Joe Jones, Founder of Seattle's Four Seasons Ski club

By Kirby Gilbert

Football star and broadcaster turned ski-school director and promoter.

Joe C. Jones grew up in Vallejo, California, participating in school sports in his youth. After two successful years on a conference championship football team at Vallejo Junior College, he was recruited by the University of Washington to play fullback on the Jim Owens–led Huskies squad. Jones accepted the challenge and helped the Huskies win back-to-back Rose Bowl games in 1960 and 1961.

In 1965, Jones graduated from UW with a degree in journalism and started working for IBM. A few years later, he took over as station manager for KYAC radio in Seattle, the city’s first Black-owned radio station. Jones was an active manager who went on air to discuss solutions to the barriers that African-American athletes faced at that time.

Jones was inducted into the
Northwest Ski Hall of Fame in
2018. NWSHOF photo.

In a 1965 broadcast, Jones encouraged Black youth to participate in non-traditional sports such as tennis and golf. He also noted that he personally wanted to try skiing and asked if listeners were interested in trying it, too. The station switchboard received 85 enthusiastic calls, and Jones went to work.

He arranged for the local YMCA to sponsor buses for transportation and started the East Madison KYAC Ski School. More than 40 Black youth began participating on weekends at Snoqualmie Summit. Retailer Osborn & Ulland provided Hart Skis, and Snoqualmie owners Webb and Virginia Moffett offered discounted lift tickets.

Jones teamed up with two proficient Black skiers, Paul Cutchlow and Mel Campbell, who volunteered to give free instruction. The pair had met while serving on the U.S. Armed Forces’ ski patrol in Garmisch, Germany.

The first wave of mostly inner-city youth thrived in skiing, and the program grew. Eventually, Jones became a certified instructor himself, and, in the late 1960s, he transitioned the school to a commercial venture called the Mini Max Ski School, with the motto being “mini skis for maximum fun.” Jones taught the Graduated Length Method (GLM), an emerging teaching approach that started beginners on short skis. Mini Max instructor Campbell became influential in the Professional Ski Instructors of America, and in 1972 he was the first African-American to participate in an international ski instructors’ Ski Congress in Europe.

Jones founded the Four Seasons North
West Ski Club in 1972. Ancient Skier photo

Jones not only promoted skiing but also started the University of Washington Black Athletes Alumni Club in 1968. With growing interest from African-Americans wanting to participate in skiing and other non-traditional sports, in 1972, he started another club, Four Seasons North West, for African-American youth and other young people of color. Four Seasons Northwest continues today to promote skiing for disadvantaged minorities and to provide scholarship opportunities to youth so they can ski.

Jones soon learned that a national gathering of African-American skiers, the first Black Ski Summit, would be held in Aspen in the winter of 1973. He attended eagerly, and the summit was a huge success, drawing more than 350 skiers from 13 clubs across the United States.

At the Ski Summit, Jones got to know Ben Finley and Art Clay, who spearheaded the event with the vision of uniting the various Black ski clubs. As a result, Four Seasons Northwest became a founding club of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, which was officially chartered in 1974. The National Brotherhood of Skiers thrives to this day, representing more than 60 clubs in 43 cities, with a membership of approximately 3,000.

In recognition of Jones’s tireless efforts in providing young minorities new opportunities in skiing, the City of Seattle and King County proclaimed July 19, 2003, to be Joe Jones Day. Now in his 80s, Jones continues to be an active leader in sports promotion, and, although he has not skied in a few years, he still is hoping to get back on the slopes.

Kirby Gilbert wrote about Kongsberg jumpers in North America in the January-February 2022 issue.


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