FeatureProfile January 18, 2023


The Elephant’s Perch dreamers reflect on their iconic journey

Bob and Kate Rosso have invested a quarter of a million hours over the last 46 years working to make The Elephant’s Perch the iconic destination in the Wood River Valley it is known for today.

And during that time, they hired over 500 local folks to help run the store. The result? The “E-Perch” developed a culture of being expert purveyors of all things related to “people-powered gear.”  The classic building on Sun Valley Road is a landmark that draws hundreds of people per day through its doors.

Bob hailed from Southern California, where he grew up as a consummate athlete in competitive swimming, water polo, surfing, rock climbing and skiing the local mountains.

In fact, he spent time working in the local ski shop to satisfy his habits. He joined the Air Force Reserves because he thought it would be fun to be a paratrooper. Kate grew up in Seattle, skiing at local ski areas such as Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain.

Bob and Kate Rosso, with
Honey Girl, in front of their store, a historic Ketchum landmark. / Photo by Ray J. Gadd

In the early ’70s, Bob got a gig as a climbing guide in the Sawtooths, and that is where he fell in love with the Elephant’s Perch rock-climbing routes. During that time, he met and became friends with Rob Kiesel, a local cross-country expert and ambassador. One day, Kiesel asked Bob to help form and coach a start-up Nordic team.

Having never Nordic skied, Bob was initially hesitant, but Kiesel convinced him he would be perfect for the role. So Bob started first as a premier athlete and second as the recipient of years of coaching tutelage from the various sports in which Bob competed. That was the beginning of what turned out to be a lifetime of being a Nordic skier and, eventually, a Nordic businessman.

In addition to his gig as a rock-climbing guide and his new role as a Nordic coach, Bob started working retail at Snug Mountaineering.

One day, local K2 rep and mentor Jim Bombard and Bob were having some drinks at the El Torito. At one point during that time, Bombard turned to Rosso and said something that Rosso will never forget. “You should open your own Nordic store!” The year was 1976.

Within a few months, Bob found a location for his dream retail operation, a 75-year-old house that had been recently vacated. He then selected a name. It was no common name, but one that reflected his love of guiding up the iconic Elephant’s Perch.

To open his store, Bob was given a gift by a recently relocated Ketchumite named Bob Gorton. Gorton had moved from Ketchum to take on the role of vice president of The North Face. Gorton
graciously invited Rosso to the Bay Area with a U-Haul trailer and was granted to select anything from The North Face warehouse to open the store. Arriving back in Ketchum in the spring of 1976, Bob Rosso had a store filled with quality gear. That first summer proved successful thanks to Bob’s enthusiasm and the gear knowledge of locals Tina Cole and Gary Stitzinger.

For the first winter of 1976/77 operation, The E-Perch was stocked to the rafters with cross-country gear, all in preparation for a gangbuster operation.

However, it didn’t snow … at all!

If it were not for an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan, The Elephant’s Perch might never have made it past that first winter. All that inventory went into storage and came out on the floor the following winter.

With the store established, Bob and Kate realized they couldn’t rely on traditional advertising to grow the business. Instead, they had to reach out to the community and get folks involved. So, they formed the event management side of the company. Legendary Wood River Valley events and amenities can be directly attributable to Bob and Kate and The E-Perch, such as the Baldy Hill Climb, the Boulder Mountain Tour, the Tri-Elephanthon Triathlon, the Wood River Trail from Ketchum to Hailey, The Nordic Festival and many others.

One incredible occurrence happened inside the store. Bob recalled how Teresa Heinz Kerry, widow of Senator John Heinz and current wife of Senator John Kerry, was shoe shopping. When she asked how business was, Bob remarked that his committee needed help getting the U.S. Forest Service to recognize the old road to Highway 75 as a recreational designation. Upon hearing this news, Ms. Heinz placed a call to her good friend, Vice President Al Gore, and within a few weeks, the Wood River Valley claimed one of the area’s most valuable recreational assets for perpetuity: The Harriman Trail.

As the keys to The Elephant’s Perch have been given over to locals John Melin and Marty Albertson, the legacy of one of the Wood River Valley’s most dynamic locations is secured for the future.

Bob and Kate are considering their future involvement in the community, yet it is certain that you will see them more often on the hiking trails and Nordic tracks in the Valley. And they might spend some time wrangling horses on their son Steven’s ranch in Wyoming.

Thanks, Kate and Bob, for all your hard work in the Valley.

This article appears in the Winter 2022 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.