One of the original pioneers of skiing in the Pine Pass has passed away.
Ferdinand "Ferry" Strobl, who was 81 years old when he died on Dec. 14 following a battle with cancer, is being remembered as an avid outdoorsman who played an instrumental role in establishing Azu Ski Village, the precursor of present-day Powder King.
"He was the face on the hill," said Ilona Breckon, who is putting together a history of 60 years of skiing in the area,. "Everyone associates Ferry with Azu."
An electrician by trade, Strobl grew up in Graz, Austria and moved to Canada in 1951 where he worked for a period in a coal mine in Fernie before heading further north to Prince George in 1952.
It was the same year the John Hart Highway was opened and Strobl was among the outdoor enthusiasts who took full advantage although the stretch remained a gravel road for many years thereafter. They would "think nothing of driving for three or four hours" to reach the Pine Pass where they would "explore, hunt and ski," said Breckon.
She has photos of Strobl and her father, George Kortvelyessy, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia who also arrived in Prince George in 1952, on various exploits.
One is of a bear strapped over the hood of a Volkswagen Beetle - these were the days before the invention of the sport utility vehicle. Another is of Strobl sitting on a shear cliff side with a pair of binoculars taking in a spectacular vista.
"Being from Europe, these guys were climbing mountains before they even came here," Breckon said. "So when they were able to get to the pass and saw these mountains, they were in their glory, they felt like they were home."
They were quick to act on that impulse. Kortvelyessy applied to purchase property at Azouzetta Lake - also known as Summit Lake because it was near the highest point in the Pine Pass - in September 1952 and became a proud owner by 1954.
Strobl, who also bought property in the area within a few years, and Kortvelyessy, who passed away in 1992, soon began work on a cabin while, Leo Bigallie built Half-Way Lodge on a neighbouring site.
Both were located across the highway from the "Pine Pass Burn," a site a forest fire had ready-made for skiing, and many of the regulars would spend their nights in the cabin.
The first ski race was held there in 1955 when a bus was arranged to transport competitors to the site and within a few years it had become a busy spot. But as far as Breckon could determine, skiers continued to pack their own runs until well into the 1960s.
Strobl was one of several shareholders when, in 1965, Azu Ski Village was started and eventually grown into four runs with a T-bar and an 11-acre weekend cottage subdivision.
Strobl had his share of scrapes and bruises along the way. Near the finish line of a race in 1964, he fell and broke both his legs. And in 1968, while clipped onto the T-bar's highest tower, a temporary guy wire snapped and the tower fell. Strobl needed six months to recover from the injuries.
Strobl was also known for his archery skill. He hunted with a bow and was one of the original members of the Silvertip Archery Club. According to a story in a 1957 edition of the Citizen, he brought down four bears with five arrows in the previous two years.
In 1979, the founding investors sold out and Powder King was launched on an adjacent site to the north. Although worse for wear, the towers for Azu's T-bar can still be found and Azu Ski Village remains incorporated.
When not in the outdoors, Strobl ran an electrical services business. He also attained a pilots licence and owned a bush plane. In 1989, he moved to Wynndel, B.C. to retire but one of his last wishes was to have his ashes spread over the Pine Pass.
"It was kind of a group of people who just thought the skiing there was great and something needs to be developed," Breckon said. "Ferry was the guy who was involved in it from the very beginning, the conception of it and then the actual building of it."
Strobl is survived by his wife, Karla, and five children - Ron (Caroline), Margit, Brenda, Jamie, Eric, (Marjorie) and Joyann - and many grandchildren.