Lloyd and Olive Bolander:  An indelible part of New Mexico’s skiing history

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Lloyd and Olive Bolander in 2004. (Courtesy Photos)

New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame – 2004

—By Ellen Miller-Goins; reprinted from the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle’s 2008/2009 Winter Enchantment magazine. Editor’s note: Lloyd blander died Jan. 20, 2014. His Taos News obituary can be found here.

When Lloyd Bolander first learned as a youngster back in the 1930s, skiing was a wild and wooly sport — especially for fans living in Northern New Mexico. Bolander, a New Mexico native, was living in Peñasco when his dad, a U.S. Forest Service veteran, took him skiing for the first time.

“There was a place on U.S. Hill where we used to climb up and then slide down,” Bolander says. “We had wood skis, no edges, no bindings, just a leather tow strap. We’d slide down in the same track over and over. There was no turning. We had a pole that we carried crossways in front of us to help with our balance.”

Bolander, now in his 80s, graciously consented to a telephone interview 4 years after he and wife Olive were inducted into the New Mexico Ski Hall of Fame for their pioneering role as founders and longtime owners of Sipapu in Vadito.

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Pioneer Skiers – 1937 – left to right Don Bolander (Lloyd’s Brother), Archie Bolander (Lloyd’s Father), ?, Lloyd Bolander, John Maynard, Ruth Bolander (Lloyd’s Mother), ?, ?, Curtis Maynard

Both had been involved with New Mexico skiing long before they built Sipapu. As youngsters, both spent quite a bit of time skiing with the Agua Piedra Ski Club.

“They had members in Las Vegas, Amarillo and Taos,” Bolander says. “My uncle Paul (Bolander) had is now Tres Ritos Lodge, though I think it might be closed. He built that before the war. He had rental skis with bear trap bindings.”

Olive’s family had a cabin in Tres Piedras and drove up many weekends from Lubbock, Texas, to ski, though Bolander says they did not meet until later.

In 1945, as soon as he was old enough, Lloyd enlisted and served in the U.S, Navy during the waning days of World War II (“I didn’t see any combat”) then after the war ended, Lloyd raced with the fledgling University of New Mexico ski team. “I think it was the very first ski team that UNM ever had. We trained at La Madera (now Sandia Peak). They had a rope tow there. We had a couple of races at La Madera and we went to what is now Arizona Snowbowl. The first year we went there I lucked out and won.”

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Lloyd and Olive in front of original lodge, mid 1950s.

Married almost 60 years …

Lloyd met Olive while working summer break at his uncle’s lodge. “I was running the store for him and she came down to the store. It didn’t take long after I met her to decide that’s the kind of girl I want, so it went from there. I got married my senior year.”

Nearly 60 years later, the Bolanders can look back on their legacy that includes their numerous contributions to New Mexico skiing.

Lloyd majored in business and very soon after graduation was involved with skiing, at first as manager of Agua Piedra, then going into business for himself. “When I was still in school, the land where Sipapu is now came on the market so I borrowed some money and bought it. There was an old adobe there, which we remodeled. We borrowed a little bit of money from an aunt and built three cabins and bought 35 pair of used skis, which we rented out of the back porch of the house, and cooked meals for our guests (also in their house). The next year we built the lodge.”

Lloyd says “we made mistakes along the way” but the biggest challenge came from the capriciousness of New Mexico winters. “We had a few years before snowmaking where we didn’t get open by Christmas and one year, I think it was 1981, I don’t think we ever opened. We’d get 5 or 6 inches and go out and foot pack. We’d get it all packed out and then it’d melt. Other years we’d close and reopen.”

How did they survive? “We didn’t have many employees and as I like to say sometimes, we lived off the interest of what we owed! Actually, we didn’t have a lot of debt.”

Teaching kids to ski

The Bolanders built the ski area that now operates under the helm of new owners but perhaps their greatest contribution to the sport is the number of skiers they fostered through numerous school programs all over northern New Mexico. According to Lloyd, in the early days, students got lift tickets, lessons and rentals for 75 cents.

Students came from Taos, Peñasco, Española, Las Vegas, Mora, and even as far away as Wagon Mound and Roy. “A big part of our ski instructors grew up in the area and started skiing with that school program.”

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Lloyd and Olive on GLM skis, late 1960s.

In the early years, Lloyd says, “I did quite a bit of the instruction. I wasn’t certified, though.” Later, the whole family became certified under Cliff Taylor’s Graduated Length Method (GLM) program that had people making parallel turns beginning on 100-centimeter skis, then moving up in increments to longer skis.

“People had a lot of fun and they learned to ski. Short skis didn’t catch on, though, perhaps because they were squirrelly. Now we’re sort of back into it. They came out with blades and short skis and we incorporated some of the GLM back. People have a lot more fun with them.”

The Bolanders were pioneers with a new sport called snowboarding, too. “Bruce and I went to a snowboard clinic that (Jake) Burton put on at Vail. Bruce caught on right away. I had problems. I slammed my front side and a slammed my backside. I haven’t been snowboarding since.”

These days, though they sold Sipapu 7 years ago, the Bolander family still stays involved: “I can go up and ski whenever I want to,” Lloyd says. “I was still teaching last winter and I’ll probably do some this winter but I don’t like the cold. It doesn’t bother Olive. She still skis but she doesn’t ski as much as she used to. Our daughter Sue (Leslie) has stayed on as the ski school director. She takes care of all the school programs that we started.” (Son Bruce gets out, too, occasionally teaching skiing or snowboarding for sister Sue.)

Even though the area sold a few years back, Lloyd says he and Olive had actually retired and turned management over to Bruce almost 20 years ago. Both stay active on their 10-acre property, which is also the home of Bill and Sue’s Two Gray Hares Disc Golf Course. “I’m the groundskeeper here,” Lloyd says with a laugh.

Asked what kept them going all those years, Lloyd says, “It was little bit like Ernie Blake used to say: You don’t go into the ski business to make money, you go into it because you love to ski.”

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The Bolander Family: Lloyd, Bruce, Sue and Olive, mid 1950s.