The Wisdom and Wonder of Junior Bounous

Image: Sarah Sherman
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The Wisdom and Wonder of Junior Bounous

You might’ve heard of Junior Bounous. People call him a pioneer, a legend and the Godfather of Skiing. Valid descriptions, but insufficient. Former Snowbird Mountain School Director Maggie Loring says, “I’m not sure there’s any good way to describe Junior.” In fact, he was born without a name: his birth certificate says only "Boy Bounous", as if labeling him, even then, was too great a task. 

In the documentary film Bounousabuse: 80 Junior Years , Bounous skis to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “A Simple Kind of Man.” There’s nothing simple about an 80-year-old skiing Pipeline at Snowbird and yet the contrast is perfect. Bounous has anomalous superhuman strength mixed with ease, like a DANGER sign written in cursive. When he speaks, right away you sense he has no filter—but not in a terrifying, what’s-he-gonna-say way. It’s a nothing-to-hide, no-worries way. These wonderful contradictions make Bounous—96 and skiing 70-plus days—indescribable. 

Junior Bounous with sunglasses before heli-skiing

Born in 1925 in Provo, Utah, he learned to ski on his family’s fruit farm. His line was down and to the left to avoid a pile of manure. It was a straight line with consequence, the perfect foundation for big mountain skiing. From that no-fall zone of excrement, Bounous went on to steeps, powder and big air. When he skied backward, they didn’t call it switch; they called it crazy. He hucked big cliffs decades before fat skis, helmets or GoPros. Let’s face it: it was before ski pants. His list of accomplishments includes movies, magazine covers, gelande championships, national titles, Olympic trials, the US National Ski Hall of Fame and carrying the Olympic torch in 2002. In 2021, he set the Guinness World Record for the oldest heli-skier. Among his fans were Stein Eriksen and Warren Miller, who say that Bounous was “so much better than anybody else.” 

In 1971, when Ted Johnson asked his friend to “get the mountain ready to open,” Bounous had already helped open Sugar Bowl and Sundance, where he worked at the time. He knew Snowbird would be different. “You look at this mountain and it’s a big challenge,” he says. There was 10 feet of snow on the mountain that April, so the cliffs and rocks were covered. He laid down all the trails from an office, using a topographic map. 

Junior Bounous with ski school back in the mid 1970's

By June, the snow was low enough to start cutting trees, so Bounous hired chainsaw crews, loggers and dozers. They worked from the bottom up as snow melted. If you ever wondered ‘Whodunnit,’ it was Bounous. His crews had started cutting the trail but stopped due to snowfall. In September, Johnson asked Bounous to run Mountain School, which he had no intention of doing, but he was already attached to the mountain and had to break the news to then-employer, Robert Redford. 

“People didn’t know how to ski Snowbird,” Bounous laughs. “Ski school was more a guest service than for-profit.” Instructors had to side-step the mountain, top to bottom, to pack down the snow for students. Corduroy didn’t exist yet. “It was a time of experimentation,” says Bounous. Snowcats could handle gentle slopes but instructors had to manually pack down steeper ones. They designed rollers that snowcats could tow before they could pack snow. Later, a winch anchored the snowcats to groom steeps. Bounous started bus programs and brought in students, instructors and coaches from other areas. “All of ‘em were happy to do it,” he says of the trek to Snowbird. They were excited about the mountain—and wanted to stay with Bounous.

His following shared perspective. “Fun is the operative word at Snowbird,” says Loring. Bounous' granddaughter Ayja Bounous agrees. “First and foremost, it’s about fun,” she says, citing his epic mountainside Easter egg hunts and lessons presented as little adventures that became a lifestyle. This made his teaching unconventional. European instruction had a rigid order of progression. In the 1940s, Bounous had learned a humanistic style from Alta’s Alf Engen . He said to be a good teacher you have to adjust your expectations and goals to individual personalities. It’s not about what you want; it’s about the student having fun (safely). This freer approach to teaching was wildly successful. By the ‘80s, Snowbird’s Mountain School was top in the nation, surpassing Sun Valley and Aspen.

Junior Bounous and his wife Maxine Bounous

Even meeting his future-wife was deemed atypical. Maxine says she was horse riding in the rain with a friend. They had wood, so they made a fire and hung up their wet jeans to dry. Along comes Bounous on horseback, just as Maxine pulls up her pants. Bounous interrupts, “they were slow at getting their pants pulled up.” Maxine passed away in June 2020. Bounous says in their 70-year marriage, they got upset with each other once, maybe twice. He says sometimes there’s conflict, some discomfort, like peach fuzz. “But you don’t get mad at the peach.” 

Colleagues talk about non-skiing lessons from Junior: how to treat people, be a good friend and experience every aspect of the mountain. Ayja says Bounous and his wife Maxine “enjoyed the mountain at a very intentional pace.” On summer hikes, they obsessed over wildflowers, birds and trees. 

Truly exceptional, Bounous never tore a ligament or broke a bone in his decades of elite skiing. At 96, he’s active year-round. He does hours of yard work in the Utah heat. He jokes, “That to-do list doesn’t end!” Then he takes the Tram to hike “for altitude training.” He says fellow legend Jim McConkey wants them to get first descent down a Canadian glacier. Bounous laughs. “I don’t think I need to do that!” He certainly doesn’t. But it would surprise no one if he did. 

About the Author

Originally from Upstate New York, Dawn Cardinale fell in love with Snowbird almost 30 years ago on spring break. Subsequently, she settled down in Salt Lake City to work, ski and ride her bike. She manages a small team of writers and works from home, to avoid separation anxiety from her dog Jimi.

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