Feature May 12, 2015

Valley Profiles

Profiles in Outdoor Life
Life Lived in the Mountains
Pete Patterson Leads the Way


If you want to learn about the amazing accomplishments of Sun Valley native Pete Patterson, don’t bother asking him. He’d rather talk about how magnificent other people are. You’ll leave the conversation not knowing exactly who this guy with bright eyes and a huge smile is. You will, however, be inspired by his humble charisma and his absolute presence in whatever adventure is right in front of him. And there are many.

Pete Patterson was born in Sun Valley in 1957. At the time, there wasn’t a lift on the Warm Springs side of Baldy, but being the son of two ski instructors and living in a house that would later become the North Face Hut, precursor to the Warm Springs Lodge, Patterson would ride the bus around to River Run, blast around the mountain all day and then ski the backside to get home. 

Early on, Patterson participated in the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation racing program and found enormous success at a young age, not just because he was a good skier, but more so because he loved the sport and trained extraordinarily hard. He secured a place on the U.S. Ski Team at age 16 and sped into a 13th-place downhill finish in the 1976 Olympics and a fifth-place downhill finish in the 1980 Olympics, which was, to that date, the best U.S. men’s finish in downhill. In the 1978 World Championships, he won a bronze in the alpine combined (downhill and slalom events), earning the only medal for the U.S.

“If they know, people say, ‘Wow! You did that?’ But in ski racing, I’m only 20 percent of it. It’s a team of friends, family, coaches, and everyone on the ski team that makes it happen. Athletes can’t do it on their own. The reality is they need the support and help of many, but a lot of people can forget that,” Patterson explained.

After his race career, Patterson made his way back to Sun Valley and began helicopter-ski guiding, looking for and finding a different way to enjoy the mountains outside the race gates.

Bozo Cardozo, fellow guide and close friend, recounted the first time he met Patterson, which was on a $25, one-lift tour with Sun Valley Heli-Ski before either of them were guides for the company. “We landed on the ridge and immediately Pete asked the guide if we could hike higher. That exemplifies Pete: he was fired up and wanted to go skiing.”

In 1996, Patterson founded the international guiding company Mountain Spirits with his climbing, skiing, rodeo-riding, piano-playing, Nepali-speaking, business-major wife Kim Jacobs. Mountain Spirits offers trekking, mountaineering, river, bike and ski trips to exotic locations such as Bhutan, Greenland, Nepal, Italy, India and Chile (to name a few). 

“We wanted a broad-based company that wouldn’t just appeal to skiers and climbers but to families and people that simply want to be out there,” Patterson said. “At first, people sign up for a one-time trip of a lifetime, but now they’re on their 13th trip. These experiences change their lives and ours. A highlight for me is that after spending three weeks in the Himalaya with a group, guests that I had never met before are now some of our best friends.”

For Patterson, relationships with people and establishing homes and communities around the world keep him passionate about guiding. “While traveling, we see how lucky we are and how amazing these people are in Africa, Asia, all over,” he noted. “Many are struggling for everything, yet keep such a great spirit and attitude, living life like you should, regardless of how difficult it is; it’s really inspiring to me.”

As it turns out, Patterson is the inspiring one. Cardozo put it this way: “Pete’s a charming human and incredibly talented guide and skier who does a good job of finding the best in people and bringing out the best in people. He genuinely loves the mountains, and it shows.”



Travis Vandenburgh running in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Running After Lights Out

Vandenburgh Pushes Past 50 (Miles)



For the uninitiated, ultra running is anything on roads or trails longer than a marathon, anywhere from Pocatello, Idaho, to Grindelwald, Switzerland. Hailey runner Travis Vandenburgh, a Community School teacher, has been competing in the sport since 2008.

Popular ultra distances start at 50 kilometers, roughly 31 miles. The most famous U.S. race is the Western States 100, started in 1955 as a one-day horse race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California. In the 1970s it eventually became a foot race after Gordy Ainsleigh left the horse behind to complete the course on foot in 23 hours, 42 minutes.

“You talk to some folks, and they don’t entertain the term ‘ultra’ until you get to 50 miles,” Vandenburgh said. “Some runs I’m consumed with thinking about my children, my marriage, or my students. Some runs I’m listening intently to my body to see where I’m at in my training cycle. Some runs I’m completely in tune with the sights, smells, and sounds of the trail. Most long runs, all of these things happen.”

Last July, Vandenburgh and his wife Cortney ran the Eiger Ultra 51K in Switzerland and celebrated their 15th anniversary with 10,000 feet of elevation gain.

“We competed in the couples division and placed second to our total surprise and found ourselves in an awards ceremony complete with Swiss cowbells and a handshake from
the mayor the next day.”

Brushing the cheek-blushing moments of fame aside, Vandenburgh says his true bliss is running alone. It’s his yoga. He foregoes bikes for cushiony and comfy Hoka shoes, his preference of fat footwear over the lingering popularity of minimalist treads. The Hailey resident doesn’t even own a mountain bike, which his friends frequently tell him he will one day regret. Maybe, he says, but unlike mountain bikers he can spend the day running a three or four day backpacking trail in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Wink.

Jest between user groups aside, Vandenburgh is at peace with his outlet, not only because he doesn’t have to fidget with noisy disc breaks, broken carbon fiber or flat tires, although, as in any game, sometimes the wheels do come off. Or lightning can intervene as it did at his first ultra attempt, the Grand Teton 50 Mile, when racers were evacuated from the course due to weather. 

Vandenburgh started training for marathons when his wife Cortney was in medical school in Kansas City where they had moved from Jackson, Wyoming. “I had a really hard job, and I was going through all sorts of thoughts about my career. Running helped me sort my brain out and come back more refreshed. It continues to be therapeutic.” 

Between teaching seventh grade, coaching soccer, work with the Community School’s outdoor program and being a husband and a father, Vandenburgh has plenty to contemplate on constitutional runs right out the door to his home. As a family man, his wife Cortney and daughters Anika (10) and Torin (6) come first, however, so Vandenburgh runs on the margins of the day. Does that explain the bobbing light on Carbonate Mountain in the wee hours of winter?

“I try to have a mindful balance between family and running. This is my hobby, not theirs,” Vandenburgh said, explaining that as the school year gets under way, running largely takes a back seat. It’s a time for focus elsewhere and rest. Once the school year routine gels, a 10-to 20-week training cycle commences with distances ramping up through the dark of winter. Weekly mileages can get as high as 70-80 miles during the peak. “I don’t want to project or infect my passion on other passions my kids or spouse might have or develop. Much of my training happens when they are sleeping. You get good at running with a headlamp.”

A soccer player from Amherst, New Hampshire, Vandenburgh says he was the slowest one on the field, which may be the key to success as an ultra runner, more tortoise than hare. Other runners, like Community School Outdoor Program Director Rob Landis, himself a two-time winner of the Wasatch 100 in the mid-eighties, turned Vandenburgh on to the idea of racing ultras after he moved to Blaine County. 

“Rob and I have done some long runs in the Pioneers and the Sawtooths in the last five or six years,” Vandenburgh said, explaining that it’s important to have a buddy on deep backcountry runs for safety because getting home is mandatory. And, as much as races have a pleasing mix of challenge and camaraderie, like Sheridan, Wyoming’s, upcoming Bighorn 100, which will be Vandenburgh’s first 100-mile attempt, ultimately, it’s the solitude that drives him. 



Susan Robinson mountain bikes in Sun Valley, Idaho.

On Pace Beyond the Race

Susan Robinson Forges Outdoor Bonds



Trailside repairs happen on mountain bike rides, but Susan Robinson doesn’t shy away from changing flats or reconnecting broken chains. When exploring Sun Valley single track with friends or clients, there are mishaps, but it’s all part of something bigger—collegial empowerment through sport—all in the arms of Mother Nature.

After decades riding the trails of Blaine and Custer Counties on a casual basis, Robinson has become a leader in the field of guided mountain biking. Her husband, Scott Robinson, is owner and co-founder of First Light, the Ketchum-based purveyor of hunting attire. Susan pitches in there on the rare occasion, but her main vocation is advocate, especially for women, of mountain biking.

“Mountain biking is one of the things that I love to do,” Robinson said, explaining that her path to the sport as a guiding professional is a trajectory that started when mostly men shared the starting line. “It was really intimidating at first … But I think what I’ve enjoyed about racing is more of the camaraderie. Everyone has the pre-start jitters—their personal journey during the race and the re-cap after the finish—all of which makes for entertaining stories.”

Robinson came to the Sun Valley area at age 22 after she finished college at the University of Montana in her home state. “I moved here to be a ski bum,” she said. “People told me if I liked the skiing, I would love the summer, and I do. Early on, single track was something I dabbled in, but in the past 10 years it’s become much more of a focus.”

That focus included helping biking champion Rebecca Rusch start the Gold Rusch Tour, a nationwide series of events to encourage women’s participation in biking and to foster their empowerment. Robinson says her fondness for the sport grows with camaraderie gleaned from being an activist for it. Her commitment to the sport deepened when Jen Biondi of Biondi Upcycle suggested that she get certified as a coach. 

The business and pleasure of mountain biking is helping to get people out for a dose of pedal-powered exercise, Robinson says, in the playground she has called home since she graduated from college. 

“I love where I live,” said Robinson of her place out Warm Springs Road. “I can access single track in under a minute from my home and feel fortunate that that’s a big part of my life. It’s a great distraction from daily life since I need to focus on what I’m doing presently as opposed to worrying about issues life seems to serve up.”

Her Blaine County world has been a full, outdoor-oriented life, punctuated by a few years in Portland, Oregon, where Robinson cut her teeth road and cyclocross racing. “Riding has taken me to places I may not have seen otherwise. Meeting amazing people from all over the world keeps me healthy—unless I crash—and constantly challenges me.”

Her former habit of riding once or twice a week has become a regimen of five or six days a week during peak season. When outfitter Sturtevants in Ketchum was granted a U.S. Forest Service permit for guided mountain biking several years ago, it raised the temperature on Sun Valley’s already hot single-track draw. Robinson approached owner Olin Glenne about doing some women-specific clinics and now works as a licensed guide for the Ketchum shop.

While the main focus is keeping mountain biking fun, Robinson says, she does her best to make sure clients and students are in a safe environment, and that includes making sure their equipment is functioning properly. The work also entails working on bike handling basics, riding constructed stunts in a park and listening to rider feedback. “As much as I want someone to challenge themselves, and I can help with that, there’s no reason to expose someone to a serious injury.”

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.