Catch the Great White Wave: The Birth of Snowboarding at Grand Targhee – Part 3

The 2018-2019 winter season marks the 30th anniversary of snowboarding at Grand Targhee Resort. To celebrate this milestone we’re hosting a snowboard reunion weekend January 12-13th, 2019. We’ll have a quarter pipe jam session, demos, quiver show at Habitat in Driggs, and whole lot more.

To capture the spirit of the early Grand Targhee snowboard movement, we turned to the two pioneering snowboarders who brought the sport to our slopes, Mark Austin and Barry Slaughter Olsen, to look back on how it all happened. This is the third guest blog in a four-part series. 

Part iii: the pitch

By Mark Austin and Barry Slaughter Olsen

In the Fall of 1988, the slopes of Grand Targhee were ripe for change. Architect Mory Bergmeyer and his then-wife, Carol Mann, had purchased Grand Targhee Ski Resort from its previous owner in 1987. They were New Englanders from the Boston area who had fallen in love with Southeast Idaho and the Tetons. We were now trained snowboard instructors on a mission to present the business case of why snowboarding should be allowed on the western slopes of the Tetons. And, pressure was mounting as more and more snowboarders were forced to go elsewhere to shred the slopes. The perfect storm was brewing, and we planned to take advantage of it.

In early fall 1988, we cold-called the resort and asked, in our most adult and businesslike voices, if we could schedule a meeting with the new owners to discuss allowing snowboarding at The Ghee. To our elation and surprise, Mory agreed to see us!

We were both in the midst of our first semester of college. We spent hours between classes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and frequent dates (okay…a little hyperbole is allowed, right?) preparing a strategy for our meeting and seeking to garner support for our campaign. We requested and received support letters from snowboard manufacturers, snowboarding magazines, and local ski shops, highlighting the rapidly-growing revenues from equipment and lift ticket sales.  We copied magazine articles about the experiences and lessons learned from resorts that were early adopters of snowboarding. And we even made a short “promo” video (you guessed it, on a VHS tape) splicing segments from Warren Miller movies, Burton and Sims videos, and a quick introduction and conclusion by Barry himself. 

When the day for the meeting finally came, we put on our nice khakis, button-down shirts, and top-siders (one or both of us might have worn a tie, but no photographic evidence survives) and grabbed the folder of materials that we would present to the Bergmeyer’s. To say we were both nervous is an understatement. After all, we were two 18-year old kids who were pitching an unsolicited business proposal to heavy-hitters from Boston. But we also knew that we were ready to convince the owners of Targhee that it was now time to drop the “boundary – do not cross” tape and let snowboarders play with everyone else on the famed slopes of Fred’s Mountain, Mary’s Nipple, and Peaked.

It was on a beautiful sunny October day when we met Mory outside at a picnic table on the main patio facing Fred’s Mountain and the old Sacajawea ski lift.  His height was intimidating, but his smile was welcoming…more like that of a local Idaho farmer than one of a successful businessman from Beantown. We sat down and told him a little bit about ourselves, where we were from, what we were studying in college, and our own history with The Ghee…then we talked about our proposal for allowing snowboards on the mountain.  We showed him our file of letters and articles about the sport of snowboarding and its growth, its growing pains, and its projected future. 

He, in turn, asked us about our instructor training and credentials, about snowboard equipment safety and rider “image.”  He also talked about his concern over an increasing amount of disappointed families who had been coming to Grand Targhee for years only now to have to go elsewhere for ski vacations because one or more in their family snowboarded.  He didn’t want to lose the “family resort” feel, and he also didn’t want to do things half-way.  He said, “if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all in.  I want a full snowboard program with lessons, sales, events, the whole thing.” When the discussion had wrapped up, he told us that he’d look things over, talk with his wife and the mountain manager, ski school director, and others and then get back to us. We shook hands once more as we handed him the materials we had prepared and walked back to the car.

We were all smiles because it seemed the scales were tipping in our favor.

From that day on we would run home every afternoon after our classes to huddle around the phone, waiting for “the call” from Grand Targhee. It came only a few days later, and none too soon. Mory said that he had made the decision to allow snowboards on the hill! He also reminded us of his desire to jump in head first and asked if we would head up Targhee’s new snowboarding program as the resorts first two instructors. Even before the call with Mory had ended, we both accepted the job. We were beyond ecstatic to launch The Ghee’s new snowboarding program. In a few weeks, we would need to come back up for new employee orientation and to meet the staff, and most importantly, our new boss, Ski School Director Gene Palmer.

Mark Austin and Barry Slaughter Olsen are known as being two of the Nation’s first certified snowboard instructors. They also established Grand Targhee’s first snowboarding program in 1988.

Both men put their snowboarding careers on hold to pursue degrees at Brigham Young University. These days they are both successful in their professional and personal lives, and are thriving in the work place while enjoying quality time with the families they’ve each created. Their love for snowboarding has not waned, and Mark and Barry are excited to be celebrating 30 years of snowboarding at Grand Targhee.

Learn more about Mark and Barry by reading the story on how their snowboarding careers began.