With the coming of the Depression, Jim Huebner had to leave his failing farm and move to Fresno. An enthusiastic self-taught tennis player, in 1931 he set up a small shop to string rackets and sell balls, near the public courts in Roeding Park. Badger Pass got started as a ski area during the winter of 1935-36, complete with a boat-tow lift dubbed the Queen Mary. Huebner began making the 100-mile trip north to the mountains, hauling his family and friends, and the following year began selling ski gear in the tennis shop.
That was also the year Kodachrome movie film reached the market. Huebner’s brother was a patent attorney in Los Angeles with connections in film technology, and had access to some of the early 8mm stock. And so Jim Huebner and his wife Doris came to shoot some of the first color ski footage ever.
Yosemite’s Badge Pass, 1941-42 is a 35-minute compilation of some of that footage, assembled and narrated years later by Jim’s son Larry, whom we see learning to ski – and making spectacular progress over two winters – at about age 10 and 11. In 2010, Larry’s daughter Karin transferred the film to DVD format. It’s obviously a home movie, but the camerawork is steady and in focus. It’s a charming visit to an era of recreational skiing most of us can only imagine.
The film opens on the 1940 running of the Far West Kandahar slalom, featuring Luggi Foeger, Bill Klein and some of the other pioneering Austrian instructors who came to California after the Anschluss. The gates appear to have been set as a test of agility rather than of speed: there’s no real rhythm and the final turn is a hop-to-a-stop doozy. Unfortunately the Huebners didn’t shoot the previous day’s downhill race.
The rest of the film shows families mastering the art of skiing long, wooden skis on ungroomed forested terrain using low leather boots and wool clothing. Their chief tool appears to have been a broad grin. These folks were having fun, even as warclouds loomed.
Jim Huebner closed the sports shop after Pearl Harbor, but reopened after the war in a larger space and ran Fresno’s premier ski shop until his death in 1972. The shop sent a busload of kids to Badger Pass every weekend through the boom years. Larry grew up to be a college tennis champ at UCLA and a lifelong tennis coach, took over the shop until he retired in 1994. He died last Thanksgiving.
Karin Huebner is now selling the DVD. If you’d like a copy, email her: lhueb5 @ aol.com. –Seth Masia