“Skiing Horse Mountain“ by Deborah Baskette
Humboldt Historian, Summer 2016
The Horse Mountain Grippers are a convivial group of friends with roots in Humboldt County, CA. Forty years after most of us left the area, we remain steadfast friends and continue to enjoy great adventures together. Our annual events include a ski trip at Squaw Valley and two challenging bicycle rides. We pride ourselves on being an inclusive group and are always looking to add new friends to the mix.
The origin of the Horse Mountain Grippers dates back to the 1960s in Eureka, when a group of local boys formed a special bond snow skiing at Horse Mountain. The ski area was located about 40 miles east of Eureka in the Six Rivers National Forest. It was primitive by modern standards, with rope tows, a snack shack, and a small unfurnished “lodge”. What it lacked in amenities was more than compensated by the enduring friendships that were forged there.
The core group spread the word about Horse Mountain, and through their teen years the group’s numbers began to swell. By the time they were seniors in high school it was not uncommon in the wintertime for a dozen guys to cut class Wednesday afternoons to get a few runs in at “Horse”.
What’s a Gripper?
Collectively, the group became known as the “Grippers”. The name derives from the metal wrench-like tool that was used to ride up the rope tows. Horse Mountain featured the 1600’ Ruby Creek rope tow that was believed at the time to be one of the longest and steepest in the nation. Riding up it required either a rope tow gripper or forearms like Popeye. As a result, the grip tools were highly coveted. Because of the high demand and low supply, several knockoff versions surfaced during the years.
For two decades, the Horse Mountain ski area was run by Dr. Jack Walsh, his wife, Mary, and their family. Jack’s energy and enthusiasm for life is legendary (and contagious). After Horse Mountain closed, Dr. Jack continued to ski into his 90’s. In fact, a few years ago he “blew off” a Gripper reunion because it conflicted with a ski trip to Squaw Valley! Well, at least he has his priorities straight…
Simply put, the man is our inspiration, and without him (and his family) it’s doubtful the Horse Mountain Grippers would exist.
Dr. Jack (1917-2016) – Times-Standard Obit
Vintage Horse Mt. photos courtesy of Weldon Benzinger