When the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) was formed 40 years ago, there was no way to predict how many young skiers would emerge from its ranks to take world prizes. But the answer was soon clear: lots of them, and among them some of the most exciting female skiers in the world.
The women of the SVSEF have a remarkable track record. They have won more than 30 World Championship medals, six U.S. Championship medals, three Olympic medals and four Paralympics medals.
They run the gamut, from graceful to wild, and sometimes both. But in the beginning, they were all inspired by the possibilities of skis and snow in Sun Valley.
They got the basics here and then went on to add their own twists and turns. One remarkable former student is the freestyle champion Lynsey Dyer, who was a junior champion downhill racer until she says she decided skiing in a line was not for her. Now she’s the glamour girl with the wild blonde hair flying off cliffs. Many return to help raise funds for future generations of skiers, as does Christin Cooper, a popular local who married a fellow skier and settled in Montana, but comes back to Sun Valley to help with the Janns Pro Am Classic, an annual event to benefit the SVSEF. And, of course, there is Picabo Street, a graduate of Wood River High School and teammate of Cooper.
Catching up with a few of the locally grown champions proves that while life, losses and time may sidetrack these girls from the competitive slopes, they won’t be derailed from the sport.
After her silver medal performance in the downhill at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, Street came home to a celebration in her name in Sun Valley. On the Warm Springs side of Bald Mountain, the sultry skier was etched into city history as she was presented with her own street, “Picabo Street.” By winning the 1995 World Cup in downhill, she became the first American ever to win a season overall title. After a disappointing 2002 Winter Olympics, she retired in Utah where she presently lives. She has nine career victories and has written an autobiography about her life and her struggles entitled Nothing to Hide.
HEATHER FLOOD DAVES
I feel that great athletes come from this Valley because of the access that we all have to the mountains and outdoors, the people we have to look up to and the support of the community,” says Heather Flood Daves, stay-at-home mom of three and formerly one of the highest-ranking skiers in the nation who in 1991 won the slalom at the NCAA Championships while at Middlebury College in Vermont. “We live in a community that embraces sport, the outdoors and healthy living.”
Flood Daves remained an inspiration to youth as a teacher while living in Atlanta, where she had a large poster of Baldy on the wall.
“While I was growing up here, I never felt being a girl was limiting athletically,” she notes. “We all worked together regardless of gender; skiing, training, racing and playing on the mountain. I worked hard and played hard.”
As for watching from the sidelines as a SVSEF Laser trainer, Flood Daves says, “I am always thrilled to see locals excel at the sports they choose, whether male or female. We are lucky living here that we have incredible access to such a diversity of mountain sports.”
From being one of the most celebrated disabled skiers to grace the downhill competitions, to making a difference with the World Wide Web and taking a shot at Nordic skiing, Muffy Davis is evolving.
Before Davis became a skiing legend, she was a kid who went through the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation with close friend and fellow competitor, Picabo Street. In February of 1989, while in Sun Valley and participating in downhill training on Bald Mountain, she accidentally went off course and slammed into a tree, breaking her back, which left her a paraplegic.
After the accident, she had her right leg amputated. But that didn’t stop her from doing what she loved. Relearning how to ski with a disability, Davis ended up winning 25 World Cup medals and four Paralympic medals.
Now, Davis lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has taken it upon herself to give back to people with disabilities. Working with an Internet community at www.disaboom.com, she has the opportunity to help athletes with something that she knows all too well about.
But not without the SVSEF, which Davis says enabled her to reconnect with her passion.
“It taught me every vital skill,” Davis says. “It taught me how to be a great teammate.
“It helped me connect with my passion, it gave me the opportunity to reach the passion.”
Davis, 34, is getting back into skiing, just not alpine skiing. Ironically, she says that she’s getting into Nordic. She added that she loves taking her time and getting into nature.
“I’m getting into some summer sports also,” Davis adds. “But I will not compete in ski racing at all. I’m going to live vicariously through my children, if I ever have kids. My time to support the next generation.”
Lynsey is on top of the world . . . literally. The 25-year-old, who hails from Ketchum, skis only the biggest mountains around. While at Montana State University, Dyer made a choice— ski extreme and rock while doing it. And since that decision, she’s been one of the best female extreme skiers in the world.
When not being dropped off by a helicopter at the top of some of the highest mountains in the world while on the U.S. Extreme Ski Circuit, which she won in 2005, Dyer can be found in multiple Warren Miller ski movies.
“I’m in full throttle,” says Dyer, who just finished training in Whistler, Canada, and who is off to New Zealand to continue training and possibly filming. The popular skier has also hosted a skiing show on both NBC and ABC.
Dyer began competing in Big Mountain (also known as extreme skiing) competitions because her cousin, A.J. Cargill, was a leader in the whole movement of extreme skiing. Ever since then, she’s been on a roll.
It isn’t really a spectator sport, according to Dyer, but much more rewarding than skiing halfpipe when it comes to going extreme because you’re on the biggest and scariest mountains in the world. Dyer also firmly believes that there’s nothing better than being in the air.
When asked what she learned through the ski program, she replies, “Honestly everything . . . That mountain and those coaches taught me everything that I’m applying now. I owe it all to my coaches and their dedication. Especially my dad for giving me the opportunity. That whole team believed in me. One of my goals is to give that back.”
Now living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Dyer is one of the best big mountain skiers in the world and shows no signs of slowing down while on an illustrious skiing career.
After a life of national and world-renowned skiing, Christin Cooper, one of the most beloved skiers ever to come out of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, is treating herself to the good life.
Living between Bozeman, Montana, and Aspen, Colorado, for the past 20 years, Cooper, 47, hasn’t forgotten where she came from.
Once a year she returns to help fellow skier Terry Palmer with the Janss Pro Am Classic to benefit the SVSEF. Palmer got the idea from Cooper and her husband, Mark Taché, when the two started the Taché Pro Am, which helps raise money for the Aspen Ski Program.
“It’s good to give back,” Cooper says. “That’s what it’s all about. We both [Taché and Cooper] come from what was a once-small ski town. It has made both of our lives better. We feel like we are the people we are today because of the programs we went through. It’s very important to give back to skiing.” Cooper was a silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics and there is a run named for her in Sun Valley. Taché skied internationally for the U.S. Ski Team.
Since retiring from competitive skiing in 1985, Cooper has moved on with her life. She and Taché got into the restaurant business in Bozeman, co-founding the Mackenzie River Pizza Co. (1993) and Montana Ale Works (2000) restaurant concepts. “With partners, we were involved in the growth and expansion of Mackenzie River to 12 stores statewide in Montana over the past decade, but recently (2006) sold our interests to our former partner, retaining only the original flagship Mackenzie in downtown Bozeman, which we still own and operate 100 percent. So we now own and operate the original Mackenzie River Pizza Co., and with two partners, Montana Ale Works, both located in downtown Bozeman.”
Cooper says the work ethic she learned in the SVSEF prepared her for life, and not just for skiing. Even though Cooper doesn’t race anymore, the competitive nature and the lust for adventure has never left as her new hobbies are biking and rock climbing.
But, she adds, “We are still avid skiers who eagerly anticipate the first snows like the children we once were.”
Elitsa’s life has been an eventful one, to say the least. She was born in Bulgaria, with birth defects to some of her fingers, while her right leg was significantly shorter than her left, which was missing a knee and an ankle joint. Living as an orphan at the age of five, Janis and Gary Storey adopted Elitsa and brought her to Sun Valley. When she was six her right leg was amputated.
Getting into skiing to follow her three older brothers, Storey became a three-tracker, someone who skis on one ski while using outriggers (poles with shortened skis on the bottom that attach to the athlete’s arms) for balance. Storey then joined the SVSEF as a downhill skier and at age 12 she was competing in disabled races. Five years later, she took third in the 2005 U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships in downhill, slalom, giant slalom and Super G.
Now, Storey is on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and will compete in the 2007 Paralympics in Torino, Italy. While training, Storey attends Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which is a two-year school that combines academics with outdoors. She says that she’s trying to juggle skiing full time and school, which is slowly coming together. She also added that her first year in college was a nice experience; however, being on the SVSEF has taught her independence before she even reached the age of 18.
“The program changes you as an athlete and as a person,” Storey says. “You become more independent. You gain a lot of life’s lessons.”
Storey has been traveling the world since she was 16 years old and realized that there is more than just Sun Valley. This February, Storey plans on competing with the national team in Japan and South Korea.
For a disabled athlete, Storey says that her disability hasn’t slowed her down.
“For me it was a great experience [in the SVSEF] and very welcoming,” she says. “We had good times traveling and growing up knowing the sport and gaining different aspects of it.”
For now, Storey is just being a regular college student, but when winter comes along, she’s more than just a student, she’s one of the best skiers in the nation and hopes that she’ll be on the podium hoisting gold soon enough.