90-Year-Old McCall Man Touts "Mountain of Youth"
BY DREW DODSON
Reprinted with permission the McCall Star News
Jerry Cornilles’ 60th year skiing at Brundage Mountain Resort may well be his most memorable yet.
Cornilles, 90, returned to Brundage last month to ski after missing the last two seasons to care for his ailing wife, Darlene, who died in February. The two seasons are the only ones he has missed since the resort opened in 1961.
Flanked by family, including his 1-year-old great grandson, Cornilles weaved down Easy Street and rekindled a passion for skiing that began in 1946 and led to a lifetime spent at Brundage.
“When I get on skis, I feel like I’m 17,” said Cornilles, a retired insurance and investments agent. “There’s just nothing like that feeling.”
Cornilles’ return to Brundage this season puts him in rare air as one of few people known to ski the resort at 90 years old, said April Whitney, a Brundage spokesperson.
“We have tons of skiers in their 70s and a surprising number in their 80s, but it’s pretty special to be 90 and still skiing,” Whitney said.
Skiing has been a fountain of youth for Cornilles, who for decades has exercised at the gym daily to ensure he is in shape for ski season.
However, that routine was broken over the last three years as Cornilles took care of his wife of 72 years, a duty he was “honored” to do.
Last month’s outing revealed Cornilles is a shell of the skier he was as recently as the 2019 season, but also left him motivated to regain his form.
“I’ve been going back to the gym every day and I’m determined to get back in shape,” he said. “By next year, I’m going to be ready.”
Cornilles first came to McCall in 1951 for a honeymoon with his wife. The couple stayed in a cabin on Payette Lake for $5 per night.
Soon after, they began skiing at the Little Ski Hill, which was built in 1937 as winter entertainment for local townspeople.
“Even though it was a smaller ski area than Bogus (in Boise), we just liked the feel of it,” he said. “It wasn’t crowded. Even then, Bogus had long lift lines.”
Cornilles and his wife became regulars at Brundage when it opened in 1961. He has purchased a season pass to the resort each year since, apart from the last two seasons that he missed.
“We just didn’t go other places to ski,” he said. “I still say that skiing Brundage mid-week is as close as you’ll come to owning a ski resort because you feel like it’s yours.”
Cornilles still sees Brundage largely the same as it was 60 years ago, despite witnessing a lifetime of changes and expansion at the resort.
Advances in snow grooming technology are among the biggest differences between skiing the resort now compared to 60 years ago.
“We spent a lot of time sidestepping down the hill to groom the runs,” Cornilles said. “As the equipment evolved, it got easier to get out in deep powder.”
Skiing is also much more “user friendly” now thanks to sharp edges on skis that catch the snow and initiate turns for the skier.
“Turning is a different story on seven and a half foot stiff wooden skis,” Cornilles said.
Through it all, Cornilles’ favorite ski run at the resort has not changed.
“I still love North,” Cornilles said, referencing a run at the northern end of the resort. “There’s just some variety and terrain that keeps drawing me back.”
Many of Cornilles’ early excursions to Brundage were captured on film cameras he carried in a leather bag while he skied.
Some of the photos can be seen hanging on the walls of the lodge at Brundage, while others appear in a Brundage history book published in 2012 by Eve Chandler.
“It was just a hobby,” Cornilles said of the historical significance of the photos. “If it had ever crossed my mind, I would have taken a lot more.”