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Byron Nishkian

Hall of Fame Class of 1976

Bio Content

Information submitted in a nomination letter to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame by Henry Berrey, Yosemite Winter Club.

When Byron Nishkian was a small boy in San Francisco, he found he couldn’t participate in Boy Scout summer trips into the Sierras because he was plagued by a violent susceptibility to poison oak. Instead, he went on winter trips to the Donner Summit.

Born in San Francisco in 1916, Byron Nishkian attended the University of California where he competed in hockey and figure skating. He became involved in skiing almost simultaneously with building a mountain home in 1948 at Wawona near Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park. He, his wife Elly, their three children, several dogs and marvelous picnic lunches were a frequent sight at Badger. Byron began to officiate at ski meets as a member of the Yosemite Winter Club. From this humble initiation into the “politics” of skiing, Byron was soon launched onto the regional and national scenes.

Byron became the Yosemite Winter Club president in 1956, joining such greats as Hannes Schroll, Sigi Engel. Luggi Foeger, Charley Proctor and Albert Sigal in assisting in Yosemite’s ski programs. From this point forward, Nishkian’s contributions to skiing were many and significant. While serving as a FWSA Board member, he established the Century Club which grew into a sizable group with contributions of $100 each. From 1959-62 Byron was president of the Far West Ski Association. Highlights from his tenure included launching the association’s European charter flight program; the initial fasching party to send off the first charter flights benefited the U.S. ski team and Far West junior racers.

As in most things western, skiing grew by giant strides. Byron formulated membership programs that resulted in the division’s tremendous growth. During this time, he saw the need for and directed the appointment of the division’s first full-time executive director. With the 1960Squaw Valley Olympics in the planning stages, Byron was made a member of the organizing committee, contributing his administrative abilities and engineering skills to the Winter Games’ planning.

During Nishkian’s first years on the National Board, Gloria Chadwick noted that “by encouraging the USSA executive office and nordic competition personnel to organize a women’s cross-country program, Byron was one of the prime movers in creating such a program for women.”

At the national level, Byron was elected USSA president at the Spokane convention in 1965 and served for three productive terms. His efforts included membership development (e.g., “String Tag” program, instituted with ski industry cooperation, accounted in part for a 42% membership increase); promoting the NASTAR program; and, in terms of history, supporting funding of the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame.

Nishkian was also involved on the international scene as a delegate to F.I.S. congresses. With his wife Elly, he spent six months planning for the XXX F.I.S. Congress in San Francisco in 1975 – the first congress ever held in this country and reportedly one of the most successful ever.

Professionally, Nishkian was involved with the engineering side of the ski business. With his firm, he executed lift and other design tasks for such areas as Badger Pass, Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Mt. Lassen, Rocky Mountain National Park, Homewood (Lake Tahoe), Sugar Bowl, Donner Ski Ranch, Harding Ice Field (Alaska) and the Sikkim Life Line and Chair Lift on the Tibetan border.

In June, 1975, Byron Nishkian was honored with the Julius Blegen Award, the USSA’s highest award to the member who contributed outstanding service to the sport of skiing during the previous year.

Because of Nishkian’s devotion and service to skiing, it might be instructive to speculate on the state of the sport today if young Byron had enjoyed immunity to poison oak.

Byron Nishkian was elected to the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1976.

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