Community December 7, 2010

The Valleys Future

As Sun Valley enters its 75th ski season, we asked a handful of longtime locals their thoughts on the current state, and the future, of America’s oldest ski resort.


Wyatt Caldwell
Professional Snowboarder
and Arborist
Valley resident for 27 years
(his whole life)

What keeps you here?
The seasonal change and all the recreational activities that come with each season; the quality of life; and, most importantly, the climate and the tight-knit community.

In your opinion what is Sun Valley’s image?
A remote mountain ski resort community founded by wealthy ski bums who cherish their quality of life so much they fail to market to the rest of working-class America who might want to visit.

What is Sun Valley’s biggest strength as a resort community?
We have some of the most extensive snowmaking in the world with very steep terrain and expansive vertical feet. We also have strong annual snowfall and diverse seasonal sports to accommodate all abilities, along with easy access to trailheads, lakes, rivers and streams, and a strong presence of local businesses, restaurants and galleries.

What do we need to improve on?
Marketing to working-class middle America in a way that presents Sun Valley as a place where not just wealthy, second-home owners can visit or come on vacation. They need to focus specifically on the demographic of individuals between 18-30 years of age, who would love to live here for the quality of life and all Sun Valley has to offer but have a hard time finding a legitimate job with their college degree due to the tight-knit “who you know” mentality of prospective employers.

What will it take to put Sun Valley back on top?
A very strong marketing campaign to inform potential residents that everything they desire exists here. Sun Valley needs to keep up with other resorts that have done this and succeeded. They need to start marketing through magazine advertising, television ads and web content. Sun Valley is a great place to grow up, raise a family and recreate outdoors. I hope the right efforts are put in place to ensure many generations of skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, golfers and hikers can enjoy the seasons while happily working and staying involved in the community.



Sarah Hedrick
Owner of Iconoclast
Books & Cafe
Valley resident for 20 years

What keeps you here?
The fall, four children, a mortgage, a business. I’m not really a small-town person. I love city living, and still think of myself as a city slicker. But I do love the sense of community that a small town offers, and the safety, and that it’s a great place to raise children. Part of what I love about it here is that we’ve got things like the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Company of Fools. These are very sophisticated things that a city would afford, and so, for me, what keeps me here is that I have exactly what I love about a small town and yet we’ve got so much culture, art and intellectually stimulating things going on. Otherwise, I would go crazy.

What is your ideal Sun Valley day?
One of my favorite things to do is have company in town and enjoy the area as if I were a tourist. You know, go to the Hemingway Memorial and go out to lunch. If it were a winter day, it’d be a ski day and then coming down to one of the hot springs, and then there are some restaurants that are wonderful.

What is Sun Valley’s biggest strength as a resort community?
For one, there’s this level from Sun Valley Company of core competency—that they are doing what they’re really good at—and I think with Tim Silva, that’s only getting better. I think part of its strength is that it is small and intimate, but that it has all of this glamorous appeal—that you can come here and eat at a world-class restaurant, go to a world-class bookstore, ski a world-class mountain. You can do all these amazing things, but in this environment of a really neat small community.

What is Sun Valley’s current market?
I think it’s been targeted at what was my parents’ generation for a long time and that has shifted. One change that I’ve seen from my childhood to now is that it used to be marketed as a ski resort. Now the target audience is fly fishermen, tennis players, golfers, hikers, bikers. And, quite honestly, I feel that the fall season is spectacular, so it’s much more of a year-round destination than I remember in my childhood.



Claudia McCain
President of Wood River
Arts Alliance
Valley resident for 30 years

What keeps you here?
I just love everything our town has to offer. I love the sophisticated restaurants and food. I love our arts programs and watching them grow. I love the outdoor availability. I love that I can be in galleries with world-class art and go to a theater performance that’s top-draw or see some of the finest musicians in the world, and in another 15 minutes I can be in the mountains with my dog enjoying all the solace that they have to offer. Even though we have an urban sort of feel, it’s still a small-town community that supports each other. When any one of us, a part of our community, is in need, we turn out to support them, and I think that’s incredible and beautiful, and that’s part of why I like being here and staying here.

What is Sun Valley’s biggest strength as a resort community?
I think we have a lot of diversity. As a mountain town, we draw people from urban areas who are fairly sophisticated, and with that comes all the amenities to fill those needs for residents and visitors. So we have great restaurants and our arts community has grown exponentially in the time I’ve been here. The programming has become much more exciting and broad, and our outdoor life is very exciting.

What do we need to improve on?
I think that we’ve had a lot of shakeup in the community, and that’s painful for many of us. But at the same time, I think that will help us evolve and grow and reach out in new and different ways. And I think that we probably need greater marketing of what we have to offer—of what is so special here. I also think we need to continue to work toward a superior quality of service from everyone, from the person who picks someone up at the airport, to a waitress, to the barista at the coffeehouse, to the bank teller. I think it is just a requirement of us to do our best to have the most hospitable service we can offer. I think we can always improve on who we are, on our quality of hospitality and service. Our economy is so based in tourism that we have to do everything we can to make the visitors’ experiences the best they can be so they’ll want to come back, so they’ll be excited about this place that we all love.



Valdi Pace
Blaine County Assessor
Valley resident for 42 years

What keeps you here?
You know, it’s the mountains, really. I am drawn to the mountains and the seasons. I can’t imagine living somewhere without them. I’ve traveled to lots of places, but this is the place.

What is Sun Valley’s biggest strength as a resort community?
One would think it is the skiing, but I really believe it’s our summers. We have excellent summers. We have beautiful weather and many activities. I mean, you can ride a horse, you can ride a bike, you can go down to the river, you can hike anywhere you want. Really, we have the freedom to explore whatever we want.

What’s the biggest challenge Sun Valley faces today?
I think we must be very thankful that we have an owner (Sun Valley Resort) who is just very happy to pour money into it, because the economic times really are difficult. I look around and I am amazed at what has left, but what has also stayed, and I really believe it’s because of the community. There’s a lot of turnover in businesses and it’s very difficult to make a living here. Many people have more than one job because that’s what they have to do to be able to stay here, and it’s been that way for nearly as long as I can remember. You have to make sacrifices to live in a such a beautiful place.

What will it take to put Sun Valley back on top?
Do we want to be at the top? I don’t know if that’s their goal, and I don’t know that I want to see that as their goal, but it’s not up to me, is it? I don’t know that Sun Valley fits at the top. You know, what is the top? What makes the top? We have a fantastic mountain. We have fantastic grooming. But it is difficult to get here. That is a challenge, and the people who come here know it’s a challenge, and if they really want to come, they will.



Ben Verge
Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Coach
Valley resident for 29 years
(his whole life)

What’s your ideal Sun Valley day?
Go skiing at 9 (a.m.), or actually maybe around 10, and then ski with my buddies until around 2. Then meet up with all the kids for ski team and then ski some more.

What’s Sun Valley’s biggest strength as a resort community?
Just the terrain, I think…the non-stop steeps produce great skiers and great skiing.

What’s the biggest challenge Sun Valley faces today?
I think the biggest challenge is shifting gears from the old way of thinking and embracing the new mentality that it’s decided to adopt.
You know, the old way of thinking was kind of closed-minded toward progression in skiing and bringing young people in and making it a skier’s ski mountain as opposed to a mountain catering to wealthy older people. It’s too good of a mountain to be wasted on just people that can bring us money.

What is Sun Valley’s image?
I think that for this winter, Sun Valley’s image has gotten far more beautiful than it was in the last few years. I think that the terrain park and the kids that are coming out of here, in terms of halfpipe and park skiing, have changed the image and made it a lot younger and more youthful and cooler.

What does Sun Valley need to improve on
I think local deals. Locals pay way too much to ski. A huge thing is that there needs to be discounts on season passes: A) bigger in the summer; and B) if you’re a Blaine County resident; if you have a Blaine County driver’s license, I think that
should count for getting you a cheaper deal on a season pass. I mean they’re already doing big things with the parks, so I think that’s the one big issue.

What will it take to put Sun Valley back on top?
I think that they’re moving in a good direction. I think that the days of only having ski racers come out of here for the last 20 years is kind of shifting, and I think that’s a cool thing. We’ve got kids now that are potentially going to be in the Olympics, and that’ll be on the U.S. Ski Team in the next year, for a new sport (instead of the usual downhill racers), which is halfpipe. I think it’s just really cool to see. It makes me happy to live here.



Tai Barrymore
Professional Freestyle Skier
Valley resident for 18 years (his whole life)

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</stWhat's your ideal Sun Valley day?
 Anything active basically. You know, we’re in the mountains, so doing anything athletic or active. Just having fun. Not sitting inside.

What do you think is Sun Valley’s image?
I think it’s more historic and coming around, starting to catch up with the new age kind of stuff, like the halfpipe and the terrain park. They’re a little behind the curve, but they’re catching up. I think this winter is actually going to be pretty cool. They built all those new rails and had that big Eye Trip movie that made Sun Valley look awesome. Everything is getting newer and bigger.

What is Sun Valley’s biggest strength as a resort community?
Sun Valley’s biggest strength is probably that it only takes one lift to get to the top of the mountain and it’s steep all the way down. It’s fast, not cheap, but definitely fast.

What does Sun Valley need to improve on?
I mean, they are improving on basically everything that I always wanted, but I think one thing they could improve on is that there are too many older voices that run things. That’s why I feel like they’re kind of behind the curve a little bit because they weren’t open to new ideas for so long.

Who do you think they should be marketing to?
I think they should be marketing to what they are, but also the parks and the halfpipe. I think they should market everything that’s good about the place, not just the rich, fame and fortune of the place. There’s a lot of great people here and it’s a cool place to be.

What will it take to put Sun Valley back on top?
We already have the fastest lifts and the steepest runs consistently, so I think it’s going to take the parks and pipes and more videos—more promoting basically. We just need to make Sun Valley look the best that it can. And lowering lift prices, too.




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