Chelan Pauly thrills to the prospects of setting snowshoe trails around Galena Lodge after two or three feet of new snow have fallen on the tracks.
“I usually take along a couple of our loaner dogs to let them mash down the snow ahead of me,” she says, referring to the dogs that greet skiers and mountain bikers from a window opening in the second floor of Galena Lodge. “It’s just a magical experience.”
Pauly can look forward to plenty more such magical experiences as she and her husband Kyle Oldemeyer take over as concessionaires for the rustic lodge in the mountains 24 miles north of Sun Valley.
“It feels like a dream,” says Oldemeyer.
Pauly and Oldemeyer were tabbed by the Blaine County Recreation District’s board of directors to replace Erin Zell and Don Shepler, who want to move on to new pursuits in the spring of 2023 after 15 years of operating the lodge.
Oldemeyer, who grew up in Boise, became acquainted with the lodge in August 2013 when he visited a friend who was teaching mountain bike clinics at Galena. When the 2013 Beaver Creek Fire advanced towards the lodge from Ketchum’s Warm Springs area, he jumped in to help lodge employees hastily cater one last wedding and evacuate the lodge.
The fire ended up being corralled near Baker Lake, and Oldemeyer returned to the lodge the following year to work. There, he met Pauly, a peppy young Whitman College student who had come to visit her twin sister Skye, who was working as a ski instructor. The two became smitten and were married in the meadows outside the lodge on June 25, 2022.
Pauly grew up in Wenatchee, Washington in an outdoorsy family that spent summers at Lake Chelan, for which she was named. Her family worked in the fruit industry, packing apples, and cherries. Pauly pursued track and soccer, cross-country skiing, and backpacking.
She, like Oldemeyer, fell in love with Galena Lodge during her visit and returned to work two seasons teaching skiing and working in the retail shop before trading the invigorating mountain air and local mountain bike trails for a muggy Mississippi, where she learned to canoe and bike flat trails while getting a graduate degree to teach high school science and math.
“I thought she was crazy trading this for Mississippi, but I followed. And I ended up getting a master’s degree in Sports and Recreation Administration,” says Oldemeyer, who got a bachelor’s degree in sports, recreation and tourism at the University of Idaho.
They made their way back to Galena Lodge a few years ago, quickly jumping in and helping Zell and Shepler with the managerial aspects of Galena.
“They’re smart, enthusiastic, and very energetic. They‘ve been kind of managing Galena for a year now, so they’re already very familiar with how things work,” says Joyce Fabre, who got to know the couple as a Nordic patroller at the lodge.
The biggest challenge, Oldemeyer says, will be taking over the apron strings that Don Shepler leaves behind, given Shepler’s extensive culinary background. But Oldemeyer has been working alongside him in the kitchen since 2013. He’s been involved in putting together the summer barbecues, full moon dinners, and 200-member wedding parties.
Since he and Pauley were appointed concessionaires, he’s been testing out new recipes on friends and families, along with honing his skills on dishes like flat-iron steaks and chicken with a lemony white sauce. And he’s even been trying to concoct some homemade Galena Lodge-style fig bars to take their place next to the popular Don Bars.
“The biggest thing Don’s taught me is that you don’t need a recipe—you just go by taste of things. His bible, ‘Salt Fat Acid Heat,’ teaches that it’s a matter of finding the right balance of those four fundamentals. If you do that, you can get endlessly creative,” Oldemeyer says.
Pauly has read Pearl Barber’s book, “The Galloping Ghosts of Galena” frontwards and backwards, trying to imagine what it was like for Barber being snowed in by herself when she ran the lodge as a grocery store.
She and Oldemeyer have experienced what it’s like to spend day after day for weeks shoveling the lodge deck and snow blowing its roof. They’ve had to carry buckets of water from their cabin across the highway to the lodge to wash dishes when the lodge well has gone out. And they’ve had to scurry to save food when power went out and the freezer broke down.
“The whole history of Galena, including the way the community came together in the 1990s to save it, the whole thing is very unique, and we’re very excited to build on that,” says Oldemeyer.
Pauly and Oldemeyer’s wedding in Senate Meadows was the first of many weddings destined to take place at Galena Lodge this summer. They went easy on staff, pitching in to help with the dinner and dance party for 125 people. And, yes, there were cherries from Wenatchee. But no wedding cake.
“I don’t like cake, so we had cookies and brownies, instead,” says Pauly, who spent the weeks before Galena Lodge reopened for the summer season consorting with brides-to-be, even as she took care of the flowers and other details for her own wedding.
Both Pauly and Oldemeyer are passionate about the outdoors, and they hope to pass that passion on to others.
Oldemeyer, who grew up flyfishing, hiking and cooking Dad’s French toast over the campfire, wants to start teen adventure camps at Galena Lodge. And Pauly, who spent a year in Peru, wants to find ways to attract more Hispanics in the Wood River Valley to Galena Lodge. The couple also want to introduce the outdoors to those who have never had much opportunity to take part in outdoor activities.
“We had a group of 18 Afghan refugees from the refugee program in Twin Falls come up here this winter, and we provided them free ski and snowshoe rentals and treated them to lunch. I’d love to do more things like that to be a little more inclusive,” Oldemeyer says.
The couple say they have relished the outpouring of support from the community.
“The Wood River Valley has such a strong community,” said Pauly. “Once people found out that we were taking over for Don and Erin, they really began taking it on themselves to get to know us more.”
“It really feels like everyone is behind us,” adds Oldemeyer.