IN THIS SECTION
Second to None
The Olympic connection to Nordic Town USA
“Nordic Town, USA” (also known as Sun Valley, Idaho) is a community that truly celebrates cross country skiing. Like the five Olympic rings, the coaches, athletes, community, events and terrain of the Wood River Valley link together to create a history—and a future—for Sun Valley’s Nordic scene that is steeped in Olympic tradition. Nordic skiing in the Valley began in earnest in 1970 when a group led by Leif Odmark (the US Men’s Nordic Team head coach at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo) opened America’s first Nordic ski school. Now operated by Sun Valley Resort, the Sun Valley Nordic Center maintains its ties to the Olympics, as the program’s current director is a former Olympian from Czechoslovakia, Ivana Radlova.
A couple years after the Nordic Ski School first opened, Rob Kiesel (who would go on to become the US Cross Country Team head coach at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid) convinced the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) to start a Nordic Junior Nationals division. Four decades later, the program’s history of Olympic coaches continues, as SVSEF’s Chris Grover is the US Team’s head coach for this Winter’s Games in Sochi.
As well as its strong coaching connection to the Olympics, a number of athletes who have grown up as members of SVSEF have gone on to compete in the Winter Games, including Morgan Arritola in 2010 and Lars Flora in 2002. Countless other Nordic skiers from across the West have also moved here over the years to train for Olympic competition, including Chris Cook (who made the 2006 US Olympic Team) and Simi Hamilton (who competed in the 2010 Games). The SVSEF’s Gold Team program, designed for Olympic hopefuls, also has a bumper crop of young skiers vying for glory in Sochi and other future Olympic Games, including Miles Havlick, Matt Gelso, Chelsea Holmes, Mary Rose and Rose Kemp.
Former local Olympians continue to add value to community programs. Betsy Youngman and Laura Wilson Todd (both from the 1998 Games) are coaches for the VAMPs, a cross-country ski training program for women in the Valley. Many VAMPs skiers are among the thousands of participants of the annual Boulder Mountain Tour (BMT). Originating in 1973, the BMT is the one of the oldest continuously run Nordic ski races in the country and is now part of the annual Sun Valley Nordic Festival, a weeklong event filled with races, films, seminars and all kinds of Nordic fun held each January.
Part of the SVSEF’s success is its access to more than 200km of groomed trails around Sun Valley. “In my coaching role with the US Ski Team, I’ve had a chance to cross country ski around the world, and I can say that the trail systems and grooming provided by the Blaine County Recreation District and the Sun Valley Resort are second to none,” says Chris Grover.
At the Lake Creek trailhead, just north of Ketchum, the Olympic rings are now proudly displayed on the SVSEF sign showing the world that the future of Nordic skiing in the Valley will continue its strong link to the Olympics.-Kathleen Kristenson
Passing the Torch
Sun Valley’s alpine Olympic past and future
Sun Valley’s Olympic alpine tradition can be traced, almost magically, to its inaugural season. After representing the US at the Winter Olympics in Germany in 1936, the great Dick Durrance journeyed to Idaho to help develop America’s first destination ski resort. He would go on to win the original Harriman Cup that season, a downhill race that brought the best skiers in the world to Sun Valley each winter for decades.
Durrance would raise the Cup twice more to solidify his legend in Sun Valley, and for the next 75-plus years the resort would fashion its own legacy, serving as host and home to over 25 alpine skiing Olympians. With the 2014 Sochi Olympics this winter, it’s time to ask, “Who will be next to carry on Sun Valley’s Olympic tradition?”
Hailey Duke, a Sun Valley native, was passed the torch in 2010. At the Vancouver Games, Duke raced slalom for the most successful US Ski Team in history, which won eight medals in the alpine disciplines. After securing a World Cup start for the 2012 season, Hailey had to deal with a new challenge. “Everything was going well up until a few weeks before my first race,” says Duke, “when I found out that I had a pituitary brain tumor.”
She’d been nagged by symptoms for some time: hormonal imbalances, headaches, even numbness in her legs. While the discovery was shocking, explains Duke, who underwent brain surgery in February, the removal of the tumor has given her newfound optimism. “I feel like I have a new lease on life and my skiing career. I owe it to myself to go there [to Sochi] and do it again,” she says.
Despite battling a brain tumor and the stiff competition to make the Olympic Team, Duke is focused on making a comeback. As she explains, “I have no idea where it will lead me, but I know right now my goal is: Get to Sochi.”
Along with Duke, two other Sun Valley skiers have Olympic ambitions and face similar odds. Entering just his third season with the US Ski Team, Tanner Farrow is, more than anything, trying to regain his form after missing last season with a torn hamstring. Wing Tai Barrymore, who hopes to compete in the newly created skiing halfpipe, has had three blown ACLs over the last two seasons. But as alums of the SVSEF, Farrow and Barrymore understand the trials of an Olympic journey.
According to SVSEF’s alpine director, Ruben Macaya, Sun Valley’s community of skiing legends has been very influential. “Those Olympians definitely motivate us,” he says. Embracing that legacy, SVSEF included some inspiring touches to its training center at the base of Warm Springs. Specifically, explains Macaya, who himself represented Argentina in the 1968 Winter Games, “In the entrance, there’s a big glass door with a window that lists the names of all the Olympians that came out of SVSEF. And at the bottom, it says, ‘Your Name Here.’” Between Duke, Barrymore and Farrow, not to mention a prodigious crop of up and comers, there’s no doubt that Sun Valley’s illustrious list will grow for years to come. -Alec Barfield
Local snowboarders shoot for gold
“In Idaho, I think we’re all a specific breed,” states 23-year-old Kaitlyn Farrington, who grew up snowboarding on Baldy and is a very strong contender for a spot on the US Women’s Snowboard Team for the Sochi Olympics. Whether it’s the mountain geography, the athletic community or something more,
at the heart of the Wood River Valley lies an undeniable recipe for breeding Olympic athletes.
Snowboarding as we know it began to develop in the late-1960s as a conglomeration of surfing, skateboarding and skiing. But it didn’t enter the Olympic arena until 1998 in Nagano, Japan.
For a relatively infant sport, Sun Valley already claims quite the history of Olympic snowboard athletes. Eighteen-year-old Chase Josey was born in the Wood River Valley, and soon thereafter was making his way down the mountain on skis. At the mature age of five, his dad taught him how to snowboard on Dollar Mountain and it was all downhill from there! Chase joined the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) snowboard team when he was just nine and began focusing on halfpipe at the start of high school. With exceptional results in Grand Prix and World Cup events, Chase was invited to join the US Snowboard Team his senior year in high school, and now is hoping to become one of the top four US men that will compete in the halfpipe at Sochi.
“I’m excited to compete with such a field of riders. Everyone is going to give it 100% and I’m excited to give it my best effort,” says Josey, while at home in Sun Valley, where he spent time this fall training in the gym and in the SVSEF’s “Air Barn” in Elkhorn, which offers foam pits, a trampoline and a slack line.
It actually took Sun Valley a while to introduce a terrain park as part of the resort experience, but in recent years such facilities have been growing. Last year, there was an Olympic-size halfpipe with 22-foot-high walls for Chase and others to fly, spin, flip and twist out of over and over again. Sun Valley’s terrain park is now highly renowned and offers local competitors a state-of-the-art training ground.
“Those who came before my generation set the stage and created heroes. A lot of the earlier Olympians from the area remain involved and supportive of the athletic community. The original Olympians, and all of us, benefit from the outdoor lifestyle of Sun Valley,” says Graham Watanabe, another born and raised Sun Valley local who is a two-time Olympian in boardercross. He adds that “the challenging and consistent pitch top-to-bottom that Baldy offers breeds all-around good skiers and snowboarders alike.”
Whether it’s local legend Sondra Van Ert, who raced Snowboard Giant Slalom in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, or Kaitlyn Farrington, who hopes to be flying high on the US Halfpipe team this winter in Sochi, Sun Valley fosters a vibrant community of Olympians past, present and future.
Sun Valley on Ice
A history of hosting Olympic skaters
After one of those horrendous airline travel mishaps, Zach Donohue, the bronze medalist at the 2012 US Figure Skating Nationals, finally arrived for his first time to Sun Valley. After Scott Irvine, Sun Valley’s rink manager, gave Donohue a quick tour of the outdoor rink, a glance at the glow of the mountains and a first step into the indoor rink, Irvine can still remember Zach’s tired face transform into a smile as he said,
“I think I just found where I want to retire.”
Sun Valley’s year-round indoor and outdoor ice facilities have attracted Olympic and world-renown skaters since its famous summer ice shows began in the 1930s. The Summer Ice Shows have hosted numerous Olympic skaters and the list of the best-of-the-bests whose blades have hit the ice during their prime is never ending and, quite frankly, jaw-dropping. It includes Dick Button (1948 and 1952 Olympic gold medalist), David Jenkins (1960 Olympic gold medalist), Dorothy Hamill (1976 Olympic gold medalist), Brian Boitano (1988 Olympic gold medalist), Evan Lysacek (2010 Olympic gold medalist), Scott Hamilton (1984 Olympic gold medalist), Kristi Yamaguchi (1992 Olympic gold medalist), Katarina Witt (1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medalist), Viktor Petrenko (1992 Olympic gold medalist) and Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin (2006 Olympic gold medalists in pairs).
So, how does Sun Valley attract the relentless list of World Champions and Olympians? Irvine beams that, “Sun Valley is one of those magical places that once you get here, you just keep wanting to come back.” The Sun Valley Ice Show series are famed among the professional ice skating community for being fun and unique opportunities to train and perform, while simultaneously enjoying the beauty, the delighted audiences and endless amount of other recreational opportunities the Valley has to offer.
The Sun Valley Ice Shows are one of the only places that you can see Olympians up close and personal—not to mention doing so while enjoying fine dining and fabulous fireworks on an outdoor terrace. The shows also offer an incredible opportunity for local skaters. The next generation of Idaho skaters performs in the ensemble casts and, in some cases, literally gets to skate alongside their heroes.
Countless Olympian and National Champion ice skaters now coach in Sun Valley and call it home as well. The list of Sun Valley skating transplants includes 1980 Olympic team member Lisa Marie Allen, four-time consecutive US Championships gold medalist (1977-1980) and 1980 Winter Olympic silver medalist Linda Fratianne, and Sonya Klopfer Dunfield, the 1951 US National Champion (at age 15) and 1952 Winter Olympian. Dunfield, whose husband Peter is also a world-class skater and coach (and worked at the Sun Valley Lodge as a bellhop in the early days), explains that she and her husband “have fallen in love with Sun Valley and that’s why we live here now … and because we know if we’re here, our sons will come and visit.”
No matter what first gets you to the splendor of Sun Valley’s ice rinks, there is no doubt you will be back and enjoying the parade of World and Olympic Champion skaters, because … well … that’s Sun Valley’s magic for you. -Kira Tenney