Who, What, Where, Now!
Sun Valley Caretakers
The Quiet Life on Baldy
The lights never go out on Baldy. Each winter day come 4 o’clock, when most of us skiers and boarders are getting pushed off the mountain, the live-in apartments that are located in every on-mountain lodge at Sun Valley, begin flickering to life. Unbeknownst to many, people actually live in the Seattle Ridge Lodge, in Lookout, in Roundhouse and even in Warm Springs.
They live on the mountains during the whiteouts and the heavy storms, during the striking sunrises that stretch over the Valley and the sunsets that wander westward into the wilderness.They watch full moons cast shadows in forests and herds of snowcats, while they graze nightly on the bumpy slopes nearby. They also have jobs to do. Sun Valley refers to these individuals as simply the “caretakers” and their role, while hardly public and naturally mysterious, is nonetheless integral to the resort’s business.
Between all of Baldy’s mountain lodges, there are a total of six of these employees. A small group to say the least, but according to the Director of Mountain Food and Beverage, Todd Rubenstein, “They are our eyes and ears on the mountain.” Working strictly as individuals or teams of two, as in the case at Seattle Ridge, the caretakers are Sun Valley’s security system, its watchmen.
With the average nighttime temperature on Baldy below freezing, water pipes can easily burst and in a town like Ketchum, there's also the concern of poachers and parties at the top of the mountain.* Sun Valley’s caretakers prevent such things from happening, plain and simple. Says Todd, “We want to make sure the buildings are secure and taken care of.” If you’ve ever seen the massive and lavish Seattle Ridge Lodge or the uber-antique Roundhouse, you understand why the Resort likes to keep them all occupied, and thereby much safer, for 24 hours a day.
In addition to their surveillance duties, the caretakers perform general maintenance tasks—basically everything that needs to be done for lodge services to commence each morning. They vacuum and mop, check that the restrooms are clean, empty the daily heaps of trash, make certain that there’s no running water and pretty much do whatever it takes to keep each lodge in good shape for another day of hosting skiers. And, at some point in the middle of the night, a snowcat delivers the lodge’s food and beverage supplies, which then need to be unloaded and stocked. While their jobs are “nothing too fancy,” these are the kinds of behind-the-scenes employees that make for a successful mountain operation.
It isn’t, however, the job, nor its subtle importance that attracts one to work as a Sun Valley caretaker. Since shifts begin after the resort closes and extend deep into the night, the caretakers work by a very different clock than the rest of us. In other words, the job is largely solitary. While volunteering for Guest Services last season, I’d often see Russ, the caretaker at Lookout, leaving the mountain, chatting with friends and basically staying in touch with Valley life. But can the same be said of the others? Is their wintertime isolation simply an inconvenience of the position or is it the reason certain men and women choose to become caretakers in the first place?
After getting the chance to interview Logan, who’s lived and worked at Roundhouse since the 2009-2010 winter season, I can say that at least one of Sun Valley’s caretakers has a penchant for solitude. He admits that his life on the mountain is indeed highly reclusive, but that he likes it that way. Logan openly described his desire for regular quiet time and revealed that the caretaker position, which he discovered online while living in the Seattle area, “is the best job I’ve ever had.” Even for those who need lots of personal downtime, including myself, the life of a caretaker can, however, be a radically private, almost monastic experience, and one than most of us would be unable to endure. Logan, for instance, told me proudly that he went for a personal record of 93 days this season without saying a word. In today’s world of gross connectivity, it’s incredible that such asceticism can exists only miles from downtown Ketchum.
Like Baldy’s other nocturnal creatures, which he regularly sees dart outside the windows of his apartment, Logan sleeps during the day, going to bed around sunrise, usually. At night he works, eats (“I cook lots of quinoa.”) and relaxes. In an odd but understandable twist of scale, Logan prepares all of his food in the expansive professional kitchen at Roundhouse. For the caretakers, their designated lodge becomes a home, the luxury and splendor of Sun Valley merely a backdrop to their way of life. Notice that I didn’t mention any skiing? While Logan enjoys going outside to marvel at the night sky, he moved to Sun Valley for deeper reasons than freshh tracks.
While neither Todd nor Logan conceded there is a distinct personality type for the job, it’s pretty clear that not everyone’s cut out to be a Sun Valley caretaker. Todd says there are two definitive criteria: “He (or she) does need to want to live in solitude, but then also needs to be able to communicate effectively.”
Having only spoken with Logan (Roundhouse) and Russ (Lookout), my perspective is understandably lacking. At the Seattle Ridge Lodge, where an Idaho couple lives, the atmosphere is predictably louder. Yet not by much –two people alone on a mountain is scarcely a community. Still, together the caretakers form an unorthodox group of residents: hard-working hermits tasked with keeping the lights on.
*(Sources tell me this used to happen. Anyone willing to share a related experiences, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org.)