Frequent visitors to the Wood River Valley would be forgiven for thinking the area boasts just two ski hills: the mighty Baldy and diminutive Dollar. But for those in the know, a third ski hill located three miles west of Hailey holds a special place in the hearts of many locals: Rotarun.
With its eight named runs and a vertical drop of 441 feet, Rotarun has been responsible for nurturing young talents like Olympic champions Picabo Street and Cristin Cooper and Paralympic medalist Muffy Davis. This humble little mountain has been a testament to community involvement since it sprang into existence in the winter of 1940-41, when three locals—Jim Hurst, Bob Jackson and Bill Mallory—ventured out of Croy Canyon, climbed Rotarun and declared that it would make a nice little ski hill.
Those ski pioneers used a donated tractor from Wayne Clark and a pulley system to operate a rope tow in those early days. Another local, Jimmy Savaria, gave ski lessons for $1 per week; he was later joined in his efforts by Ann Janet Winn, who competed in the 1948 Winter Olympics.
In 1957, Hailey dentist Dr. Art Richards, along with the Hailey Rotary Club, replaced the old rope tow with a newer one and named the hill after the Rotary Club. Also that year, George Arkoosh and the Arkoosh Sheep Company in Gooding gave Rotarun a 99-year lease on the land for $1 a year. That donation is celebrated yearly during the annual Rotarun Arkoosh Cup ski race.
In 1964, Ralph Cisco, a U.S. Forest Service ranger, was on the first board of directors at Rotarun. Sun Valley Resort sent a few ski instructors down to Rotarun to teach volunteers how to teach skiing. Cisco taught skiing at Rotarun and was head of the ski school there for eight years, with 10 instructors working under him, all volunteers. According to Cisco, they had as many as 200 people on the mountain on a good weekend. That year, Rotarun got its first J-bar lift that went to the top of the mountain, in addition to lights that made night skiing possible. The following year, the first warming hut was built using donated lumber. (FUN FACT: Rotarun is one of only two areas in all Idaho that offer night skiing. Boise’s Bogus Basin is the other.)
For several years after that, the snow disappeared. No improvements were made at Rotarun, the equipment started getting old, and the hill was in serious danger of shutting down. So, in 1993, the property was deeded to Blaine County, with the original lease and mineral rights owned by Rotarun. In 1995, retired aerospace engineer Red Bloedel moved to Hailey and became involved in the Rotarun Ski Area, an interest he embraced because his grandson, Forrest Fleming, learned to ski there. Bloedel worked with the board of directors of Rotarun to raise funds for much-needed improvements. Between 1996 and 2000, they raised a quarter million dollars. In 2001, the original J-bar was replaced with a Dopplemayr Poma lift from a small hill in an Austrian town. The 20-year-old lift was sent in crates to the U.S. East Coast. It was then picked up and trucked to Denver, where it was refurbished. Volunteers from Hailey drove trucks down to Denver to pick up the lift. Another group of volunteers spent the next several hours pumping concrete up the hill to cast the lift’s supports. With additional funds raised by Bloedel and the company, the lights and the aging rope tow were updated. And they were able to purchase a second snowcat and refurbish the original at the cost of about $15,000.
The inaugural “Snowbox” Derby was co-sponsored in 2001 by the Blaine County Recreation District. Participants (five years of age and older) designed and raced their own cardboard racing vehicles using only cardboard, paint, tape and glue. Those early entries included dragons, pirate ships, racing cars, Pegasus the flying horse and UFOs.
In 2005, more than 40 years after Rotarun got its first real ski lift, the mountain was formally dedicated as Art Richards Mountain. The first run was named Logan’s Run after Bob and Betty Logan, whom Richards recruited early on to help run lifts, drive snowcats and watch children learning to ski.
In 2016, the Rotarun Ski Club initiated a campaign to raise $150,000 to fund the construction of a pipe from the diversion point. The funding was also used for more excavation and lining of a storage pond that provides water for wildfire suppression in the summer. The same year, with financial help from the local organization 100 Men Who Care, the ski club developed a dual-track tubing park on the northwest aspect of Art Richards Mountain. A cable tow was installed the following summer.
In 2021, Rotarun installed two snow guns and leased three more at the beginning of the year to make enough snow to prepare the hill for a pre-Thanksgiving race camp. In addition to the snowmaking, Rotarun obtained a Prinoth groomer that could pack the snow down early in the winter so it wouldn’t melt. The ski area also upgraded its lights for Friday night skiing.
To date, more than 700 youth on Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation teams, including the Nordic teams, have trained at Rotarun at some point during the winter. In addition, many youngsters participated in the Rotarun Rip-athon at the start of the season, skiing laps around a Nordic trail and running slalom gates to raise money for the SVSEF. And the generosity of local community members such as Freddy Johnson, who has offered to underwrite the cost of a Rotarun Futures Season Pass for any youth aged six to 17.
The 2021-2022 season was the most successful in Rotarun history, due in no small part to the many community volunteers—past and present—who uphold the mountain’s mission of inclusivity and accessibility to ensure that the joy of skiing can be felt by all those who find their way to the slopes of this mighty little mountain that continues to persevere.
Rota-Rippers is a community-supported, tuition-free, learn-to-ski and snowboard program dedicated to enriching the lives of historically marginalized youth in our community. The program is designed to teach the skills that build confidence, courage, and a lifelong pursuit of winter recreation. Rota-Rippers is for children ages five to 11, K-5th grade (must be five years old by January 1, 2023). Each session is limited to 50 participants. Athletes may participate in either session 1 or session 2, not both. The athlete-to-coach ratio is 6:1. 100% of program costs are covered by Rotarun Ski Club, Inc., the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s (SVSEF) Athlete Endowment Fund, the Kids Mountain Fund, and our incredible community partners and donors.
- Season: January 9 – March 31
- Days: Saturday and Sunday
- Times: 12:15 PM – 1:45 PM and 2:15 PM – 3:45 PM
- Adult Lessons: $65/session (Age: 13 years and up)
- Child Lessons: $40/session (Age: 5-12)
- Group Child Lessons: $40/student (Age: 5-8) (Age: 9-12) 5-person max
- Group Adult Lessons: $65/student (Age: 13 and up)