Wayne Poulsen

A Man To Match These Mountains

Captain Poulsen

The Captain and Mrs. Poulsen - Wayne had three great loves in his life: skiing, flying and his wife, Sandy.

The Captain and Mrs. Poulsen – Wayne had three great loves in his life: skiing, flying and his wife, Sandy and his best friend, Marti Arrouge, introduced him to all three. (Courtesy Poulsen Family Collection)

In the spring of 1941,Poulsen’s lease was abruptly cancelled when Robinson Neeman purchased Grass Lake and the surrounding acerage. Poulsen and Heath had to dissolve their partnership and dismantle Mt. Rose Upski. War had broken out in in Europe, and Poulsen was eager join the war effort despite the United States’ official position of neutrality. Many men, including Poulsen’s best friend, Marti Arrouge, had gone to flight school and volunteered with the British Royal Air Force. At Arrouge’s urging, Poulsen became certified as a pilot and flight instructor, taking lessons at the airport in Reno and also volunteered with the RAF. While awaiting his orders, Poulsen would follow Arrouge to Sun Valley, Idaho, where Arrouge was teaching at Otto Lang’s famed ski school.

Just a few years earlier, in 1936, Sun Valley, Idaho,  had set a new standard in ski resorts as the first true purpose built Alpine ski resort anywhere in the world.[1] The resort was the inspired idea of Union Pacific Railroad Chairman Averell Harriman; intended to sustain passenger traffic on the line. Roland Huntford, in his book Two Planks and a Passion: The Dramatic History of Skiing, identifies this as a seminal moment in the history of skiing, not just in the United States but on an international level as well. Sun Valley, Huntford says, was the first ski resort conceived as a destination resort, and in so doing, Harriman emerged in the unique position of shaping and defining American Alpine skiing it its formative phase. [2]

Wayne and Sandy on the deck of the lodge at Sugar Bowl. Sugar Bowl opened in 1939 with the first chairlift in the Tahoe area. (Courtesty Poulsen Family Collection)

Harriman’s foray into the ski business would prove to be fortuitous for Poulsen.  At the beginning of the 1941-42 ski season, Harriman’s daughter, Kathleen, invited her good friend Gladys Olga “Sandy” Kunau, to take a trip to on her father’s railroad line to ski at Sun Valley. Conditions on the East Coast were notoriously icy and hard packed and Sandy was eager to find more favorable conditions. She liked the idea of the soft, deep snow Kathleen described and headed west. Upon her arrival in Sun Valley, Sandy headed over to the ski school to sign up for lessons. Her instructor that day was Wayne Poulsen. Sandy would be his only student that winter; years later she would joke that she took great care not to improve too quickly so that Wayne would continue to teach her. [3] By the spring of 1942, Wayne and Sandy were engaged.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1941, the United States was at war. Poulsen had orders to report at the end of August to the air base at Twenty-Nine Palms, California. This meant a short engagement for Poulsen and his bride and they were married on August 16, 1942. He spent the next year as a flight instructor before he was tapped by the Navy to fly supplies into the Pacific Theater on Pan American planes which had been appropriated for the war effort. Author Mark McLaughlin interviewed Wayne and Sandy extensively. In his book, Longboards to Olympics – A Century of Tahoe Winter Sports, he noted that Poulsen was a gifted skier and an exceptional pilot. [4] According to McLaughlin, during World War II, Poulsen worked with Charles Lindbergh and was instrumental in opening new trans-Pacific air routes. Poulsen’s oldest son, Chris adds to the story, recounting his father’s experience and expertise as a pilot and instructor training glider pilots for both Operation Overlord (the Allied Invasion at Normandy) and Operation Market-Garden. “It was really remarkable, what they did,” Chris said.  “They didn’t have C-130 cargo planes yet and the only way to move equipment was either with amphibious craft or gliders. And when you consider that once a glider is released from the tow, it’s really just a managed decent . . . into enemy territory.”

In 1943, Wayne and Sandy were able to purchase 640 acres in Squaw Valley where the ski resort now stands. With help from friends, including Marti Arrouge, Wayne and Sandy were able to execute an option on an additional 1200 acres in the valley from the owners of Smith Ranch. After the war, Wayne and Sandy started construction on the first home in the valley and celebrated Christmas in 1947 in the partially completed home. Sandy cooked dinner in the fireplace with snowflakes blowing in through the glassless window. He also continued to fly for Pan American airways, piloting the first commercial flight over the polar route from San Francisco to Paris.

Wayne taught his children the skills and values he learned as a Boy Scout. Family camping trips often involved flying in to remote locations throughout Northwest, Canada and Alaska. (Courtesy Poulsen Family Collection)

In Wilderness and the American Mind, Nash points out that one of the supreme ironies of civilization is the “elimination of challenges . . . that surviving in the precivilized world entailed.”[5] Nash identifies the value of “wild places” in modernity, as the ability to be surrounded by what is uncontrolled, allowing the opportunity for modern man to once again grapple with those simple, premodern challenges. As civilization started to encroach on the previously isolated steep, mountainous terrain of the Sierra Nevada, using technology to bring man closer to nature while allowing him to conquer it with skis and ski lifts, it made sense that Poulsen would find new frontiers to conquer as a pilot. Nash echoes this sentiment in his discussion on Charles Lindbergh, wherein Lindbergh describes the impact his career as an aviator had on his life, allowing him to see the world’s greatest wild places.[6] Poulsen never lost his desire to be in an environment where the world was untamed. He owned a several sea planes and would often fly the family into remote, rustic destinations in Montana, Wyoming, British Columbia, and Alaska where they would camp out,  spend their days fishing and hunting, exemplifying what Roosevelt termed “fundamental frontier values.” [7]


[1] Huntford, Two Planks, 376 – 377.

[2] Ibid.

[3] McLaughlin, Longboards to Olympics, 209.

[4] Ibid, 166.

[5] Nash, Wilderness, 267.

[6] Ibid, 246.

[7] Ibid, 150.