Love, Skiing, & Explosives – A Story of Gertrude “Jerry” and Jimmie Nunn
Love, Skiing & Explosives

In 1975, one of Flagstaff’s earliest and most devoted skiers married the very first female Forest Service Snow Ranger in the United States. Their story of love and devotion, to snow sports and to each other, is one for the ages.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

Gertrude “Jerry” Nunn

Let’s start with Gertrude “Jerry” Colburn Nunn, a true ski pioneer.

At the age of 14 years old in Sacramento, CA, Jerry was introduced to skiing by a girlfriend. She was an athlete, and the first time she strapped on skis at Soda Springs near Tahoe she fell on her ass and she loved it! She got up again, just to fall again, and she never stopped until the very end.

Now, although women were skiing back in the 30’s and beyond, it was a man’s world. And as Jerry’s interest, skill, and involvement grew, so did the adversity she encountered and she persisted nonetheless. At just 18 years old, she began her upward trajectory as assistant to the ski patrol physician, patroller, then ski patrol, all at Sugar Bowl. But her true contribution and change would begin at Squaw Valley when she was accepted to the Ski Patrol system in 1954.

Jerry and her colleagues at the time were tasked with creating avalanches using the weight and force of their bodies or using dynamite, in order to make the ski areas safe for patrons. This was an extremely dangerous job. After becoming a mother, Jerry applied to become certified as a snow ranger and she was hired as a patroller for the 1960 U.S. Olympic ski patrol team. This is where Jerry meets her future husband, Jimmie Nunn, and when she would also up with avalanche control expert Monty Atwater to develop a new, safer avalanche prevention technology: The Avalauncher.

The Avalauncher. Photo courtesy of Summit Daily.

Atwater had developed an avalanche gun, that would allow patrollers to create preventative avalanches from a greater distance, making the process safer and much more efficient. Jerry and Monty hit the road to sell the avalanche gun, and after Monty could no longer contribute Jerry continued on alone. The technology was often referred to as Jerry’s Gun and a more modern rendition of it is still in use by ski resorts around the world today.

Among the many great things Jerry Nunn accomplished and the many accolades she received, the apex of her journey came in 2004 when she was first Arizonan to be inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame. What an honor!

Jimmie Nunn, age 9, 1936. (Photo courtesy of Jimmie Nunn from Arizona Daily Sun)

Jimmie Nunn

Next, let’s meet Jimmie. As much of a Flagstaff local as anyone, Jimmie came to Flagstaff with his family in 1934 and he took up skiing within just a couple years of his arrival. According the to the Daily Sun, Jimmie was a member of the Flagstaff High School ski team and him and members of the Babbitt family would head up the mountain in his old Model T. Ford. Jerry moved away as a young adult to work as a patroller and then later as an architect.

When Jimmie and Jerry met during their tenure on the 1960 U.S. Olympic ski patrol, they were both married but became fast and long friends. After Jimmie was widowed and Jerry divorced, they married in 1975. Jimmie had become an architect, and the couple retired to Flagstaff in 1985.

The couple ran, and Jimmie continues to run (by appointment only), the Arizona Ski Museum out of the barn on their property in Flagstaff. Jerry passed away in 2009 after a long and full life on the slopes. Jimmie is still a resident of Flagstaff and over the years as rightfully received his own fair share of awards and accolades including the Snowsports Builder Award from the Far West Ski Association.

The Legacy of Jimmie & Jerry

Together, Jimmie and Jerry Nunn represent a life of dedication, service, commitment, and love. They both pursued their passions and their commitments fearlessly and unapologetically, and let us take a page from their books on this Valentine’s Day.

True love to ourselves, is finding what drives us and following the path down which this passion leads.

True love to others, is supporting them on their own path.

May you find true love for yourself and for others as did Jimmie & Jerry Nunn!