Life on the Mountain
The Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade
A Heartwarming Dedication to Andy and Alice Schernthanner
There are moments in life when things just feel right. Moments bereft of doubt, filled purely by goodness and joy and the confidence that nothing can shake you. Riding up the Dollar Mountain chairlift with friends and family at dusk on Christmas Eve could be described as one such moment.
Sun Valley, draped in fresh snow from the two nights prior, was at its winter’s finest. The hillsides were blanketed in white, their bumps smoothed over, like frost-laden sand dunes. The air was brisk. The moon, high and alone in the dimming night sky, shone down fortuitously. Soft yellow lights sprinkled the Valley, beacons to the many fireplaces that awaited our return. But there we were, a horde of ski school instructors, patrolmen and a handful of others, on a night ride with our skis and boards, headed up the mountain to stage for Sun Valley’s Torchlight Parade.
From the lodge, to the lifts to the scenic overlook on top, there was a festive atmosphere of friends and even friendlier strangers, people who wanted nothing more than to celebrate. Waiting at the summit as the temperature dropped, the mixed crowd shared beers and peppermint Schnapps to stay warm. They joked, howled and told stories of past times when they’d felt this good. Only after the annual Sun Valley Christmas Eve ice show, which generally ends around six o’clock, would the real spectacle begin.
In the middle of it all, in both body and spirit, was the Schernthanner family—Heidi, Liesl, Pater, Monika, Britta and Andreas—who were participating in the memory of their parents, Andy and Alice Schernthanner, who passed away this December and July, respectively. Sun Valley chose to dedicate this year’s Torchlight, organized annually by the Snowsports School, to the late couple. Arriving in Ketchum in 1958, the Schernthanners have now been residents of Sun Valley for five decades, during which time they became legendary instructors, community organizers and the parents of six children and five grandchildren. Theirs is a legacy of love and local living: “Growing up, we never had to explain who we were,” explained Britta Schernthanner, referencing her parents’ influence. “Everybody knew our family because mom and dad did so much in the community. This is really the end of an era.”
Dating back further than the memory of any living resident, the Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade holds a special place in Sun Valley history, and never before has it been dedicated to an individual, as it was this year to Andy and Alice Schernthanner. The parade has long been a nostalgic event for friends and family, watching the glowing, snaking line of instructors and remembering those torchbearers who are no longer with us. Not simply a performance, the torchlight parade is an opportunity for remembrance of everyone and everything that has contributed to the foundation of this incredible community—people like Andy and Alice Schernthanner. In their honor, the Schernthanner offspring were asked to lead the parade, with the eldest, Heidi, as the front torchbearer.
As a time capsule, the Torchlight Parade is a unique tradition that not only honors former participants, but also alludes to this area’s earliest beginnings. The parade of torches itself speaks to Sun Valley’s Swiss and Austrian predecessors, who pioneered the mesmerizing trails of fire that first snaked down the Alps. The parade’s location, on the other hand, alludes to the resort’s original claim to fame, as Dollar Mountain was home to one of the first two chairlifts in the entire world (the other being on nearby Proctor Mountain). The idea, inspired by banana-carrying lifts in the tropics, was a momentous innovation that would shape Sun Valley and the skiing world forever. Perhaps it’s what eventually drew families like the Schernthanners to Idaho: a world-class destination resort, complete with chairlifts, where they could ski their butts off.
Regardless of what drew them here, what made Andy and Alice stay had to have been something more powerful, like that indescribable feeling one got at the top of Dollar Mountain on Christmas Eve, gazing out at the natural beauty of these hills and peaks above and behind them, friends all around, waiting for the parade to begin once more.