Feature December 19, 2018
Those Who Live to Ski: Dan Hawley
Around the World With Dan Hawley

It is safe to say that many folks in the Wood River Valley love to ski. But a select few actually “live to ski.” These are people who rearrange their entire lives—homes, jobs, sometimes relationships—around the joy of downhill skiing. Here are the stories of three such individuals who are as passionate about skiing as anything.

Since he first visited Sun Valley in the mid-1950s, Dan “Dano” Hawley has skied at least 25,000 vertical miles on Bald Mountain. To put that in perspective, consider that the Earth is 24,901 miles round. And just as the Earth keeps spinning, at age 69 so does Hawley.

Hawley is a true Idahoan and, in a sense, was born to ski Sun Valley. His great-grandfather, James H. Hawley, was the ninth governor of Idaho from 1911 to 1913. Before that, he was mayor of Boise from 1903 to 1905. Both his father and mother (though they hadn’t met at the time) and their siblings skied Sun Valley in 1936, the year it opened. And Hawley has a 1929 photo of his mother (see below) skiing on Lolo Pass, the pass that traverses the Idaho-Montana border and over which Lewis and Clark famously traveled.

Hawley’s father, a physician in Hailey when World War II broke out, had planned to stay after the war. However, plans changed, and after the fighting ended Dr. Hawley returned to Boise where Dano was born, raised, and schooled. Still, the Hawley family often visited Sun Valley, and it was there that 5-year-old Dano was introduced to skiing on Dollar Mountain. Within a year the boy was skiing on the bigger, steeper Bald Mountain.

After high school, Hawley attended the College of Idaho in Caldwell. His skiing had a way of interrupting education, as when he took a year off to ski in France, which he considers a “great experience.” Nonetheless, he graduated in 1972 with a B.A. in economics and immediately moved to Ketchum. Forty-six years later he’s exactly where he wants to be.

As many of the old school ski bums did, Hawley makes his living plowing snow (Hawley Snow Removal) and, come summer, works as a river guide on some of Idaho’s wild rivers: the Jarbidge, Bruneau, Owyhee, and Middle Fork of the Salmon. On Solitude River Trips’ website, Hawley expresses what drives his passion for the guiding life: “I love seeing little kids grow up and come back with their own kids.” It is the rare river guide who can plausibly make that kind of a statement.

From his home base in Ketchum, Hawley worked both as a heli-ski guide for 25 years and as a coach for the Hailey Ski Team for 12 years. Between ski seasons he is an avid mountain biker, riding most days when he’s not on the river. He says that in the late 1960s, before there were mountain bikes, “I would ride my French road racing bike through the backcountry to all the high mountain lakes.”

Physical activity and personal interaction with others are at the center of Hawley’s life. A typical winter day, after a night of snowfall, begins at 2 a.m. when he goes to work and plows until 8 a.m. He then shovels out the iconic Irving’s Red Hots hot dog stand on Picabo Street across from the Warm Springs Lodge and chairlift. He has completed this chore for owner Jill Rubin for the 40 years her landmark business has operated.

According to Hawley, 150 winter mornings a year he walks a quarter-mile to the Warm Springs lift by 8:30 a.m. where he socializes and gets on one of the early chairs (never—except on certain powder days—competing for the first chair) and begins his Baldy day of skiing. Hawley says of his passion for skiing, “Each time I go skiing I have more fun than the time before.”

He skis at least 10 runs every day—sometimes more, often with friends and periodically alone—interspersing runs with tea and social time at Lookout Lodge on top of Baldy. For Hawley, “It’s home. There’s a lack of crowds. It’s our own private Idaho.” He skis the bowls, the groomers, the bumps, and the cat tracks with an inimitable style and relaxed demeanor. Not surprisingly, he is an always-reliable source for finding the best skiing of the day on Baldy. After all, few know it better.