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Thomas "Tom" Jacobson, Jr.

Birth Date: March 7, 1930
Death Date: July 28, 2013
Age at Death: 83


Cindy Jacobson


Vail Daily page A4 - December 12, 2013
As we recall his story, skiing bit Dad at an early age while growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich. He skied wherever he could in northern Michigan, whenever he could, and it made it easier for him when his parents moved back to his father’s hometown, Frankfort, Mich., when Dad was still in high school. Even after marriage and starting a family in Frankfort, Dad pursued his passion for skiing at Up North ski areas. He was one of many in Frankfort and Benzie County who loved to ski, so in the mid-1950s it became a huge multi-family endeavor to find a place to accommodate a ski area for families and promote skiing. It happened near Thompsonville, and Buck Hills was born. All of these families came to work, clear-cutting trees to create three runs: The Buck, The Doe and The Fawn. Mastering three rope tows is a memory all its own. The warming hut had the best smells of homemade chili and plenty of hot chocolate, but the outhouses were too far away. Our ski boots were leather and fit like bedroom slippers. It was a great place to create trails in the trees, which became hideaways for a couple of kids who were always thought to be lost. It was also the start of Dad’s teaching experience; he had been skiing many years already, so he was a natural. His lessons were not only in skiing, but also skier etiquette. In 1956, Tom and Marge, our parents, drove west to Utah with a large group of skiers from Benzie County to ski at Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Large mountains, avalanches, fluffy powder snow and Alf Engen. They did the same in 1958. This was a whole new way of skiing, and Dad was not only bitten by it, he was hooked. In the fall of 1960, Mom and Dad left the beautiful idyllic town of Frankfort, Lake Michigan and Buck Hills (now Crystal Mountain) for Sandy, Utah. Mom and Dad worked at the Hercules Power Plant at Bacchus where the Minute Man missile was assembled. Days off were spent skiing at Alta. We lived at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon and the kids were enrolled in the Alf Engen ski school where we thrived learning to ski in the mountains. We learned we were the only kids in our ski school classes who skied! Dad honed his skills not only with Alf at his side, but Eddie “Mo” Morris, skiing deep powder, sometimes bottomless, perfecting his style, becoming a PSIA white pin instructor, which was just the beginning of his dream to come. Not only did he make his style of weight transfer an art, so was planting the pole — index fingers out. Mastering the “Alta Outhouse Crouch,” and with Alf’s blessing, Dad and his new wife, Ellen, headed for Colorado with hopes of working, living and Dad teaching in Vail. While waiting for that acceptance of a ski instructor’s position, Dad and Ellen worked at brother Bob’s ranch near Bayfield. That acceptance did happen in the early fall of 1964; off to Vail. Sharon was a part of that move and enrolled in school at Battle Mountain High School, which was in Red Cliff until the new high school was finished in Maloit Park. Dad was busy with his new position as a full-time ski instructor, booking his own private lessons. Word spread very quickly about his technique, style and fun-loving personality. That never wavered throughout his career. Tom’s reputation on the slopes in Vail grew quickly, and within a few years he was booked one and two years ahead. His clientele was diverse and from all over the world. They were committed to a great way of skiing and they were loyal. He taught several generations of families. Dad’s own kids continued to ski and some of us have worked or work in the ski industry as of today. We all raced at various levels. Now we are either avid skiers and/or are occasional skiers. Skiing has been passed along to our own children and now our grandchildren are on the slopes. We still try to use the same skills Dad taught us. Being able to pass this ski legacy to our children and grandchildren is something we cherish from our own early childhood skiing beginnings. Dad’s kids are accomplished skiers, and we are grateful that we had great beginnings on the slopes. After Michael joined Dad and Ellen in 1967, his memories are of Jeeping on the mountain roads, riding in the semi-truck during the summers and, of course, skiing. As we grew up and started our own families it became more difficult to visit Dad. When we were able to get to Vail we did have the privilege of skiing with Dad and his clients. It wasn’t only a ski lesson for the client, but one for us, and a special time to be able to spend with Dad while skiing his favorite runs. There was always a contest among a few of his clients and himself of how many vertical feet they each skied that day, and it was a tally at the end of the ski season. To this day we could pick out a skier who may have had Tom Jacobson for an instructor. Tom Jacobson Jr. was born March 30, 1930, in Evanston, Ill., and passed away July 28 while at his winter home in Honolulu. He is survived by his wife Cindy, of Denver; and also by his children Sharon (Lints), of Wanship, Utah; Linda (Mark Oleson), of Park City, Utah/Frankfort, Mich.; Thomas III (Marybeth), of South Portland, Maine; Karl (Vicki), of Wanship, Utah; and Michael, of Galveston, Texas; 15 grandchildren; 20 great grandchildren; two nephews; and one niece. He is preceded in death by his parents, Thomas Sr. and Marguerite Brewer; and brothers Warren (Bim) and Robert (Bob). Dad is always in our hearts and will remain there. We love you, Dad. Thank you for involving us in your passion of skiing. Happy skiing, Dad. — Sharon, Linda, Tom III, Karl and Michael Jacobson.
Vail Daily page A2 - September 25, 2013
VAIL — For Thomas Jacobson Jr., powder skiing was like life.

Be consistent, face your mountains squarely and have fun.

Jacobson died July 28 at his winter home in Honolulu with his wife, Cindy, at his side. He was 83.

Like most of us, he did all sorts of things for a living: He was a cross-country trucker, worked in the family heating business and built all sorts of buildings around Vail. But Thomas Jacobson Jr. was a skier to his very soul.

“To all of Tom’s clients and friends, know that he is skiing freely and untethered through the heavens, keeping a watchful eye on all,” Cindy said. “You may hear his instructions whisper in the wind as you ski Vail’s slopes, particularly on Riva, just where it drops over into Tourist Trap. Click your poles as he did and say ‘Hi,’ as you pass by.”

Do what you love, love what you do

“During the winter, I’m teaching skiing to people and talking to them about skiing every day, all day long,” Jacobson said. “But when summer comes and I go back to driving trucks, I just head out, put my earphones on and turn the volume up to full blast on my stereo cassette player. There’s nothing to worry about but me, my truck and the road. Driving a truck cross country is fun, but I guess I really like skiing better than anything.”

When he retired from teaching full time in 1997, at age 68, he’d logged 33 years of teaching full time in Vail and 41 years total teaching the sport he loved so much.

In 1984, Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm named Jacobson a “Colorado Ski Industry Pioneer.” He was cameoed in Dick Hauserman’s book, “The Inventors of Vail.” In 2009, he was nominated to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame.

He wasn’t in it for riches. His April 30, 1974, paycheck showed his take home pay was $504.11; $690 gross pay for 115 hours is $6 an hour.

Don’t sit back, don’t lean forward

“There’s a big misconception about sitting back when skiing powder,” Jacobson said. “Once you sit back, you’ll find it very hard to steer your skis with your knees. Then again, if you lean too far forward and break at the waist, the tips will dive. You need to stay neutral over your skis for most types of snow.”

Born in Evanston, Ill., March 7, 1930, he grew up in Frankfort, Mich. After graduation in 1948 as part of the largest class in Frankfurt High School history, 41 students, he attended Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis, where he also played semi-pro football. He returned to Frankfort and the family heating business, but by then, skiing was part of his soul.

In 1955, he spearheaded the creation of what is now Crystal Mountain Ski Resort in Michigan. He was the first ski school director and coached the high school ski team.

In 1960, he moved to Alta, Utah, drawn by its bottomless powder skiing. He taught skiing under Alf Engen and soon gained notoriety for his “unique deep powder technique.”

Change directions, Be adaptable

“Stay with it. Hold that edge until you cross the fall line and then roll your knees into another edge and turn the other way,” Jacobson said.

In 1963, he visited Vail and was persuaded to move here to work as a contract ski instructor.

In the 1965 ski school video, he is one of the 21 ski instructors. Many of Jacobson’s devoted clients from Alta followed him to the new Vail ski area, and several became early investors in Vail.

He also taught most of the early partners in Vail Associates. As his clients’ friends and families came to visit, he became their instructor as well. You ski because you love it, and you invest yourself in what you love.

“His love for the sport of skiing and teaching contributed greatly to the enjoyment all his clients found in Vail,” Cindy said.

In several cases, he would have families with three generations skiing with him. Tom worked construction in the summers and helped build the Covered Bridge, the Covered Bridge Store and Sandstone condominiums.

For years, a 2-by-4 foot character painting of Tom, up to his nose in powder, hung on the outside wall of the Gondola One building. It was moved to the Golden Peak warming house and later to the Colorado Ski Museum.

Keep pressing forward

“Your ankles should be touching the front of your boots. It helps keep your weight over your skis and your ankles flexed so that you can steer your skis. Without that pressure, your weight will fall back and you’ll lose control of your skis,” Jacobson said.

As his fame grew, he was featured in several magazines and was frequently sought after for various ski and promotional films. As a member of the Intermountain Professional Ski Instructors of America, he conducted many of their clinics. He later wrote the deep powder skiing section for the PSIA manual. In these early years, he became friends with Howard Head and spent many hours testing Head’s revolutionary new metal skis.

Consistency counts

“A good powder skier skis from top to bottom at the same speed. He keeps the upper body facing down the hill and uses the knees and feet to angulate,” Jacobson said.

Tom Jacobson’s worldwide reputation soared to new heights in the 1970s and ’80s with articles published on his powder skiing technique. Articles in Sports Illustrated, Colorado Magazine, Northwest Orient Inflight Magazine and Signature magazine for Diners Club touted his skiing and teaching abilities.

Not to be left out, Town & Country magazine called him “Vail’s most sought after instructor to ski with,” and Vogue chimed in with a similar article. His notoriety grew with articles in several newspapers across the country, and internationally in a Swedish ski magazine.

Stand up straight

“On a steep hill, when conditions aren’t the best, tuck your chin. It helps keep your back straight and your weight over your skis,” Jacobson said.

There was even an after dinner/apres ski drink named after him. The Lancelot’s apres ski drink menu boasted “Tom Jacobson’s Deep Powder,” tequila and schnapps for $5.95.

The memorial to Tom Jacobson’s life has already been given by those who came to see him in Denver and Hawaii and kept in touch by phone or email, Cindy said.

In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum in Tom’s name would be appreciated, Cindy said.

Contact the museum at 970-476-1876.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and