The Eskimo Club has been a Denver tradition since 1939. Denver-Metro area kids from 9 to 17 years old could take a supervised bus to Winter Park, CO every Saturday and learn to ski and board. For some kids, it was their only opportunity to get to the mountains and experience the thrill of skiing and the great outdoors, and it gave parents peace of mind that their kids were learning to ski in a safe environment, and also allowing them to become more independant as they left their parents behind in Denver.
Unfortunately though, it looks like the Eskimo Club will be condemned to the annals of history. Annie Bulkley, the club director whose father Frank created it before World War II, and then also started the legendary Ski Train after he returned from the war as an injured veteran, wrote to members in an email to explain why the club won’t live on in to its tenth decade:
“It is with great sadness that I am writing this. Winter Park needs the Eskimo Headquarters room for their employee lockers as they are presently stacked 3 to a locker and there is no more available space that will work for the Club’s needs.
“We have given it much consideration and Winter Park has been helpful in trying to make it work but I have come to the extremely difficult decision that we would no longer be able to give our Eskimo Club members the safe, quality, affordable program that we have been known for.
“It’s been a really great run (since 1939) and Winter Park has supported us in many ways and for many, many years and for that we are very thankful.
“I am also truly grateful to all of our members, past and present, who have supported the Eskimo Club for generations and for our dedicated, skilled instructors who have made the Club what it was.”
At issue is the space that was the club’s tiny headquarters room in the 63-year-old Balcony House. Winter Park officials told the club they needed that space for employee lockers and that there is no other space at the Winter Park base. There were discussions about finding space at the Mary Jane base for the club, but those talks were unsuccessful.
“It was a really, really hard decision. I felt it was my father’s legacy forever,” Bulkley said. “I had a choice between two bad choices, running it poorly or not doing it.” Her father, a member of the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame, died in 2012 at age 97.
Winter Park is owned by the City of Denver but is operated by Denver-based Alterra Mountain Company, which took over from Intrawest last year. Winter Park spokesman Steve Hurlbert said the situation had nothing to do with Alterra:
“It’s a matter between the Eskimos and Winter Park Resort. The issues arose because we were severely strapped for space in the aging Balcony House, a problem that has been growing over the last few winters due to the steady growth of our own programs.
“We presented them with a series of alternatives, including moving to the Mary Jane base. The locker room at issue was used for their storage and for their instructors to stash gear, meanwhile our own employees were sharing lockers three apiece. We thought we were close to a solution, and had even started to talk internally about places at the Jane where they could park their buses, when we caught wind of Annie’s email Sunday. Until that point we were planning on having them back this winter.”
In recent years, kids in the program came up from the Front Range in buses, but for decades they rode the famous Ski Train from Union Station. Through the years, many generations, and thousands of Denver children learned to ski with the Eskimo Ski Club at Winter Park, “the place where Denver learned to ski”. The club had about 320 members last year.