Community December 7, 2010

Pizza and French Fries

Learning to ski with Alice Schernthanner

“If I were a bird-watcher, I probably would have taught bird-watching,” Alice Schernthanner says, matter-of-factly, before her signature raspy, baritone, chuckle-cough rises up and her eyes smile behind a pair of thick, round glasses.

Luckily for me, and every other kid who learned to ski or spent time at Dollar Mountain in the last 33 years, Alice Schernthanner is a skier, and so she taught us all how to ski. She also taught more than a few of our parents how to let go—sometimes she downright demanded it.

Listening to her on this crisp morning, I can’t help thinking that Alice Scherthanner hasn’t changed at all from my memories of her when I was a young snow grommet 24 years ago, sliding around on Dollar Mountain. The children’s ski school, however, has grown substantially during her tenure, in large part thanks to her tenacity and passion.

“I find it boring to teach them once they know how to ski,” says Alice. “Instead, I prefer to just let them go.”

During those three-plus decades of teaching young skiers how to make “pizza and French fries” with their skis (something she won’t take credit for, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she invented), and sharing the simple, silly magic of gliding around on snow, Alice has watched what was basically a daycare service transform itself into one of the premiere kids’ ski programs in the country. The kids’ ski school hut has evolved to become a kids’ and parents’ paradise; a beautiful lodge complete with never-ending supplies of hot chocolate and marshmallows, delicious pizza and French fries, and an outdoor playground of the grandest scale in the form of Dollar Mountain itself.

There’s even a rumor that the new lodge at Dollar was going to be named after Alice, since it was her hard work and outspoken statements that helped Carol Holding convince her husband to build the thing in the first place. But Alice put the kibosh on that idea. “I told them,” she says, again in that deadpan tone of voice that she holds just on the edge of laughter, “if I don’t own it, then I don’t want it named after me.”

Humble as ever, she rarely takes credit for what she’s been able to accomplish. Most of her students are too young to remember her, because she prefers teaching the newbies. “I find it boring to teach them once they know how to ski,” she says. “Instead, I prefer to just let them go.”

When asked about the famous skiers— and they are numerous—who first learned to carve turns under her tutelage, Alice usually has some small story about them. Like the time she “grounded” future Olympic gold medalist, Picabo Street, and wouldn’t let her ride the lift until the little speed demon learned how to turn. Or the time she told the dad of Shane Cordeau—a current member of the U.S. Freestyle Team and an Olympic hopeful—that Shane was far too old to be skiing on the dumb end of a leash. His dad agreed, but said, “He just won’t turn.” Alice replied, “He’ll turn if he skis with me!” Three runs later, the young Cordeau was a turning machine and said goodbye to that leash forever.

After each story, she’ll smile and hack out another laugh, always maintaining her famous modesty and straightforward verbal approach to skiing and life. While many of her students may not remember their first ski instructor, if they’re like me, they’ll always remember those first joyous feelings of speed and freedom and will always come back for more. Hopefully, Alice will be there waiting to laugh with them all over again.

This article appears in the Winter 2011 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.