Memories of 'Wild Bill' live on in tribute race

Eaglecrest's final day features obstacle course, fun, smiles

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2010

They called him "Wild Bill" for his zany zest for life and his ever-present smile. An Eaglecrest run, Tug Boat Alley, is named in honor of his time spent in the 1980s as a ski instructor.

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Courtesy Of Terry Hinkley
Courtesy Of Terry Hinkley

On the final day of this year's official operating season, the Eaglecrest ski school will organize the semi-annual Bill Tugman Obstacle course. It's a "for fun" race featuring the "hoops of fire," the "dreaded pole forest," "laundry shoot" and "tunnel of doom."

The course was created by two former ski instructors after Tugman's death on Oct. 30, 1986. The instructors, Terry Hinkley and Doug Peel, wanted to honor "Wild Bill's" memory in a way that not only embodied his love for the slopes and ski instruction, but also his desire to enjoy life.

Peel, who has skied at Eaglecrest Ski Area since its inception, said Tugman first began instructing at Eaglecrest in 1982. Tugman was the kind of guy who always had a smile on his face, he recalled.

"He was a very upbeat, positive person," he said. "He certainly liked to have fun and enjoyed working with the kids on the (ski) hill."

For Hinkley, Tugman was a good friend as well as a co-worker.

"Bill and I used to work at the same ski shop in Montana," he said. "And it was kind of a coincidence that we ended up (in Juneau) together. We did a lot together ... fishing, hunting, skiing. Bill was always a lover of life. He was a great friend. The sad part was that things were really going well for him."

Rachel Lewis, his girlfriend of four years at the time, said she'll always remember his bright orange ski boots, his "awesome" smile and how he loved working with the young Mighty Mite skiers.

A boating trip aboard Lewis' brother's boat, the Danube, was supposed to be a short one - just out to the back side of Douglas Island to check some crab pots. But that day Mother Nature threw the Taku Winds into full force, so much so that Peel said the fishing boat Tugman was on with Scott Lewis and Tom Kelly "just blew over and sank." There were no survivors.

"They did find the (wreckage) with sonar," Hinkley said. "And there were a number of (divers) that went down, but they decided to leave the boat there as a memorial."

"Whenever I go down that way in my own boat," Hinkley said, "I always pause a minute to pay my respects."

"Since he was goofy and silly, we figured the race should also be goofy and silly," Peel continued. "That's why it's so nutty with the bamboo jungle and the hoops of fire, for example. We just tried to make it something that he would have gotten a kick out of."

Jeffra Clough, Eaglecrest Ski School director, said this year the races will begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on Ego.

"It's one of those historical things at Eaglecrest that has evolved over the years," she said. "(But as always) the cost is $1 per run with an unlimited number of runs. Money raised will go toward construction of the new Porcupine Chair lift."

This new lift, scheduled to be completed this summer, will replace the Platter Pole, which has proven to be a challenge for beginning skiers, snowboarders and adaptive users.

While the obstacle course has changed over the years, the goal is still the same: to have fun.

The "dreaded pole forest" or "bamboo jungle" is simply a mass of slalom gates nearly impossible to navigate in a straight line. Hinkley said it's not uncommon to see youngsters seemingly suspended in the web. The "hoops of fire" are hula hoops partially buried in the snow and prove to be humorously difficult for adult competitors, Peel said. Past courses have also featured a few jumps, tight turns and a washboard section.

Hinkley chuckled as he remembered a particular flight from Anchorage to Juneau where Tugman and others where returning after a ski instructor clinic. The group was jovial, and their laughter was drawing looks from other passengers.

Hinkley said Tugman spouted a quote he'll long be remembered for: "People don't like watching others having more fun in life than they are."

Organizers say the race this weekend will be no exception. Fun and laughter are sure to be in ample supply.

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at 523-2271 or

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