant Treasurer position, already having been moved within the Club to other functions (including being a formal assistant to the VP Activities) for lack of specific duties. It was eliminated in 1993. The latest (and current) policies regarding trip signup and cancellation fees and deadlines went into place in 1991. Officers began to get some return on their services beginning in 1991 in the form of small trip credits to be used on one trip per year (trip chairs had been getting reimbursements for about 15 years). In 1993, the Newsletter, after some 20 years of debate, finally included its first advertisements. Technological changes show up as well: the Club's Web site notice first appeared in December 1995 (see illustration), and e-mail addresses of Club officers first ran in November 1998. Trip Chairs' e-mails were included for the first time in trip abstracts in August 1999. The Newsletter was submitted electronically to the printer for the first time in November 1999. Overall, most policy changes in the mid to late 90's involved the trip signup process. Because of problems with early signups "cramming" trips, in 1996 the signup policy was changed to limit all early signups to one extra person. Throughout a reading of these types of actions, it is interesting that the nature of policy and rules changes in the 90's is more one of enhancement and refining, rather than fundamental operational changes (as was the case in the 70's and 80's). Indeed, stability had apparently been achieved.
In most other aspects of club operations, stability was achieved as well. Apparently the debate involving special activities and the retention of the V.P. position had eased. If anything, the number and amount of non-skiing activities increased in the 90's, and participation appeared to be consistent. The types of activities were pretty much those seen now (hiking, biking, movies, shows, occasional trips to the beach, scuba trips, special events, etc.). The Club settled into a consistent pattern of 8-10 trips per year by the late 80's, and this remains the case today. Favorite trip destinations were much the same as now. The only real noticeable trend through the decade was membership. From about 325 in 1990, membership increased to about 450 by 1999, but what is notable here is the nature of the increase. Rather than sudden up-and-down fluctuations characteristic of the 70's and 80's, the 90's reveals a steady and consistent increase, without sudden jumps either way. Trips averaged about $500 in 1990; by 1999 they averaged about $700 (the smallest proportional increase between decades). Things had indeed become stable
Our History, Our Future
Notwithstanding this attempt, it is actually rather difficult to write an accurate history of Austin Skiers during the 90's as compared to previously. Why? Simply because for more of us, who have been in the Club within the past 10 years than longer, the Club's history is really more each of our own personal histories. Not only did many of our current members witness Austin Skiers' history in the 90's, we created much of it! So, a good history of the past ten years would include each of our own personal accounts; what was important, scary, thrilling, disappointing, and rewarding to each of us. That's the real "history" of the Club last decade!
And what of today? Where does this story go next? Well, although certainly we've seen more stability in the Club in recent years, we can't take the future for granted. Even now, in 2000, we face some important issues which will determine the Club's future. One is economics. The price of skiing (jet fuel, lodging, equipment, etc.) is still rising, even if not as much as in past years. At what point, if any, will a ski trip become a real economic burden to the average Austin Skier? And how might the Club adopt policies or otherwise meet this challenge? Another issue is snowboarding. While skiers and boarders were often at odds (read: war(!)) in the past, certainly relations have warmed to some degree between the two. Yet, for many the stereotype persists that skiing is an "older people's" sport, while boarding is for younger "slackers". Whatever the case, it is a fact that snowboarding is now growing much faster than skiing. What effect will this have on our Club? Will we change our name to Austin Skiers/Boarders? Will boarders be the majority some day? How do we recruit and attend to this rapidly-growing group while addressing interests and recruitment of skiers? Still another issue is demographics. Some believe that Austin Skiers can heavily recruit and dramatically increase its size (in reflection of the rapid increase in the metropolitan area); others question the benefits of such increases. Also within demographics is the age issue. Some members have remarked upon the greater number of over-40 members in proportion to twenty-and thirty-somethings). Should we work more to recruit younger members? If so, again, is boarding a tool to do this? Should we instead look for more younger "never-evers" who've never skied but might love it? Or seek out more of those skier "transplants" so characteristic of the "new" Austin in the past few years? Finally, we even face the issue of skiing as a sport. While it won't go the way of the Edsel, some challenges loom on the horizon: intense pressure from environmental groups have focused on closing down many Western resorts, and such legislation is a very real threat. Participation in skiing has become relatively flat (or even declined) from its huge increases in the 70's. Snowboarding has in fact kept many resorts operational (i.e. without boarders, some ski areas would have to close for economic reasons). Also, ski resort ownership has increasingly followed a "bigger swallows smaller" trend, as larger ski conglomerates have bought out smaller, autonomous owners and can easily close these smaller ones if less profitable. This could result in fewer, bigger, and more crowded resorts! The nature and costs of air travel have recently resulted in less commission paid to agents, and less favorable discounts and priorities for groups. Will out-of-reach prices be the eventual result? Although no one knows exactly how any of these will play out, this decade promises to be anything but the same old thing!
It has been a pleasure to document the history of our Club in these three articles. Hopefully we have shown how the Club through 30 years has endured through prosperity and conflict. But no documentary can give justice to the heart of our history: the 25 Presidents, hundreds of other officers, thousands of volunteers, and countless members and friends who have striven to make Austin Skiers a 45-year success story. So, while there are no guarantees about our future, if we continue to have the dedication and quality of our members and representatives as we've had in the past 45 years, we can't help but expect only the best. Here's to those who have made Austin Skiers over the past 45 years, and to those who will hopefully make the next 45!
Interview With A Founding Father:
Roger Beasley is a self-starter. From his successful auto businesses to his pioneering efforts in bringing organized skiing into Austin, Roger has seen his share of success. Although he's given credit for being one of three founders of the Austin Skiers, Roger readily cites a host of other people. We sat down for an interview in mid-December, where he shared his memories of his first skiing encounters, of the founding of Austin Skiers, and of his skiing involvement since his leaving the Club. His love of skiing comes across easily and naturally, he feels particularly at ease when talking about the subject, and has a host of good stories from his 40 years of involvement in the sport.
How long have you been skiing?
I started skiing in I think it was 1957, '58.
Do you have specific memories of the state of skiing back then?
Oh yeah... we had some old Hart skis, some old Head Skis, and just some of the worst bindings in the world, I mean cable bindings, lace up leather boots. Every time you got them laced up you just had blisters on your hands so bad that you could hardly hold the poles. The equipment was really bad. The most significant thing I remember about the change in skiing was the plastic boot, with the high backs. I had some old [Nordica yellow] banana boots back then. Then after that, it really progressed you know the ski technology didn't change for a lot of years. The skis were basically the same.. not much of a difference. Then the age of crafted edges, then the solid edges then I think the most significant thing that's happened other than the advent of the bindings that didn't break your leg, then the boots that didn't kill your feet was the parabolic skis it's just the most incredible thing that I've ever seen happen I've had 2-3 pairs myself. There is some new incredible stuff that I've been reading about in Ski Magazine that might be even more dynamic than what we currently have
Where did you go on your first ski trip?
Let me think... well, our first ski trip, we went to Ruidoso, New Mexico.
Do you remember the difference in size and feel of the resorts then?
Well for instance, Vail was a very small village... I basically knew everyone thanks to John Donovan, and Peter Seibert... I even knew Warren Miller... this was in the early '60's we were going up there... I ended up buying a condo in Vail in '63... basically I skied most of Colorado at that time.
Let me take you back even one more step. Are you a native Texan?
What attracted you to skiing, being from Texas? After all, at that time, skiing wasn't quite as cosmopolitan...
I guess my love of the mountains. I've always loved the mountains and spent a lot of time in New Mexico in the summers, before I started skiing in... New Mexico and Colorado, primarily vacations with my wife and daughter. Somebody said one day "let's go skiing", so we did. That was it.
Do you recall how old you were when you did that?
I first started skiing when I was 28 years old.
Turning to the Club, what were the events involving you, leading up to just before its formation?
Actually at that time, none of us had a lot of money, and we thought that by forming a ski Club that we'd have better buying power, would be able to get better deals with the airlines, with the lodges... I think it was December of '69 that several of us decided... a lot of us that first formed the Club skied together regularly, and so we got a group of people that we knew that also skied that didn't necessarily ski with us... (Dr. Bob Dixon, Dr. Ed White, Dr. Ted Edwards, Fred Hansen, Joe Colbert, friends of mine, Dan Raley)... So we took a small group and began to grow and we started to do trips. We would just do all the work, we would book the lodges, charter the buses, the whole bit.
In those early days, before you had by-laws, did you have people assigned to duties?
Mostly it was a volunteer system. Someone said "I'll do this" or "I'll do that, or we'd be talking about it and everyone would stand up and agree to do it.
So the original circle was quite a bit more than the "3 names" [Joe Colbert, Fred Hansen, Beasley]?
Oh yeah, it was considerably more people than that. I mean, Joe, Fred and I were just some of the ones, some of those guys who were involved. There were a lot of people... we were just in the right place at the right time.
Are most of these guys native Texans?
Yeah they were! We went a lot of places where we were welcome, and even some places we weren't. For instance, back in those days, in Aspen we weren't welcome because if you were from Texas they didn't like you.
Why is that?
Well, some Texas ski clubs had some really serious run-ins with Aspen over lodging, and basically for a number of years Texans weren't very welcome. That's why a lot of us gravitated to Vail, because there were a lot of Texans involved with the Vail situation... they seemed to like Texans far better...
Did you call yourselves anything at that point?
Yes, we called ourselves the Austin Skiers. We thought we were the Club whether we were or not!
How did the formalization of the Club come about?
I honestly can't remember...
Well, what was your role?
At some point I was the President, I can't recall exactly when [the 2nd, '71-'72]. But basically we just were doing one or two trips a year when it started. It was a lot of fun when it started. When the Club grew, it just got completely out of hand. It went from a hobby to a job almost overnight. At that point I believe the Club really grew up and started formalizing some of the things, assigning duties... we basically just kind of flew the thing by the seat of our pants... We'd say "where does everybody want to go?" and we'd start working on it, then just pick a date... everybody would just meet there on a certain date.
Do you remember anything about the first meetings or even the first meeting?
I remember it was a very smooth meeting because we had a lot of interest... the attendance was greater than we anticipated... I think there were a lot of people that were looking to join a social organization... we had two factions there... we had the avid skiers, and those who had never skied before, who were looking to join a social club... but even those people eventually really got into it...
How did you get publicity for such a meeting?
I really can't recall... I believe some people were in the media who were in the Club... but basically it was easier to deal with then.
What were some of the biggest changes from the Club's formation to your later years?
Well, as I said the Club's growth was remarkable. We hadn't anticipated that it would grow that big, have that many people. Most of us were in a situation at that time that we could take at most one week trip per year... we had different trip leaders, and a huge selection of places we could go and things we could do... I guess that was the most remarkable difference... after awhile it seemed as if we were running a travel agency. We would plan more trips than we would actually take, because some trips we didn't get enough people. But we could take more trips because we got more affluent as we got older.
I'm still waiting for that! I have the "older" part down! In reading back to some of the minutes, I noticed that there seemed to be around '73 or '74 a downturn. Do you recall anything like that?
Yeah. As I recall, one faction wanted to pull out to become more of a social club than a ski club... they were concerned that there wasn't enough social events. That caused some confusion because most of us were involved in raising families and we had plenty to do and the thing we were in for was to ski. Some of the newer, younger members that weren't into skiing as much as we were or that were into parties... created some concern. There were a lot of politics as well, but I don't really want to get into that. All I can say was that there was a conflict between singles and being a family ski club. We saw a lot of change once the single people started coming into the Club.
So how long were you involved in Austin Skiers?
My involvement, as far as being active, ended probably in the late 70's or the early 80's. Then I got involved in serious skiing, like 28 or 30 days per year, which is a lot for Texas. I also got involved in developing my skiing and less involved in developing my partying...
At the time you left, were most of the founders still there?
I think that basically, most of us had turned it over to the next generation by that time.
Before you left, did you feel that the founders maintained a level of influence in the Club or sort of just faded into the background?
Well, I think that we wanted to, and were successful, in bringing in people who came in and really got into it and really helped out... Frankly at a point 6,8,10 years after we got into that thing, it got to be an unmanageable thing without a lot of help, a lot of involvement. And so, I think that we basically, that we just evolved... it was just that people came in and got more involved, the rest of us, as we needed to, became less involved. I don't think that anybody there was on a giant ego trip. It was a very good experience and a very relaxed group, and it was a very enjoyable experience.
So since you left, what have you been doing personally in the ski world?
Oh, I ski as many times a year as possible. If the snow's good. Sometimes, I've had years that I've skied every weekend. I help out with the Ski Patrol in Ruidoso, and I've maintained friendship with lots of people in the Vail area. Although I no longer have a condo there, I still go to Vail every chance I get.
So I would imagine your favorite ski area is Vail?
Yes, it's the greatest ski area in the world.
Are there any newer areas you'd recommend?
Yeah, the Canyons in Utah, in the Park City area...
Do you still happen to ski with any of your founding friends in the Club?
Well, I ski with as many of my friends who are old Club members who still ski. You know some of them have had injuries, whatever. But I've made a lot of friends through the years, and I've skied with a lot of people. I have two loves besides my business... I'm a runner, been running for 29 years... and skiing... two great sports.