Valley locals make their mark
The true spirit of Idaho is that of a pioneer. The type of person who doesn’t simply stand around and wait for something to happen, but rather the type who makes things happen.
Here we profile six such snow pioneers, people whose passions and roots run deep through the heart of the Wood River Valley.
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT
Kaitlyn Farrington Leads the Next Generation
When Kaitlyn Farrington first started snowboarding, she didn’t do so in hopes of gaining fame and glory, or even to get free trips halfway around the globe.
Rather, at 12 years old, Kaitlyn’s motivation to switch from skis to a snowboard was much simpler than that. It was a classic younger sibling moment. She wanted to be more like her older sister, Jessalyn—and Jessalyn was a snowboarder. Little did Kaitlyn know that in a mere eight years, she’d be climbing podiums around the world for her skills in the halfpipe.
Farrington, now 21, said she was not a natural at snowboarding, but, thanks to lots of practice and patience, she was able to improve. By 2005, she became good enough to join the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s (SVSEF) snowboarding team and began to enjoy the competition side of the sport. To help support her burgeoning career, Kaitlyn’s family sold cows from their farm to help pay for her travel for competitions.
With growing momentum and steadily improving skills, Farrington soon caught the eye of GNU Snowboards, and by the ’06-’07 winter season, she had received her first sponsorship. A year later, she scored a spot on the U.S. Rookie Snowboarding Team.
Since then, Farrington has continued to carve up the snowboarding scene. In the ’09-’10 winter season, it seemed like she made a podium every weekend. Kaitlyn won the Winter Dew Tour Cup Overall Championship at Mount Snow, Vermont, by being the only woman to pull off a clean “Crippler 7” (an inverted frontside 360 degree flip). She then took gold at the European X-Games in Tignes, France, by beating out Olympic gold medalist, Torah Bright. Finally, Farrington ended her season on a high note by finishing just behind another Olympic gold medal winner, Kelly Clark, for an impressive second-place showing at last year’s U.S. Open Championships of Snowboarding at Stratton Mountain, Vermont.
Although Farrington travels the world snowboarding and has dreams of making the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, she said one of her favorite runs in the world is still Broadway on Baldy. Farrington credits Sun Valley, both the mountain and the coaches she met on it, for a large portion of her success.
“Since there wasn’t a halfpipe until later, I got really good at freeriding and just having fun,” Farrington said. “Baldy made me a strong rider because of all the different terrain. It made me a strong all-around snowboarder.”
This winter, Farrington will once again participate in the Grand Prix, the Dew Tour and both Winter X-Games, and hopes to execute a Cab 1080 (a popular trick among male snowboarders in which the rider starts fakie, spins around 360 degrees three full times, and then lands regular) along the way.
Kaitlyn sees the other women on the U.S. Team as some of her greatest competition, but adds that they are also some of her best friends. Farrington cites fellow women’s snowboarder, Maddy Shaffrick, as one of her biggest inspirations.
Farrington’s advice for aspiring snowboarders is to have fun and believe in your own abilities. “The sky is the limit. Really, you can do anything,” Farrington said.
And with her success last season, it seems that she is following her own advice. With a little fun and fierce ambitions, Farrington hopes to keep making the Valley that raised her proud.
PUSHING THE LIMITS
Mike Hattrup and the Evolution of Extreme Skiing
Ketchum resident Mike Hattrup is a shy guy, in a mellow town, with an extreme problem.
A pioneer in the sport of extreme skiing in the ’80s, Hattrup, now 48 years old, is happy to watch his two children, Axel and Isabella, excel at Hemingway Elementary School and to play the dutiful spouse to his Munich-born wife of nine years, Claudia.
Hattrup clearly enjoys the Wood River Valley and the freedom to travel the world as the director of K2 Adventure. But this also begs the question: Why is a founder of the global community of hard-core skiing pioneers hanging his hat in Ketchum?
“You need to put it all into perspective. Yeah, I would prefer to have Rendezvous Peak at Jackson Hole right there,” as he points toward Bald Mountain from a table at Java on Fourth. “But when you combine the town and mountain, it’s a very nice mix. The town is not ostentatious, it still feels warm, and the mountain is still remarkable. It’s a nice balance.”
“Let me say this,” Hattrup continues, “I have skied a lot of places. And there are not many places you can go with a pure 3,100-foot vertical fall line. I like to make a lot of turns and I want my legs to quit before the run does. Baldy does that.”
Hattrup’s ride to the extreme skiing scene was a bit of a bumpy one. Born in Seattle, he made the U.S. Moguls Ski Team in the mid-’80s before an ACL injury took him out. But his big break came in ’88, when he co-starred in Greg Stump’s landmark ski flick, “The Blizzard of Aahhhs.” To this day, the film is still considered a cult classic.
“Stump was a DJ by trade,” explains Hattrup. “So while there were other filmmakers before him, like (Warren) Miller and (Dick) Barrymore, his music was really good and his editing was a lot edgier and quicker.”
makes it a very different sport…Today, they are straight-lining the stuff
we were just barely able to get down.”
After nearly 30 years, extreme skiing continues to push physical and technical limits, as young skiers jump off even larger cliffs and ski even steeper faces. Advances in equipment from ski companies such as K2 have also opened up the winter backcountry to diehards and weekend warriors in equal numbers.
“What we did 20 years ago, and what they do today in extreme skiing, makes it a very different sport,” Hattrup points out. “The difference is in the equipment that allows skiers to push the envelope. But it’s crazy right now, with the speed and the consequences. Today, they are straight-lining the stuff we were just barely able to get down.”
Hattrup recalls the early days in the backcountry scene with a favorite quote from a fellow extreme skier, the late Allan Bard: “‘Bardini,’ as he was called, had just completed this awesome descent down a face on skinny skis, three-pin bindings, and leather boots. When he gets to the bottom, he turns to fellow skier, Tim Carter, and says, ‘I can’t believe we just skied what we just skied—on what we just skied!’”
Hattrup moved to Ketchum full-time in ’97, but he was no stranger to Baldy and the Wood River Valley. He took a year off from college in ’82 and lived in Ketchum. He recalls riding the chairlift that winter with skiers, “like me (now). They were in their late forties, they came for a winter and never left.”
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, we skied bumps every day and Baldy was one of, if not the, best bump mountains in the world. Bump skiing was the culture in that era,” he adds.
Aside from his role with K2, Hattrup is still a prominent ski mountaineer and certified guide. He works for Marin Volken’s Seattle-based guiding service and spends a portion of each winter in the Alps.
“Being a guide at 48 years old, it’s much different than what I thought at 28 years old. If you can survive all the stupid stuff, then you can develop some pretty good judgment,” says Hattrup. “As the saying goes, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”
Over the years, Hattrup has also lived in other mountain towns, but Ketchum still resonates with him.
“I lived in Vail for a year and a half. But after three months in Ketchum, I knew more people here than I knew in Vail. It’s very comfortable,” says Hattrup. “I had friends visiting recently. They kept remarking how quiet and peaceful it is here. I thought that’s pretty crazy, but it’s also very true.”
THE GLOBAL CITIZEN
Dave Robrahn Finds, and Helps Define, his Home
Dave Robrahn is a global citizen, and even though he calls the Wood River Valley home, the twisting path that brought him here is quite a story.
Born in the winter of ’46 in Maroubra, one of the rougher coastal towns surrounding Sydney, Australia, Dave grew up as a surfer. He didn’t even get his first taste of winter until he was 21, in the mountains of southeastern Australia at a ski resort called Perisher Valley. After one season on the slopes, Dave hit the road, not really sure where he was headed.
“If you know where you’re going, or why you’re going,” Dave said, in his thick Aussie accent, “then you also know when you’re coming back, and what’s the fun in that!”
Robrahn’s long journey to Idaho began when he hopped a ship from Sydney to Singapore. He then traveled up to Europe, where he jumped on a sailboat to the Caribbean and worked there for a while. Eventually, Dave made his way north to the Rockies, where he worked on the ski patrol at Aspen. From there, Dave followed the snow to Whistler, British Columbia, and eventually ended up in Sun Valley in the early ’70s, four years after he left Australia.
lot of places that I love coming back to. The Wood River Valley is one
of the few places I love coming home to.”
“The first time I came to the Valley, it was during one of the worst snow seasons ever,” Dave recalls, about his first fateful (pre-snowmaking) Idaho winter. Large patches of dirt covered Baldy in mid-February. The skiing was awful. But he didn’t give up on the place, mainly because of the people he met here. The next year his faith was rewarded with a big winter.
“That did it for me,” Robrahn said, fondly. The world traveler had finally found his home. Not that he’s one to stand still for too long. Dave continues to travel extensively, from Alaska to Australia, from South and Central America to Mexico and Europe—he’s always on the move. It’s just that now, he always comes back to Ketchum.
“There are lots of places I like to go in the world,” he explained, “but there aren’t a whole lot of places that I love coming back to. The Wood River Valley is one of those few places.”
When asked just what it is about the Valley that keeps him coming back, Dave gets a bit philosophical. “It’s just an awesome balance for me, an all-around great place to live that has a wonderful mix of the outdoors, good food, great people, a nice climate and a lot of open space,” he explained.
Dave was one of the first snowboarders on Baldy, thanks to a few early boards made by Hooger Booger that showed up at his office at Scott USA (and thanks to the encouragement of his two young sons, Kai and Tann). Robrahn played a vital role in the burgeoning snowboard culture of the late ’80s and early ’90s—a culture that has now come of age and features world-class, locally-grown snowboarding stars like Olympian Graham Watanabe, Kaitlyn Farrington and even Dave’s now-full-grown sons (Tann made the 2008 Australian Olympic team).
Merging his background in surfing with his love of winter sports and his experience as a design engineer and head of new product development at Scott USA, Dave helped define what it means to be a snowboarder in Sun Valley and the type of gear you need to be one.
The list of products Dave helped design and patent is as long as the one Santa Claus carries around. Though Dave doesn’t like to talk about it, he helped patent inventions like anti-fog systems for goggles, lenses that amplify flat light, face protection gear for motorcross and pivot-points in ski boots that allow a skier’s ankles to move more naturally.
But it’s not because of his inventions that Dave has come to define the Wood River Valley as much as anyone. It’s because of his easy laugh, abundant enthusiasm and a natural ability to encourage others.
Dave is pretty hard to miss around town with his long blond hair (usually stuffed under a baseball cap), an arm full of bracelets, and an Aussie accent that he holds onto proudly. So the next time you spot him, do yourself a favor and buy him a beer. At the very least, you’ll hear an amazing story or two, and there’s a good chance he might just inspire you to go out into the world with an open mind, an open heart, and no destination whatsoever.
Bringing the Boarding Revolution to the Valley
After spending two weeks driving cross-country with their German shepherd, Sasha, and sleeping in the car at night, Jim Slanetz and Karin Reichow finally trundled into Hailey in a Mercedes Benz on its last legs.
“Whoever had to sleep in the back seat had to sleep with the dog. Whoever had to sleep in the front seat had to deal with the stick shift,” said Slanetz, reliving that late-’80s ordeal.
By the time they got to town, the car was kaput. It was time to get jobs and find a place to live. Luckily, those responsibilities came together in a fortuitous fashion. They found a garage in Ketchum for rent. It had heat, electricity, a carpet, no running water and was long enough to fit two cars parked end-to-end.
“So Jim was like, ‘Why don’t we open a snowboard shop in the front?’” Reichow recalls.
The rest, as they say, is history. They hung their hats in the back and opened the original incarnation of the Board Bin—the (unofficial) first snowboard shop in the Northwest—in the front.
“We were a tiny shop run by two people and a dog,” Reichow explained.
Since then, the store has become a Ketchum mainstay and the couple has had a hand in shaping the evolution of snowboarding and skateboarding in the Wood River Valley.
But long before that, their stories began on different continents. Slanetz, 46, grew up in New Hampshire and went to college in Boulder, Colorado, where he first stepped onto a snowboard.
“Someone in my dorm had a snowboard and we would hike up this hill by the planetarium,” Slanetz recalled. “It was more like sledding.”
Reichow, 49, was born in a flat part of Germany, where winter sports were restricted to sledding. She was 12 when she first went skiing in Austria, and spent four weeks in a hospital one winter with a broken back from a bad tumble on the slopes.
In ’88, the pair met in Boston, where Reichow was working with a non-profit group and Slanetz was taking vanloads of tourists on trips around New England. She liked his dog, helped him find some clients, and he invited her to join him on one of his adventures.
Soon thereafter, they were in the jalopy heading west. The next January they got married at the Hailey airport.
Over the years, the Board Bin grew through hard work and dedication. For a while, Slanetz and Reichow each kept side jobs to pay the bills. They innovated early, fashioning snowboard boots from old ski boot liners stuffed into used snow boots. Reichow learned to snowboard and the shop soon became a hub for the knuckle-dragging community.
The fall after they opened the store, Slanetz and Reichow moved it (and their living quarters) to a building on 4th Street, currently home to Java’s ice cream store. In the small alley next door, they opened Ketchum’s first skate park. The neighbors were not thrilled, but the park gave local kids a place to skateboard under the watchful eyes of the shop owners. Eventually, they helped organize the first legitimate skate park in Ketchum, garnering support around town and raising money by throwing street parties.
Since the couple first moved to town, snowboarding has gone mainstream, they’ve had two sons, Ziggy and Shea, and . . . the Board Bin has become a true icon.
“We didn’t know that we’d still be doing it 20 years later,” Reichow said with a laugh.
The Culture of Tim Silva
From carving turns on his favorite Fischer Riesenslalom skis of yesteryear to the wood core Völkls he enjoys today, longtime Sun Valley advocate Tim Silva is still in love with skiing on Bald Mountain.
Despite spending 18 years away from the Valley, to give the Northstar at Tahoe resort a serious spit shine, Silva, who cut his teeth as a Sun Valley lift operator 35 years ago, is still at home in the Wood River Valley.
But this time around, Silva’s challenge isn’t just safely loading skiers onto lifts—it’s to help make Sun Valley as much fun for a 13-year-old as it is for someone his age, 58.
“Most people will tell you Baldy may be the best ski hill in the country, if not beyond that,” Silva said. “Warm Springs top to bottom is among the best runs anywhere. I love the bowls. The soft snow crud can stay soft and buttery for days.”
For the youngsters, the new terrain park at Dollar Mountain and halfpipe on Baldy are steps in the right direction, Silva said, adding that what makes Northstar and Sun Valley more than just great ski areas is that they are four-season resorts as well.
Silva is a fan of Sun Valley summers, too. His favorite warm-weather activities include mountain biking and trail running. He is a little worried that the grounds crew may chase him off the golf course, though.
“Much to the dismay of the superintendent, I do golf. Every time I’m out there I create a lot of work,” he said with a smile.
“I love to hike with my wife anywhere in the Pioneers,” Silva adds, explaining that their connection to this place is so strong that they even “dragged” their two children, who were born in Sun Valley, to Pioneer Cabin every summer during their California years to shoot the family Christmas card. “That is our place. It holds a great deal of sentiment for us.”
Silva returned full-time to Idaho in May ’09 to take the reins as Sun Valley’s general manager. When asked about his dreams for the future of the resort, Silva hopes that actions will speak louder than words.
“I plotted a path academically. I took a natural science route and studied forestry and recreation. Coming to Sun Valley is not an accident,” he said from his office adjacent to the Sun Valley employee cafeteria, where the people whom he believes are the core of the resort take their work-a-day respite. “I think the essence of any resort is the quality of guest services. We are lucky to have the caliber of people that we do. Some folks over there are the warmest you will ever meet.”
Silva believes Sun Valley employees make the original destination resort an international jewel by sharing their personal warmth and love of the area with visitors.
“You’ve got to want to come to Sun Valley. When you step off the plane in Hailey, you are greeted by a bellman. By the time you get to the lodge, you already have a feel for Sun Valley. It’s got the patina,” he said.
Silva sees room for refinement and continual improvement in all four seasons and in all disciplines at Sun Valley, but more specifically, at the root of the resort. Silva dreams of expanding one of Sun Valley’s original claims to fame: high-level ski instruction and mountain guide leadership to be on par with any ski area in the world.
“I admire anybody who loves this sport, from instructors to maintenance employees and to the people who live here and make it their primary focus,” Silva explained. He sees his job as sustaining the skiing culture. “It takes commitment, but it all adds up to a great experience for those who pursue it.”
Ultimately for Silva, Sun Valley is about family and the people who make the place. While riding the early-bird bus from Hailey to Ketchum, Silva’s name came up in conversation with veteran Sun Valley ski patroller and father of two, John Stokes, a builder who first met Silva during his early years at the resort.
“He is very busy, but he stops when we see each other and we talk about the kids. He is a very amiable guy,” Stokes said after loading his bike onto the Mountain Rides bus for his end-of-the-day ride back to Hailey as he prepares for a new ski season.
That’s Silva’s kind of ski culture.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH SKIING
Doran Key Shares her Passion for the Slopes
I started skiing with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s ski team when I was seven, and, like most kids growing up in the Valley, I quickly fell into the routine of praying for powder, spending all of my lunch money on candy bars and trying to understand how my skis were supposed to resemble the shapes of “pizza pies” and “French fries.”
As the years went on and my skiing improved, I remember finding myself in a puzzling situation—for the first time in my life I realized adults could be cool. Ski coaches were a conundrum, and there was one in particular who stood out.
Her name was Doran Key, and I thought there was no one better. Even as a kid, I could sense her passion and it was contagious. It was impossible not to love skiing when doing it with her.
Growing up here, I’ve noticed that many of my experiences on Baldy were not unique. It might have been Snickers instead of Kit Kats for lunch, or some kids may have stayed on the team longer than I did, but overall, I’ve heard a lot of the same stories; especially when it comes to favorite coaches. And Doran Key is included in those stories almost every time.
Doran, now 53, came to Sun Valley with her family in ’65 and joined the ski team that winter. Even then, she knew she’d found a home in the Valley. When Key was 20, she was invited to coach for what was then called the “Farm Team.” She accepted, and has been working for the Foundation ever since.
She estimates that in the 30 or so years she’s been at it, she’s coached upwards of 1,500 kids. Scott McGrew was one of those kids and has been coaching alongside Key for the past eight years. McGrew said he has always been impressed by Key’s radiant energy, selflessness and dedication.
At least my world lights up.”
“It has never been about Doran. It has always been about the kids,” McGrew said. “There are very few people I think you can honestly say that about.”
Doran beams when she talks about seeing a child win a race or have a breakthrough skiing powder.
“When kids light up because they’ve done well, the whole world lights up,” Key said. “At least my world lights up.”
Although Key is also involved in children’s activities at Atkinsons Park in the summer, she said coaching alpine skiing is an unbeatable experience. The time spent riding the chairlift in between runs is her most cherished.
“In no other sport do you have that break between the activity where you can actually sit down with your kids for 10 minutes and get to know them,” Doran said.
During her coaching tenure, Key has taught the gamut—from skiers like me, who couldn’t care less about speed, to Sun Valley legends such as Muffy Davis, Picabo Street and Zach Crist; she’s been there for it all. And, despite Key’s pride in her students that became Olympians, she said many of her other coaching experiences have been equally rewarding.
Doran said she is just as proud when children join the team at age seven and stay on it until they graduate from high school, even if they’re not the ones who make it up onto the podiums. She also said that seeing the number of young adults, like McGrew, who have returned to coach for the team after being on it as kids, has been incredible.
Key said her goals are to make lifelong skiers out of her students and to help children get involved in a healthy, outdoor activity. And after 30 years of doing just that, she has no intention of calling it quits. Key said she plans to continue coaching until she is unable to walk out to the mountain anymore.
When asked what she would want her legacy to be, Key’s answer was modest. She said, simply, that she wants to be remembered as someone her students had fun skiing with and who played a positive role in their childhoods.
Key could not say enough about how supportive and generous the community has been toward her and the program over the years. And while she realizes that what she does is important, she doesn’t seem aware that the community is trying to return the favor. Key has dedicated her entire adult life to teaching the Valley’s kids to love the mountains they were raised in. For her efforts, the Valley has fallen in love with her as well.
SOARING TO NEW HEIGHTS
Brian Callahan is Putting Sun Valley on the Terrain Park Map
While Sun Valley has long been considered a bastion of skiing heritage, the resort is proving that age is no impediment to change, as evidenced by a transition taking place less than a mile away from where the world’s first-ever ski chairlift once so proudly stood.
Over on Dollar Mountain, Terrain Park Manager Brian Callahan is working on a quest to couple Sun Valley Company’s image of a down-hiller’s paradise with one that relies on air as much as snow. For the second straight winter, Callahan is committed to improving Sun Valley’s terrain parks and pipes, and increasing the opportunities for alpine athletes who don’t have a penchant for skin-tight Bogner suits, stiff skis and even stiffer boots.
When he first arrived on the scene, Callahan found a mountain that boasted a mere three rails, hardly enough to make Sun Valley a top ten resort for terrain parks in North America. But with a total of 75 terrain park features (to mark the resort’s same numbered birthday this December) set for this season, Callahan is on his way to attaining that ranking, which he describes as his personal target.
Just because it’s been a skiing icon for 75 years doesn’t
mean it’s staying the same.”
“It’s such a clean palette—an opportunity to build something from scratch,” said Callahan, who spent the previous eight years working in the terrain park at the Breckenridge, Colorado. “That’s what inspired me to do this, along with the commitment from the resort.”
This commitment is coming from the top down, with Sun Valley Resort General Manager Tim Silva bringing along his expertise, which oversaw Northstar at Tahoe’s development into a terrain and mountain bike park destination.
“We’re showing people that Sun Valley is changing and growing,” Callahan said, while standing in front of a pile of metal waiting to be welded into shapes conducive to sliding skis and snowboards. “Just because it’s been a skiing icon for 75 years doesn’t mean it’s staying the same.”
The transformation is becoming well known, and not simply to locals and tourists. With a vigorous schedule comprised of photo shoots, events and film crews, the resort’s most recent offerings are finding an ever-expanding audience. A trend that, if Callahan has his way, is likely to continue and help Sun Valley once again regain its position as a pioneer in the ski resort industry.