SALT LAKE CITY – On a clear blue sky day last April, a helicopter owned by Powderbird Helicopter Skiing dropped Junior Bounous atop the American Fork Twin Peaks at 11,489 feet, the highest point on Little Ridge. Cottonwood Canyon.
When he set off down the mountain he skied straight into a Guinness World Record.
No one his age had ever done something like this. Bounous was 95 years and 224 days old on April 5, 230 days longer than the current heli-skiing record holder, a Canadian named Gordon Precious, who registered at 94 years and 306 days when he performed its race in 2019.
Bounous accepted the high-fives of his family members, who made the historic race with him. It was a feat for the ages, literally.
But in truth, chasing a world record was just an excuse to accomplish something much grander.
In early summer 2020, with all that was going on, Junior lost the love of his life, his wife of nearly 70 years, Maxine, whom everyone called Fast Max.
The nickname was well deserved. Maxine Bounous, like her husband, knew how to ski like the wind. She and Junior, who both grew up in Provo, were among the first certified ski instructors in the country. They pioneered the art of powder skiing, under the tutelage of Alf Engen, and taught skiing at Timp Haven / Sundance, Alta, Sugar Bowl and Snowbird, where Junior was the first Director of Skiing during when the station opened in 1971.
Everywhere Junior has gone – a man who was inducted into the US National Ski Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 2002; a man who has featured in many Warren Miller films; a man who has ski trails named after him in Sundance, Alta and Snowbird; a man who has been nicknamed “the godfather of powder skiing” – Maxine was there with him.
Losing her left a broken heart and an unmistakable void. Life wasn’t going to be easy without her.
Junior’s son Steve knew it. He knew his father was going to need help with the grief. They needed a plan. And of course, the plan involved skiing.
“The idea was to give my dad something to work on that he was looking forward to,” said Steve, a former member of the US ski team, reflecting on his efforts to help his dad get out. and to move last fall.
As soon as the snow cleared in November, just before Thanksgiving, he brought Junior to the Alta trails.
The long summer had indeed taken its toll. A few runs on Sunnyside have wiped out the godfather of powder skiing.
But it was a start. The clean air, the movement, the joy of skiing, everything began to work its magic methodically.
Then, shortly after 2020 turned into 2021, the idea of using a world record for extra motivation came into the picture.
Ayja Bounous, Steve and Suzanne’s daughter, was researching her grandfather’s life – for a biography she wrote about him – and discovered that a record for “the oldest heli-skier in the world” actually existed. .
And Grandpa was older than the man holding him.
The Bounous family contacted the people at Guinness to see how we went about qualifying for the record. It turned out that there was a lot of documentation to be done. Suzanne rolled up her sleeves and waded through the paperwork. It took a while, the heliskiing season was drawing to a close, but eventually they were able to set a date to go.
On Tuesday April 5, the Powderbird helicopter took off from its Snowbird helipad and transported Junior, Steve, Suzanne, Ayja and her sister Tyndall, along with a few friends and photographer Sam Watson, to the top of Twin Peaks.
The hardest part was getting Junior out of the helicopter. At 95, his legs don’t bend like at 35.
“Skiing was the easy part,” he said.
After sliding smoothly over the corn snow in the record books, the group took on another race, and another, and another. As a bonus, the helicopter came a long way back, giving Junior a close loop around Mount Timpanogos.
It was more than adequate. In 1961, just 60 years ago, Junior and Maxine, along with Jim McConkey and Elfriede Shane, raced down the face of Mount Timpanogos for a Ski Magazine photoshoot (you can see them on the cover of the edition of January 1962) after being transported to the summit by helicopter.
By 1961, commercial helicopters had barely seen the light of day. It is believed to be the first heli-skiing flight in history.
“Beyond Belief,” was Junior’s description when he landed after his record-breaking flight. “I stand here and feel so sentimental it’s almost hard to talk about it. It was such a special day that was never planned or expected.”
One that was more about where he had been than what he had just done.
“It was the most amazing experience to see him ski like this after one of the most tragic events of his life,” said his granddaughter Ayja. “You could just tell he was in seventh heaven. We all felt that way, just looking at him.”
Ayja is sure her grandmother was there too, and as happy as her husband.
“Skiing and the mountains were what they shared from the start,” she said. “I’m sure she was watching from somewhere, delighted to see him bounce back the way he did, do what they both loved so much.”
After heliskiing, the new world record holder continued his momentum. Junior skied until May, accumulating 72 days for the year. It wasn’t the 160 days of skiing he averaged over his career, but he has 95.
What’s next on the horizon?
“Well, he could do it again next year,” Steve offered. “He could beat his own record. Once on the snow, he is 30 years younger. At least.