Volume 106, Number 2 - January 8, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
by Stephen Crane
The definition of a pioneer comes in many forms and often entails a variety of uncharted land.
Albert “Sunny” Korfanta, 93, certainly defines a pioneer, and the undiscovered boundaries he helped explore were instrumental in making White Pine Ski Resort what it is today. Korfanta’s contributions to the sport of skiing go all the way back to the earliest days of ski resorts in the U.S., and it’s those contributions that recently earned him induction into the prestigious Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame, based at Utah’s Olympic Park.
Born in Rock Springs in 1915, Korfanta attended school in Colorado, where he obtained a degree in pharmacy.
By 1935, he wound up settling in Pinedale, where he and his wife, Fanny, ran the local drugstore.
“I came up here, and people up here were educated to order from mail-order catalogs,” Korfanta recalled. “Everything they were getting was from catalogs, so we had a helluva time getting started.”
But they persisted, and business picked up, which allowed Korfanta time to begin exploring his other interests.
“I like sports,” he said. “I played them in high school and came up here and never quit. They’d always say, ‘You’re always playing and never working.’”
This passion for all-things active often led Korfanta into the surrounding mountains. And by the time he had arrived in Pinedale, the Civilian Conservation Corps had already teamed up with the Forest Service near Fremont Lake, assisting with infrastructure needs of the area.
“I had been good friends with the forest office,” he remembered. “And they met with our business association (of Pinedale) and asked if we wanted to plan a ski area to open up. After all the members decided yes, they told us to raise $300.”
The $300 was used to hire Alf Engen, a famed Norwegian-American skier who assisted in the creation and design of over 30 ski resorts throughout the western U.S.
“He come in and picked that area towards White Pine because the Falers had a hunting and fishing outfit, and since the road was already there.”
The CCCs helped build the first lodge, and a little lift house for the tow cable, which measured over 125 yards and was powered by a little engine that could pull three skiers at a time.
The Falers ran the ski hill that first winter before handing it off to “a group of about eight of us.”
The group upgraded the tow engine and reinforced the steel braces at the top, “made it so it was solid as heck.”
“We got so that we had a pretty good deal with it. Of course, a lot of them didn’t know how to ski, but they soon learned.”
News of the ski hill spread quickly, and people from Rock Springs, who used to travel to Utah or Idaho for skiing, began traveling to Pinedale for their winter recreation.
“What they’d do is they’d come up on Saturday night and have a helluva time in the bars, and ski on Sunday,” Korfanta recalled with a laugh. “All we charged was a dollar to ride the ski lift, and the kids rode free.
“But after we got that all fixed up and it was running good, all hell broke loose.”
World War II had erupted on the global scene, and after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, national attention shifted to the war effort, which meant the end of the CCC’s work in the area.
“The CCCs had the equipment and kept the road open from Pinedale to the (ski) area, so we didn’t have anything to clear it. So when the snow got too deep, we had to close the area because you couldn’t get up there. The town didn’t have enough equipment to keep the roads open.”
Though the ski hill was forced to officially close, the deep snow didn’t stop locals from trekking up on their own.
“Just to make it the hard way, we’d ski from town all the way up there. Coming back was good because it was all downhill, about past Half Moon Lake. Then you had to cross the flat to the next hill. But the hard part was trudging up from Pinedale.”
After the time the war was over, some locals found an industrial-sized, military snow blower for sale in Nebraska. Outfitted with a 75-gallon tank, the heavy-duty snowplow could “blow that snow 100 feet away, to the right and to the left. So that worked pretty good.”
By this time, Korfanta had become a favorite to the local school kids, since he was a prominent feature both on the ski hill and on the waters of Fremont Lake, after purchasing a boat a few years before.
“In the summertime, the kids would come around and say, ‘Come on and take us water skiing!’”
And in the winter, the story was the same.
“One Saturday, I was working and about four of the kids come over. And they say, ‘Take us skiing.’ And I said, ‘I’m working today.’ They said, ‘Oh, it’s Saturday, you don’t have to work.’ And I says, ‘Okay, I’ll go get dressed.’”
By the time he returned, the four neighneighborhood kids now numbered eight, all wanting to jump in Korfanta’s big Chevy, bound for the ski hill.
“So we went up there and skied most of the day, and two or three kids from Big Piney came up, and it was a really nice day.
“And just as we got out of the area, we were coming down that big hill and the weather totally changed. It was snowing like hell, and we turned the corner to get down on the flat and we got stuck. So we tried to get it out and we couldn’t get it out.
“So we said, ‘Alright, we got to walk to Half Moon and get in one of those cabins down there.”
With four little kids on their shoulders, Korfanta and a few high school kids slogged through the heavy snow, stumbling onto an empty cabin down by the lake.
“We broke into the cabin and made a fire, looking for something to eat. And there wasn’t anything.
“Then we got up early in the morning, and I knew damn well they were going to come looking for us with a plane, so we went on Half Moon Lake and stomped some big figures in the snow — HELP.”
Before long, the airplane came and landed on the lake, rescuing the stranded party and taking them back to the airport, four at a time.
“Finally, a guy borrowed a tractor from the BLM, and he opened the road and we got the car back. It took me about a month.”
Korfanta’s dedication to the ski hill and his dedication to children are intertwined, each helping fuel the other. He coached the Pinedale High School basketball, football and track teams, as well as the girls’ basketball team in the 40’s, and continued coaching skiers for decades to come.
For his work in the sport of skiing throughout the region, Korfanta was elected as president of the Intermountain Ski Association in the early 60’s, and was later chosen to represent the intermountain region with the U.S. Ski Association.
His humble approach to these accolades does no justice to the legacy Korfanta has provided for the area. White Pine Ski Resort would not have the storied history without the hard work and perseverance that Korfanta displayed, and he’s proud to see the hill still going.
“I’m happy to know they’re improving, that everything is still doing a lot of good both for the community and for the people who are interested in skiing,” he said. “And especially, they’ve got a good program for the young kids, who aren’t getting into any trouble or anything.”
And for those who don’t ski, “They don’t know what they’re missing.”
Photo credits: Stephen Crane
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