Frank Bulkley II helped more kids go skiing than just about anyone out there.
Bulkley, the founder of Denver’s venerable Eskimo Ski Club and the famed Ski Train, ferried tens of thousands of kids — and then their kids — between Denver and Winter Park every Saturday for several decades.
“We tried recently to calculate how many kids Frank had introduced to skiing, and we got close to half a million. And I think that’s a true number,” said Jerry Groswold, the retired 26-year captain of Winter Park Resort, who worked on Bulkley’s ski train as a chaperone in the late 1950s, when the Eskimo Ski Club ushered upward of 1,600 kids from Denver to Winter Park and back. “I’ve found people all over the country who grew up in Denver and learned to ski through the Eskimo Club.”
Bulkley, who died last week at 97, lived a rich life, introducing generations to the thrills of skiing.
He learned to ski at Berthoud Pass in 1935, chartering a bus from Denver to bring his friends and six siblings to the mountaintop ski area. After scouting terrain for Denver’s manager of parks, George Cranmer, Bulkley helped clear trails for the city-owned Winter Park ski area. When Winter Park opened in the 1939-40 season, Bulkley ran the ski school and ski shop. In those first years at Winter Park, Bulkley started using the Denver Salt Lake Railroad to bring kids from Denver on Saturdays. By World War II, the Saturday “Frank Bulkley Ski Group” was 300 strong.
After teaching skiing and rock climbing to the skiing soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division and serving as first lieutenant with the 42nd Infantry in Europe, Bulkley returned to Winter Park and convinced the then Denver Rio Grande Railroad to fire up the Ski Train again. He opened up the Eskimo Ski Shop in Denver. From 1946 to the early 1970s, Bulkley missed only one Saturday marshaling kids along the Ski Train — and that was the day in 1949 he married his sweetheart, Nancy Van Stone
Frank Bulkley III joined his father on the Ski Train in 1959 at age 7, rising at 3:30 a.m. every Saturday to prepare the train’s coaches for the Eskimo Club skiers, who were separated into train cars by age. While Bulkley certainly harbored an affection for the mountains and skiing, he was driven to stir a sense of independence in the club’s 8- to 17-year-olds.
“The thing he said he really was trying to do is to get kids to do things on their own and handle problems on their own and feel comfortable doing things independently,” said Bulkley’s son, who still runs the Eskimo Ski Shop, now in Centennial.
At its peak, the Ski Train packed 20 coaches with as many as 1,600 kids, each sporting either green, blue, black or the coveted, race-ready rainbow patches on their jackets, reflecting their skiing prowess. After each ski day, Bulkley would traverse the train’s coaches, handing out an array of colored ribbons to skiers who had passed certain milestones.
“He knew exactly what color ribbon to give each kid, and he’d call every one of the kids by their name,” Groswold said. “He was amazing.”
“They wouldn’t think he knew their name, but he always surprised them,” said daughter Anne Bulkley. “He loved kids so much.”
Bulkley is survived by his wife, Nancy, and their four children, Anne, Frank, Mary Goodin and Laura Dalgarno; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and two sisters, Elizabeth Rue and Louise Garland.
A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Thursday at Highline Community Church, 3651 S. Colorado Blvd., followed by a reception at the Wellshire Inn.
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374 or firstname.lastname@example.org