The Avalanche Review, VOL. 10, NO. 5, MARCH 1992
Copyright © All Rights Reserved; AAA

Bernie Kingery: 1932-1982

by Larry Heywood

John Bernie Kingery died on March 31, 1982, victim of one of the most deadly and destructive avalanches in U.S. ski area history. At the time of his death Bernie, Mountain Manager of Alpine Meadows, was leading the ski area's battle against one of the largest snowstorms in memory. Bernie died along with six others when a large natural avalanche over-ran and destroyed the building housing the ski area's avalanche control command post. Moments before his death he received a muffled radio call "Avalanche!" from another ski area employee. Bernie's reply, "What's your position?" were his last words.

Born in New Jersey on October 2, 1932, Bernie moved around a lot while growing up. He attended high school in Pennsylvania. This was where he found his lifelong love and future profession, skiing. After a stint in the Army he returned to the University of Delaware to study Civil Engineering and Geology. The attraction of the mountains and skiing pulled Bernie west. In 1959 he started his career in avalanche work at Squaw Valley. He started at the bottom loading lifts, worked his way into lift maintenance and ended up in the avalanche control program. While at Squaw he worked with Atwater, Gallagher, Wilson and Reuter battling the white beast during the historic 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics.

In 1961 he moved to Sugar Bowl, taking over the Ski Patrol Director position. In 1964 he went to Alpine Meadows where he worked until his untimely death in 1982. At Alpine he worked his way through the ranks as ski patroller, avalanche technician, Patrol Director and finally Mountain Manager.

Along the way Bernie established a home in North Lake Tahoe with his wife Julie and daughter Kristen. He and his family lived there until his death. Currently Julie is working on several writing projects. Kristen is studying veterinary medicine at the University of California at Davis. Both are ski instructors at Alpine Meadows.

My strongest recollection of Bernie is from the first day I ever did avalanche control, touched a bomb, saw and experienced an avalanche. In 1970 Alpine Meadows' Mountain Manager, Norm Wilson, hired me as a rookie patroller. I was a 22year-old kid from the city with little mountain savvy and no knowledge of avalanches or explosives, and I couldn't ski powder. Patrolling in those days was quite different from today-half the patrollers, no women patrollers, no radios, no signs or bamboo, no lawsuits and lots and lots of snow.

Anyway, in November 1970, Bernie, then Patrol Director, initiated me into the world of avalanches. At the time Bernie was a long time avalanche hunter who loved control work. I was assigned to be his second on the High Yellow route. In those days this route controlled all the paths from the Summit lift south to Shuttle Cornice; forty-five plus shots, more than forty pounds of explosives for each member of the two-man control team.

We left the top of the Summit lift hiking the ridge top above Alpine Bowl and were immediately in the midst of a blizzard, with howling winds and visibility barely beyond our ski tips. Kingery was hooting and hollering, having a great time . I was totally freaked. Bernie, of course, knew my limitations. He let me feel the power and experience the magic. By the end of the mission, an eternity later, I had struggled with the powder, gotten lost, misplaced Bernie for a while, thrown my first bomb, gotten my first avalanche and was completely hooked. My life took a new direction that day. I'll never forget it.

Bernie's influences within the California avalanche and ski patrol communities were many. While under his guidance and management Alpine Meadows developed its avalanche program into one of the most respected in the country. He helped establish the Far West Professional Ski Patrol Association. Through that organization, as well as others, he taught, trained and coached numerous professional patrollers, volunteer patrollers, general public, law enforcement members, and school students in avalanche phenomena and safety. His attendance at most North American avalanche seminars always brought. his probing questions, challenging ideas and friendly and thought-provoking discussions. He helped establish the Tahoe Nordic Rescue Group. Since its inception to the present this organization has participated in numerous backcountry and avalanche rescues.

He was named outstanding patroller for 1981 by the National Ski Patrol for proficiency in leadership and dedication to ski safety, avalanche safety and accident prevention. His other achievements and accomplishments are too numerous to mention. Bernie loved snow, avalanches, skiing and Alpine Meadows. He died the way he wanted to.

Larry Heywood is the Ski Patrol Director at Alpine Meadows Ski Area. In 1982 he was Assistant Director and the Accident Site Commander of the Squaw Vallev Control Team.

The Avalanche Review, VOL. 10, NO. 5, MARCH 1992
Copyright © All Rights Reserved; AAA