Ski area was Jim Temple's dream

But founder's involvement ultimately ended in heartbreak


— When construction of ski trails on Storm Mountain began, Jim Temple got calls asking how big the jumps would be. It was 1958 and the idea of a new Alpine ski area in Steamboat Springs -- let alone an internationally renowned ski resort -- seemed far-fetched to some. All the largely agricultural town knew was Howelsen Hill, which was built in 1917, and the ski jumps that were built on it.

"People would ask how far we were going to jump," Jim Temple said, speaking from his home near Boulder. "I said go look at Aspen. This was for recreational skiing."

A vacation ski resort that would rival the likes of Sun Valley and Aspen -- that was what Jim Temple saw and dreamed.

"People did understand if they had been around a little," he said. "Bud Werner, of course, knew. It was a ski area meant to have people come and have a vacation. I envisioned this as a vacation area like Sun Valley."

The vision of Steamboat as a world-class resort is a reality today, but in the beginning it took sweat, money and for Jim Temple, heartbreak. He conducted the ski area's first feasibility studies, cleared trails and put in the mountain's first poma lift.

But his involvement eventually ended in a lawsuit and the loss of the ski area.

Jim Temple grew up skiing on the Focus Ranch near the Wyoming border.

His family arrived in Routt County in 1911. His grandfather, Harry Reid Temple, traveled 230 miles with five children and more than 100 head of cattle to settle in the Little Snake River Valley.

His father, James B. "Shorty" Temple, turned the land into an operating dude ranch in 1937.

It was a time when skiing and ranching were a natural mix. Starting at a young age, Jim Temple would ski behind a hay wagon holding onto a rope as the cattle were fed. Later, he would ski down a mesa with a 400-foot vertical drop.

From those beginnings, he became a four-way skier: slalom, giant slalom, jumping and cross country. He raced for Colorado AM Ski Team in Fort Collins.

Jim Temple left the family ranch to attend school in Denver, after which he joined the Navy. He served in World War II as an officer aboard the USS Higby in the Pacific.

After the war, he returned to the Focus Ranch, but by 1947 he'd left again to become a ski instructor in Sun Valley. For the next seven years, he spent winters in Sun Valley and summers working his family's ranch.

In Sun Valley, Jim Temple was the assistant head of the ski patrol and an avalanche forecaster. He worked with the mountain manager to build new trails and lifts at the resort and established a weather station and avalanche program.

Sun Valley, built by the Union Pacific Railroad to entice people to use the railroad, was already a major resort at the time. It was there that Jim Temple decided to develop a ski resort.

"In those seven years, I learned most of what I had to know to develop a mountain," he said.

Jim Temple soon began his search for his own mountain to develop, and he looked from Montana to New Mexico. He narrowed his search to two: Storm Mountain in Routt County and Peak One near Frisco.

He went with the mountain in his home county. It had all the components of a successful ski resort, a 3,600-foot vertical drop, railroad access and an airport in the works. But most importantly, Storm Mountain, which was later renamed Mount Werner, had good snow.

"The deep snow was the number one thing," Jim Temple said. "After Sun Valley had closed in March or April, the snow was still 10 feet deep (in Steamboat)."

When Jim Temple returned to Steamboat in 1956, he started making the trips up Storm Mountain. People would go in packs of 20 to 40. Jim Temple's son, Jeff, still remembers riding on the shoulders of hometown skiing hero, Buddy Werner, as the groups made the early surveys.

It was on one of those trips that Jim Temple first knew the ski mountain would succeed. At 4 a.m., Jim Temple and brothers Buddy and Loris Werner started climbing to the crest to ski down the Bald Spot, known today as Storm Peak. Jim Temple took a 16-millimeter camera to film Buddy and Loris Werner skiing.

"From the pictures, we thought it was going to be great skiing," Jim Temple said.

Between 1956 and 1961, Jim Temple focused his energy on developing the ski mountain. In the winter trails were surveyed and in the summer they were burned and cleared. All the while, he was looking for partners and financing.

Jeff Temple said it consumed his father: "It was all he thought about, all he would talk about, all he did for years."

In 1957 and 1958, Jim Temple started purchasing land at the base of Storm Mountain. Five different ranches were put together for the land holdings. One of those, the Smith Ranch, did not sell until the owner saw the bulldozers coming.

In 1958, Jim Temple formed the Storm Mountain Corp. By July, the Storm Mountain Ski Area broke ground.

Jim Temple had the help of Willis Nash, a heavy equipment contractor from Denver, and traded the use of Nash's Caterpillar D-7 for stock in the company.

Three years before the first ski lift opened, skiers were going down cleared runs. Between 1958 and 1960, collegiate races were held at Voo Doo and See Me. The trails are still used for races today, but in the early years racers would reach the top by Jeep.

In 1961, Jim Temple was able to open the ski area's first poma lift.

Storm Mountain Ski Area's opening day was Dec. 22, 1961. In the first year, Jim Temple remembers doing everything from operating the lift to selling tickets to being the morning and night crew for packing snow.

The first lift, Cub Claw, was erected roughly where the Southface lift is today.

The next lift, a double chair with bull wheels, was named Bear Claw after the marks bears left on the aspen trees. John Fetcher drove a flatbed truck to California to pick up the bullwheels for that lift.

Even once the ski area had purchased the lifts, finding funding continued to be a problem. "Raising enough money to complete it, that was one of the main things I had to contend with," Jim Temple said.

In 1962, Jim Temple entered into a trust agreement with Hank Perry, a Denver investment banker who helped set up the Storm Mountain Ski Corp. The agreement gave Perry 5,000 shares and more than 50 percent of the stock in the company for eight years. Jim Temple resigned from the board and moved to Boulder.

In return, Perry was to complete the work on the ski area in the next seven or eight years and secure funding for the 1962 and 1963 ski years.

Instead, Jim Temple said, Perry seized control of the company with the help of others. Perry formed Steamboat Partnership, which loaned Storm Mountain Ski Corp. money to keep the ski area going.

As the ski area was about to open for its third season in 1963, Storm Mountain Ski Corp. stockholders were informed that the company owed Steamboat Partnership $122,000. When the stockholders could not pay the tab, the partnership foreclosed on the lifts, Jim Temple said.

"I didn't know for a couple of years I was transferred out of the partnership," Jim Temple said.

He sued Steamboat Partnership, but later dropped the lawsuit when judges determined Jim Temple could only regain the assets of Storm Mountain Ski Corp. if he could pay off the debt owed to Steamboat Partnership. "I was never able to raise the amount of money really needed," Jim Temple said.

In 1969, Storm Mountain Ski Corp. was sold to LTV Aerospace for a reported $4 million.

"They took all my assets and sold them for millions of dollars," Jim Temple said. "I had sold my interest in the Focus Ranch and put all my money in the business."

Jim Temple, the man who says he put the "mountain in motion when people started skiing," got nothing from the sale.

It has been a few years since Jim Temple, now 75, has skied in Steamboat, but he visits the area frequently to see his sons, Jamie and Jeff. His two daughters live on the Front Range.


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