“Jupiter” Jones helped open Steamboat’s backcountry
Local skiing legend, founder of Steamboat Powdercats, died late last month
Steamboat Springs — Carroll Sherwood Jones — Jupiter Jones to his friends and to the wide world of skiing — showed up at Steamboat Powdercats one day with a box full of pinwheels, the cheap children’s toys that blow in the wind. It left Steve Roth, operations manager for Powdercats, positively stumped.
What place did the toys have in the backcountry skiing business?
Jones had a plan, though, and days after placing the pinwheels, which sparkled in the sun, on one of the most exposed Buffalo Pass runs, it became clear.
“He pointed them at (Steamboat Ski Area), and sure enough, you could see them, glittering over there,” Roth said.
That glittering caught the notice of other skiers; then, they noticed the ski tracks that weaved down the distant slope. They couldn’t help but ask, “How do you get to ski that?”
The answer was Jones’ company, Steamboat Powdercats, a revolutionary idea for its time, one that allowed skiers into the powder fields of Buffalo Pass, then mostly untouched by crowds of snowmobilers and skiers.
“He’d come in with these ideas, and you’d just always think, ‘How did you ever think of that?’” Roth said. “He spent like $3 on those pinwheels, but it was great advertising. That’s some of the stuff he’d pull off.”
Jones, who moved from Steamboat Springs about 10 years ago, died late last month at 68 years old, but he left a legacy of powder skiing in his longtime hometown, Steamboat.
Jones and his then-wife Barbara started Powdercats in 1983. It still flourishes more than three decades later, an idea ahead of its time. In the years since, backcountry skiing has gone from an expensive niche to a thriving vein of the ski industry, with fat skis and Alpine touring bindings all adapted to make it easier.
“It was the beginning of the snowcat era,” said Mike Rakowski, who started guiding for the company in 1989.
He still guides for Powdercats and maintained a close friendship with Jones, even after he sold the company in 1999.
“He was one of the first ones to do it,” Rakowski said. “The way it all started, he went heli-skiing in Canada and thought, ‘Our snow is better in Steamboat.’”
Those first years were interesting. Jones and Roth were using snowcats — antiquated by today’s standards — to carve out winter roads on Buffalo Pass to allow access for their snowcats and, in turn, for tourists to ski the plentiful powder in the area.
There were hairy moments on the top of knife’s edge ridges and watching avalanches cascade down nearby slopes, and the was plenty of sweat involved with shoveling out those roads by hand.
The skiing, too, took some getting used to for visitors equipped with skis far narrower than the wide powder planks that dominate in today’s backcountry.
“A lot of people were intimidated, because it was bottomless powder,” Roth said. “It’s a completely different way of skiing, so you had to teach them.”
Jones proved the right man for the job. He was described as personable and entertaining, with a child’s wonder and playfulness — “like a 6-month old black lab,” Roth said — but also with a steady hand when it mattered most.
“It took a lot to make him panic or rock his boat,” Roth said. “He was about as level-headed as you could get, but he was a character, that’s for sure.”
Barbara kept the operation running while Jupiter took care of the skiing, and they built a company that thrived on customers coming once, then again and again to quench their powder thirst.
“I think it took someone special to do it,” Rakowski said. “He had that grin that you dream about, a smile every day, skiing, having fun and telling jokes all day. He was a pioneer of the whole snowcat thing. He was a special skier, and he loved the sport.”
The daily maintenance that came with owning the business eventually burned Jones out, and he sold the company in 1999. He left Steamboat several years later, eventually remarrying, to Laura de la Vega, and moving to Mexico, where he most recently lived in the coastal town of Loreto on the Baja California peninsula.
“He was just a good, entertaining man,” said Rakowski, who stayed in touch with Jones through it all.
Jones had dealt with cancer in recent years, and his health had continued to decline recently.
Rakowski said they last talked six weeks ago.
“We talked about sailboats,” he said. “He was always really into the ocean.”
He was also always really into skiing and took some of the biggest names in the sport out on his snowcats, from Olympians, such as local legend Moose Barrows, to industry leaders, like filmmaker Warren Miller, a longtime friend.
“He made a name for himself,” Rakowski said. “Everyone knew about Jumpin’ Jupiter Jones.”
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The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a winter storm warning for much of the West Slope ahead of a major weather system expected in the area starting Thursday.