Life on and off the waters of the Wood River Valley
A Ski Community Celebration: the 35th Annual Fall Game Dinner
There are many reasons why Sun Valley is considered a world-class ski town. But when the press from places like the New York Times or Ski Magazine celebrate Sun Valley they usually miss the most important reason.
Sure, they cite the fantastic history of America’s original ski resort, they laude the culture, arts and cuisine, they marvel at the mountains and boast about Baldy’s long steep runs and lack of lift lines. But they usually miss the area’s most important attribute.
The real reason Sun Valley is a world-class ski town is because of the community that calls it home. And there is no better example of the strength, support and pride of the community than at the Annual Fall Game Dinner & Auction fundraiser for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), held last Saturday night at the Limelight Room in the Sun Valley Inn.
“The community here is really special,” Ruben Macaya explained in a slight South American accent. “The passion and dedication we have here is just amazing.”
Rueben was at the dinner with his wife, Paula, and theirs is a true story of love on the slopes. As a teenager, Paula was such a skilled skier that the Montana native had raced in Sun Valley and was sent down to Bariloche, Argentina, to train. That fateful summer of ‘68 she met a young ski instructor and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I didn’t know of Sun Valley before I met my wife, but the way she would talk about it. It sounded like someplace special,” Ruben said with a sparkle in his smiling eyes.
The young couple made it their dream to someday raise a family in Sun Valley. After spending several years at ski resorts in Colorado and California they eventually fulfilled their dream and moved to the area where they raised two children in Hailey.
That was almost 23 years ago. Rueben is now the Alpine Director for SVSEF. He believes there are three main reasons for the success that participants of the various SVSEF programs have had (racers from the program have gone on to win Olympic medals, World Cup events and National Championships, and SVSEF can now proudly boast to having contributed members to U.S. teams in all four winter ski racing disciplines: alpine, cross country, freestyle and snowboarding).
“There are a lot of positives here, but the number one thing is the community support. I’ve lived in Vail, Tahoe, Argentina. Nowhere have I seen the level of support that I’ve seen from the community here,” Ruben said.
Next on Ruben’s list is Baldy itself. “I call it the fifth coach. Kids are going to learn to ski if they’re on this mountain.” Finally, but no less important, Ruben credits the coaches, “There is an incredibly dedicated group of coaches. Nobody does it for the money. They do it because they have a passion.”
John French is one such coach. For over 17 years John has coached for SVSEF and some of his alumni include snowboarding professionals like Wyatt Caldwell and Graham Watanbe. Both riders recorded video tributes to French, as he was selected as this year’s Jack Simpson Award winner.
Caldwell called John an “inspiration to the entire team.” Watanbe, a two-time Olympian, said French has a great “positive energy” and added, “It’s about time somebody pointed to John and said, ‘He’s the guy!’”
In accepting the prestigious dedicated coaching award, French said coaching for the SVSEF has been a dream job for him, even if it doesn’t really seem like work. “Most days it’s just plain fun,” he said, before ending his speech to a standing ovation.
Between the balloon raffle, silent and live auctions alone (loaded with everything from Chums products to private sailboat trips around the Mediterranean), the local ski community was able to raise a couple hundred thousand dollars for the SVSEF at the 35th Annual Fall Game Dinner. Helping to assure that the nearly 46-year-old program will continue to produce some of the world’s finest winter sports athletes by welcoming in local kids of any economic background.
To no one’s surprise, one of the most popular live auction items was Argentinean Lamb Asado for 40 prepared by none other than Ruben Macaya himself. It went for almost $10,000.“This community here is incredible. It really makes this place special,” he said.