Skinner Brothers – Unique History and Lore
Monte and Courtney
Monte anticipates the story Courtney is about to tell about one of their father’s bear hunts.
Evan and Monte
Evan Germeles and Monte Skinner. Evan attended and worked for Skinners’ Youth Camp from 1983-1987.
Rollie Myers is impressed with the extensive display of Skinner Brothers photos, brochures and maps laid out for visitors to peruse.
by Sue Sommers
October 16, 2006
At a Sublette BOCES-sponsored discussion at Rendezvous Pointe last week, Monte and Courtney Skinner provided an entertaining and illuminating history of the Skinner Brothers/Wyoming Outdoors Wilderness Camp, a Pinedale institution well-known to mountaineers and outdoor adventurers across the nation. Approximately 40 listeners, several of whom were alumni of the Skinner Brothers youth program, attended.
The presentation was bittersweet, as last year the family sold the business. Skinner Brothers had spent 49 years packing hunters into the high country and introducing wilderness survival skills to young people. One former camper and counselor testified to the program’s effectiveness at instilling excellent values, personal strength, and problem-solving ability in children as young as 8, and he lamented the lack of any similar programs to take its place. Interestingly, current Pinedale Elementary School principal Greg Legerski is a Skinner Brothers graduate.
Monte began his account with the arrival of the Skinner family to the Pinedale area in the 1930s, when their father, Clem Skinner, worked for Forest Ranger Charles Bayer as a grizzly bear trapper. Monte painted a vivid picture of those Great Depression years, with the CCC Camp at Fremont Lake in full swing, few commodities available, and even less cash. He and his brothers spent a lot of time on homemade skis in the wintertime. The older Skinners were educated in one-room schoolhouses in the area, and later attended high school in Pinedale.
Sonny Korfanta would become not just their ski coach but also a second father to the Skinner boys. All six (Bud, Monte, Bob, Courtney, Quentin and Ole) would obtain degrees from the University of Wyoming. Monte credited Bud with initiating this trend. Bud had insisted that Monte follow him to Laramie after World War Two. It was rare for someone from Pinedale to complete a college education at that time.
After the war, Clem Skinner brought his outfitting operation to Burnt Lake, where the business would remain for almost 60 years. By 1956, the six brothers had bought Clem’s outfitting business. They decided to add a wilderness school, using what Bud had learned in Air Force survival training coupled with the backcountry lessons their Dad had taught them.
It was the first survival/wilderness training school in Wyoming, and over the years Skinner Brothers would help more than 4,000 young campers grow into better, more resourceful people. None of it would have been possible had the six brothers not already learned lessons of endurance, teamwork, and creativity through their various experiences, which included growing up during the Depression in Pinedale, serving in the military, working hard for an education, and helping their father’s outfitting business.
In an understatement typical of him, Courtney said, “We didn’t actually teach much. We let the mountains teach the kids.” The youth program exposed the campers to many challenges and adventures, and thus required them to take a lot of responsibility. They cared for the horses they rode, helped each other, and had work to do around camp. Activities included cattle drives, rock climbing, mountaineering, pack trips, fishing, and rafting the Green River on cumbersome, hand-built log rafts styled after the keel boats of mountain men and pioneers.
Monte and Courtney are proud of (and grateful for) their history of building kids’ characters safely. In all the years, no youth camper or adult hunter was ever seriously injured or died in their care. Even during the Skinner Brothers’ noted “Cowboys on Everest” expedition, all 35 members came home, beating the odds for such a dangerous trip.
The two-hour presentation included many reminiscences and colorful tales from audience members as well as Monte and Courtney. Mary Lynn Worl remembered going to the Prom with Ole Skinner, who as the youngest brother, always wound up with outfits his mother had crafted and recrafted for five brothers before him. Mary Lynn didn’t mind: “He had a suit like nobody else’s!” Several listeners chuckled knowingly when Courtney explained that one of the central tenets of the youth program was to teach campers to be “comfortable in chaos.”
Maria Skinner recalled a conversation she had with Mary Lynn’s mother, Ethelyne. During a rather arduous Skinner Brothers trip in the high country, Maria had begun to suspect that the leaders of the enterprise might have lost the way. When she mentioned it later to Ethelyne, Mrs. Worl had responded, “Why no, dear, they were just in a place they hadn’t named yet!”
Courtney mentioned that in his father’s day, a hunter or other backcountry visitor could expect a pack trip to take a month. He has been dismayed by the trend over time for people to seek shorter and shorter backcountry experiences. Now, he said, people in general spend much less time getting to know the mountains. They expect outfitters to offer 3-day pack trips and are not as willing to make the effort required to stay out longer – and learn more.
Stories and photo by Sue Sommers