In the 1970s, before Boise State was famous for its blue turf, the Broncos had a highly successful men’s skiing program that produced the school’s first national champion, only to have the program cut the following year.
The state of Idaho has a rich history of skiing and is home to some of the world’s premier skiing resorts. Bogus Basin provides the people of Boise great slopes while only being 30 minutes from the city.
Bill Shaw arrived on Boise State’s campus in the 1970s. Billy, as he was known, grew up in nearby Sun Valley, Idaho.
“Billy was always a standout athlete and since we grew up in a mountain town, skiing was the thing to do,” said Mike Fitzpatrick, who grew up in Ketchum with Shaw. “He would have excelled in any sport that he did.”
Before arriving at Boise State, Shaw had already won the U.S. Junior National Championship in downhill skiing and was just coming back from competing in Europe.
“In ’72 I had just missed out on competing on the Olympic team for Montreal so I didn’t really know what to do,” Shaw said. “The main goal in skiing is to make the Olympics and getting a scholarship is more of a secondary (goal), much different than it is in sports like basketball or football.”
Lyle Smith was the head football coach of Boise Junior College (now Boise State) from 1947 to 1967 and the athletic director from 1968 to 1981. In the fall of 1973, Smith came to Ron Sargent to talk about putting together a ski team.
“Ron Sargent was very knowledgeable in skiing and was familiar with all the skiers in the Northwest,” Shaw said. “He began to talk to Lyle about creating a ski team. Ron then convinced me to come to school, but I had a couple good years in football before this so I said I would come to Boise if I could play football. I had a scholarship for both the football and ski teams.”
Shaw’s football career for the Broncos was short-lived.
“I was way back on the depth chart,” Shaw said. “I played on the scout team as an outside linebacker, so basically a tight end that couldn’t catch.”
In 1973, Boise State football finished with a 10-3 overall record, winning the Big Sky Conference and losing in the Division II semifinals to Louisiana Tech. Shaw’s season was over and he began to get ready for the Broncos’ inaugural ski season in the winter of 1973-74.
“Ron Sargent and Lyle Smith should be accredited with getting this team together,” Shaw said.
The first team of Bronco skiers was a rag-tag group. Only Shaw had any experience at the national or international level.
“I was able to do both downhill and cross-country, but we needed members to (ski) jump, so Ron put an ad in the Boise student paper for people to jump,” Shaw said. “Two guys came out, who had never jumped in their life, intelligent guys but definitely consider them stoner-types. Very funny guys, they called themselves Igor and Egor. Ron pulled them out of the woodwork and just coached them, and we were able to make NCAAs.”
The 1974 Big Sky Conference meet was held at Bogus Basin. Boise State swept the first three spots in the downhill and then won the meet over regional foes Montana and Montana State. Ron Sargent was named the Coach of the Year for the conference.
The NCAA national championships were held in Jackson, Wyoming that year. Shaw won the slalom as a true freshman, becoming Boise State’s first national champion, capping a highly-successful first season for the Boise State Ski Team.
James Bowes, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, joined the team as a freshman in the fall of 1975.
“My ski coach knew Ron Sargent and said you might want to think about going up there,” Bowes said. “I had no idea Boise State had a ski team; I was basically a walk-on.”
Towards the end of the 1975 season, there were rumors that Boise State was going to cut the ski program.
“Lyle (Smith) wanted it to stay, but with Title IX just coming into play, Boise State was going to have to cut some sports to make room for others,” Shaw said.
Title IX meant that Boise State would have to provide equal opportunities for both men and women, and to afford the influx of new women’s sports they were going to have to cut some men’s sports as they couldn’t afford to fund all the programs.
“The athletic director had a meeting with each of us to say the program was going to be cut,” Bowes said. “He was really nice about it, but it was pretty ironic that the next year, they started construction on a press elevator for the football stadium.”
Unlike Shaw, who transferred to the University of Wyoming, Bowes stayed at Boise State to finish his degree in geology.
“It was a bummer,” Bowes said. “I would have liked to continue skiing, and I could have transferred to Wyoming, but it was pretty obvious they needed to cut the sport in order to free up money for the football team.”
Shaw continued skiing, eventually leaving school early to become a professional.
“In ’76 I was seventh in the world in the giant slalom, but knew I wasn’t going to get selected to compete in the Olympics so I decided to go pro,” Shaw said. “I left school early and went pro, joining the World Pro Ski Tour. I was sponsored by the Sun Valley Ski Patrol and Steve Wynn (of Wynn Resorts). There was about 250-300 bucks put up for me and my first race was at home in Sun Valley. At that first race of the tour, almost 5,000 people showed up.”
Shaw continued to compete around the world for the next nine years, the last four in Japan.
In 1982, Shaw was inducted into Boise State’s Hall of Fame. He retired from professional skiing in 1984.
Today, Shaw lives in Colorado but owns a house in Sun Valley, where he still skis with his kids.