Till I looked up and recognized the resort’s late president Dick Kun. We exchanged hellos and then the boss charged down Olympic, not bothering to look for the best line and lighting up the steeps like he had skied them his whole life, which he basically had.
I watched and waited for him to clear the bottom so I could tackle Olympic without his gaze. Only he stopped and looked up at me and waited…and waited…and waited till I realized he wasn’t moving on till I went. So I jumped in, stuck a couple good turns and slid a few others, and then I was standing next to the guy who for 50 years defined Southern California skiing.
“You want to charge after steep runs, don’t be tentative,” he said. “Attack the hill and stay on top of your skis, aggressive.”
That was some 20 years ago and I’m still trying to charge the steeps. When Kun passed away at age 76 the Sunday after Thanksgiving, after seeing snowflakes flutter past his window one last time, Big Bear and the ski world each lost a true icon, a pioneer who changed both.
Big Bear was Kun’s town, transformed from a sleepy mountain hamlet into a busy resort by the half-million skiers and snowboarders who annually visited Snow Summit under his watch. City Councils, Mayors and Managers came and went but always there was Kun, a steadying influence on Big Bear business. No wonder the Chamber of Commerce’s lifetime achievement honor is called the Summit Award and he was first to get it.
When I arrived in 1989 Bear Mountain was making all the noise but it quickly became clear Dick had the loudest voice. Millions of dollars were being invested into Kun’s competitor by its new owner, putting in the Valley’s first high-speed quad, widening runs and such, but it was always Snow Summit that did the most business.
That’s because Kun, who took over management at Snow Summit overnight with his mother after resort founder Tommi Tyndall was killed in a tractor accident at Christmas, knew how to run a ski resort. So many things the ski industry now takes for granted were started by Snow Summit—advance reservation system, night sessions, embracing snowboarding—yet Kun never would take credit for them. “Just reacting to what we needed,” he’d say.
His office was always open to me—some said I was among the only press so fortunate (another coincidentally was my late former boss Burt Sims). Through the years I went in to do stories on Tyndall, his mother Jo, one of the first women in the country to run a resort, and others. His style was analytical instead of animated and he had a steel trap for a memory.
A few times Dick would slide up to me at Rotary, usually saying something like “Working on any good stories?” That was the cue he had something for me. Once it turned out to be extensive tree thinning at the top of the mountain that Summit was doing in conjunction with the Forest Service after the 2003 Old Fire, creating fire break that in turn eventually led to the new worldclass singletrack Skyline Trail.
Plus the resort had put equipment shelters around the area so its personnel could potentially put out a fire before it got out of control. Sure enough after a summer thunderstorm Snow Summit employees were first to respond to a lightning strike. Kun was always thinking ahead.
One story I never could get him to flinch on was Snow Summit’s acquisition of Bear in 2002. Quite accidentally from a source he never suspected it was confirmed to me that the deal was happening, but Kun stayed true to the stockholders and refused to confirm despite my best reporter efforts. Try as I might Dick wouldn’t budge, only agreeing to a special interview once it was done in which we talked about everything.
During the resort’s 50th anniversary celebration, there was a press event that started at Snow Summit before moving to just-acquired Bear. Somehow John Daskam and I missed the shuttle over so we rode in Dick’s car. At Bear the parking attendant had no idea who he was and wanted to park him in the boondocks. I had bosses who would have had the guy’s last check cut for that, but Dick just shrugged it off. And parked where he wanted.
During what turned out to be my final interview with him two years ago for December 2014 Big Bear Today he talked about how proud he was of the sale to Mammoth. He felt he’d gotten top dollar for the shareholders and was looking to ski and mountain bike, albeit without his coveted up-front parking spot. Sadly Parkinson’s disease that he bravely stiff armed for years curtailed much of that.
Next time I ski Dicky’s, the steep run named after him at Snow Summit, I promise to charge it. It’s the least I can do.
–by Marcus Dietz