IN THIS SECTION
IF YOU PARTY, THEY WILL SPEED FLY
The Story of Will Burks’ Backyard Boogie
Speed flying was a sport on the rise when Will Burks first piloted over Hailey’s Quigley Canyon a few years ago. A high-adrenaline blend of paragliding and B.A.S.E. jumping, speed flying might just be the next fixture in action sports (Red Bull and GoPro already sponsor the sport’s premier athletes).
With wings that are smaller than those used in paragliding (the latter averages 23 square meters, whereas Burks’ speed flying wing measures in at only 11), speed flying is fast—really fast. Rather than gliding at altitude, speed flyers focus on bone-chilling descents, often swooping just feet from a slope. Even so, “speed flying” is still a term on the fringe. To the unenlightened masses, it’s paragliding with a vengeance.
Seated at his Hailey home, where a windsock flaps in the yard behind him, Burks isn’t worried about semantics. He compared speed flying, which, unlike paragliding, is presently unregulated, to snowboarding in its early days: “People fly where they want, when they want.” Things are still maturing in the U.S., where speed flying doesn’t have the history that it does in Europe. “In the States, the guys that are the most badass now were just learning seven or eight years ago,” explained Burks.
Left: Hiking up Red Devil Mountain.
Right: Backyard Boogie participants set upcamp in Will Burks’ yard.
So in 2011, Burks decided to host an event reflective of speed flying’s rawness and his own experimental paradigm—a homegrown gathering in which everybody would literally hike, launch and land in Burks’ backyard. Forget corporate sponsors and a press release, Burks’ Backyard Boogie would be a speed-flying celebration, nothing more.
The night before the second annual Boogie last June, Burks’ front yard is quiet and empty, but he’s expecting visitors, lots of them, to fill any open space. “Everybody’s bringing their tent. We’ve got two porta-potties, a dumpster and a BBQ I made. It’s going to be way bigger than last year,” smiled Burks, talking of the weekend-long party. Word had spread online, through friends and via word of mouth—one guy is flying in from Puerto Rico, supposedly. But without any kind of formal registration, the event will have to shape itself. Said Burks, “Everyone just shows up at a drop zone.”
Almost miraculously, Burks’ “drop zone,” the Old Cutter’s subdivision of Hailey, is directly behind his childhood home, where he now lives with his wife, Lori, and their two sons, Eliot (6) and Isaac (4). Not only has the space not been developed as planned, but just east of it is Red Devil Mountain (6,594 ft.), which Burks can climb in 30 minutes and which will serve as the primary jump site for the Boogie.
Outside Hailey, Burks’ other drop zone is Sun Valley’s Greyhawk parking lot. As a pro-skier with film credits for Teton Gravity Research (TGR), Burks was able to merge the two sports—skiing and paragliding—with ease, despite the fact that launching his wing, tapping the slope on skis and flying away is nothing short of crazy. Yet for Burks, “Speed riding combines something I’ve done my whole life with something new.”
On the morning of the Burks’ Backyard Boogie, “new” is the word of the day—new friends, new wings, new ideas. While attendees file in and make camp, Burks leads a first group up Red Devil around 10 o’clock. Watching them fly off the top, it’s clear that nobody’s going to soar leisurely. “You commit to dropping in and you’re not stopping,” described Burks. “You have to look ahead, be confident, go where you want and enjoy it at the same time.” Moreover, understanding the weather is critical and that day conversation teemed with talk of good thermals and favorable winds for flying. The plan the following day was to launch off Della Mountain (6,729 ft.), but, like the sport of speed flying itself, there is uncertainty regarding the forecast.
Between its diverse attendees—seasoned speed flyers like Marshall Miller mixed it up with complete newcomers—and intimate setting, Burks’ Backyard Boogie is evidence of a sport in maturation, as well as some insight into the people, like Burks, who are pushing it in new directions. Speed flying is neither paragliding nor B.A.S.E. jumping, but a hybrid that has brought new life to the world of wings.
IN THE PROSPECTOR’S SHADOW
Bike Tours to Idaho Ghost Towns
Beasts of burden fitted for the 21st century, our mountains bikes are mechanical horses leading us toward discovery. Through colorful meadows and up dusty canyon roads, we pedal our titanium and carbon fiber stallions into remote areas of the Idaho wilderness searching for reward in the form of beauty and peace, thrills and a little exercise. We are the new pioneers: settlers who built communities based on recreation.
Most of our predecessors, miners of the Old West, couldn’t sustain their camps; they came to Idaho in hordes around 1860, pining for gold, often only to abandon the project en masse before the turn of the century. But in their brief stint they, too, traveled deep into largely uncharted territory, panning, digging and erecting boomtowns along the way. When the mines shut down, these communities were deserted, yet fragments remain. Trails and wagon roads abound. Rotting log cabins and even enormous dredges can be uncovered, but only for those who venture forth.
In biking to such ghost towns, we ride in the shadow of Idaho’s early prospectors, saluting their efforts and difficulties. As historian, Rodman Paul wrote, “Idaho’s old mining areas are spectacular in their natural beauty. Some are raw and scarred. Some yield exciting, some rather mundane, histories. But they all reflect something of the people who scratched out a hard living in a sometimes hostile land.”
In honor of our Old West predecessors, here are three bike rides, a less destructive way of striking gold, which lead to some of southern Idaho’s most enchanting ghost towns.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
The People, Places and Past of the “Bike Path”
If there’s one thing this community has, it’s access … to the great outdoors and all it has to offer. And the Wood River Trail, lovingly known as the “bike path,” managed by the Blaine County Recreation District (BCRD), is the centerpiece of the simplicity of this access. Spanning 20 paved miles from Bellevue’s south valley, up through Hailey and into Ketchum’s northern parts (with an additional 10 miles taking a circuitous route through Elkhorn and Sun Valley), the trail connects our community in many senses of the word.
This multi-use pathway serves as a year-round source of activity. The summer months are undoubtedly the busiest as a myriad of wheels are spinning; wheels of bikes, strollers, scooters, rollerblades and rollerskis all power north or south and back again. Runners and walkers, often with dogs at their side, adorn the paved path in spades.
In winter, the trail is inviting, too. Nordic skis, snowshoes and winter bike tires track the groomed (and free) trail. Easy and convenient, it winds you along a gently undulating trail for as long or as short as you’d like.
It’s a steady stream of people, all there for different reasons, traveling at different paces. Some venture to work. Some walk to the Big Wood River to observe rising rainbow trout. Others put the hammer down and go hard for their hearts. Kids skip and run and play along the way as others rest on one of the memorial benches. It’s different for everyone and that’s the beauty of it; one and all can enjoy the Wood River Trail (WRT).
The WRT is steeped in history and interpretative signs give insight into our past along the way (maps with self-guided historical tours are available): the robust mining history of the 1880s; the sheep ranching ventures of the 1930s; and the Union Pacific Railroad line of the 1950s and 60’s all speak to those who have traveled here before us. It gently reminds us that we should not take this path or this place for granted.
The very route of the train that brought the first skiers to the Sun Valley Resort in 1936 was converted to this efficient conduit in the 1970s. A succinct group of visionaries saw opportunity in the deserted rails and set out to recreate the lay of the land. Although its route is marked by a single flat line on the map, for 30 years the WRT has added a depth and richness to our community in real-life 3D.
Kris Stoffer, the Director of Development of the BCRD, extrapolates this point. She sees “the WRT not only as a physical connector for our community, providing a safe way to move up and down the Valley, but as a symbolic one as well, reflecting our shared values of healthy active recreation, an appreciation for the outdoors and for the rich history of our Valley.”
“All three of my children learned to ride their bikes and Nordic ski on the WRT,” Kris continued. “There are 30 years of stories from families and visitors who have spent time on the trail, learning and commuting and recreating.” The users are like “dots” being connected in empowering and powerful ways.
Stoffer inspired me to share one of my more memorable experiences on the path; that of “cruising” (on cruiser bikes) with two girlfriends while I was in a short-legged walking cast last fall. It was fun to check out things we hadn’t seen in a while, as we caught up on our own life stories. It served as a reminder that getting out—no matter what the circumstances—is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s relatively easy to do in the Wood River Valley—sometimes, indeed most of the time, it’s just a pedal stroke away.
Please experience the trail and help us continue its lore over the next 30 years. It’s time for you to get out there! -Nicky Elsbree
COWBOY UP AT A RODEO NEAR YOU
Idaho Rodeo Basics
by Colleen Maile photography by Hayseed Photography/Casey McGehee
Idaho loves rodeo. From April to October more than 60 events bring a remnant of the Old West to towns large and small. Entrants range from preschoolers straddling recalcitrant sheep to professionals looking for big buckles and bigger purses. Whether you’re heading for a glitzy top-tier event like Nampa’s Snake River Stampede or watching locals rope and ride for pride in places like Kamiah and Arco, here’s what you ought to know:
The spectacle-seeped sport holds a place in American history. Competitions featuring feats of horsemanship and a way with cattle began on 18th century California cattle ranches. A hundred years later, riding and roping matches provided recreation for cowboys moving dogies from the stockyards of Texas to the railyards of Kansas. When cattle drives faded into history, the contests lived on in Wild West Shows. (Many early rodeo riders doubled as boxers. That’s why buckles resemble those on prizefighters’ belts—or so the legend goes.)
Kids of all ages love the Days of the Old West Rodeo, Hailey, 2012.
Three levels of rodeo are represented in Idaho. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) stages 15 high-stakes Gem State competitions including the acclaimed Snake River Stampede running July 16-20 (see prorodeo.com–linked to above–for a complete listing). The semi-professional Intermountain Professional Rodeo Association and the amateur Idaho Cowboys Association sponsor or co-sponsor more than 50 competitions. They range in size from Hailey’s Fourth of July rodeo, a showcase attracting more than 5,000 spectators, to the much smaller but equally impressive Custer County Rodeo held July 18 in Challis. And this year the big boys at the Professional Bull Riders Association (PBR) will make a stop in Hailey on July 26.
KIDS AND SPECIAL EVENTS
Special events often make their way into the lineup. Kids take part in stick horse races, goat wrestling and mutton busting, a timed event featuring youngsters riding sheep the length of the arena. Frenzied adults attempt to milk wild cows. Chuckwagon races involve horse-drawn wagons accompanied by riders racing around the arena at a death-defying pace.
Don’t worry about the livestock. Lisa Lappe director of the Intermountain Professional Rodeo Association said, “Every precaution is taken to care for the animals and make sure they aren’t hurt. Bucking horses are probably better cared for than show horses. All the animals are highly valued.”
It’s OK to feel nostalgic, get teary-eyed at the national anthem, grin at the little buckaroo in the chaps and over-sized hat, and root for the good guys—they’re all good guys. You may even come away singing “whoopee ti yi yo” and longing for a simpler life swaying in the saddle, riding through the sage.
PROFESSIONAL BULL RIDERS
Head to Hailey for Annual Sun Valley Classic
The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) cowboys are back in Hailey, Idaho, this summer to test their skills in the Sun Valley PBR Classic. The O’Gara family and Rocky Mountain Bull Bash Production have come together to put on this don’t-miss event, Friday, July 26, 2013 at 7:00pm at the Hailey Rodeo Grounds. A rockin’ two-hour concert by Texas country music great Luke Kaufman will follow.Thirty-five bull riders from around the world will test their skills against bulls that weigh up to 2,500 lbs! The object is to stay on the bull for a full eight seconds without getting bucked off. The bulls are not ordinary by any means. Bulls in this competition are born to buck much like racehorses are bred to run fast. They are experienced and are usually between three and seven years old. Silver Springs ranch in Bellevue, Idaho, is supplying the bulls for the event.
The cowboys use sticky tree sap to prep the bull rope and this helps them get a better grasp. The bulls are loaded into the pen and the riders mount. Helmets and thick Kevlar-like vests protect the riders’ heads and chests. The flank strap, which is tied around the back end of the bull, tickles him just enough to make him buck harder—and the harder the bull bucks—the more possible points can be earned.
Points are accumulated separately for the rider and the bull. Two judges will score the rider and the bull, awarding up to 50 points each. The combined total (up to 100 points) is the final score.
The Sun Valley PBR Classic is considered a qualifying event for the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the top 40 bull riders in the world will come together to compete for their chance at $1,000,000.
Tickets for the PBR Classic areavailable at the Hailey Chamber of Commerce, Atkinsons’ Markets and at www.sunvalleypbr.com. Get yours now before they sell out!