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Valley Profiles

Profiling skiing icons Bobbie Burns, Chuck Ferries, Rick Kapala, Langely and Wiz McNeal, Phil Puchner and Penelope Street.

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About Rick Kapala...

When Rick Kapala sustained an injury during a pick-up football game in college, he was told he could no longer participate in contact sports. The news instantly put an end to the dream of being an Olympic wrestler that he had harbored since high school.

But having grown up with a love for the outdoors and having learned the discipline and passion for an active lifestyle from wrestling, he began Nordic skiing with some college buddies as a way to keep healthy. Little did he know that the challenge and solitude of the sport would draw him in and provide him with a new future far from the world of wrestling.

In 1987, after having coached a team in Alaska for a couple of years, Kapala moved to the Valley to take a position as the head coach of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s (SVSEF) cross-country program. Now 52, Kapala has coached students such as 2010 Olympian Morgan Arritola and many others who have gone on to earn national and international titles.

The SVSEF recently awarded Kapala with the 2010 Jack Simpson Dedicated Coaches Award and he also received the 2011 Al Merrill Award for Nordic Leadership and Commitment to Excellence from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. In almost 30 years of coaching, he has worked individually with more than 400 athletes.

Kapala’s initial interest in coaching came from his high school wrestling coach, Tom Kroll, and a couple named Tom and Sue Duffield, who guided him one high school summer on a trail crew with the Student Conservation Association. Kroll made him feel welcome on the wrestling team from day one, even though he wasn’t much good. “I was this fat little kid who couldn’t do anything very well, and I got talked into this sport by some other kids on the street,” Kapala says. “I felt like it didn’t matter if I was the best guy on the team or the worst guy on the team. It was obvious that this coach valued everybody equally. To me that was a huge, huge lesson, and I never forgot it.”

That lesson, along with his time with the Duffields, taught Kapala to be curious about the world and provided him with exceptional examples of how to empower teenagers. Drawing on those experiences, Kapala began developing the views on coaching he still holds today. Kapala tries to coach with what he refers to as a servant-style leadership. He sees it as his job to help his athletes find the strengths within themselves to succeed.

“You have to really understand your athletes. It’s my job to adjust my coaching style to them, not theirs to change their personalities to suit me … so I have to figure out how to help their essential elements add to what they’re doing. My job isn’t to make them somebody else,” Kapala says. “At the end of the day, what you’re really trying to do with coaching is get people to awaken themselves.”

Mike Sinnott, 2011 Super Tour Champion and one of Kapala’s long-time students, says that Kapala’s efforts to adapt his coaching to each individual and his ability to infuse hard work with fun are what initially kept him on the team.

Looking back, Sinnott says, “I don’t think it can be overstated how great a coach Rick is and how important he’s been to the community. He’s very much affected my own life … I couldn’t imagine what I’d be doing now, probably would be stuck in an office somewhere, without him.”

Kapala says that one of the most rewarding aspects of coaching for him is seeing kids who struggle initially with cross-country skiing stick with the sport and undergo a personal transformation until, at some point, they finally succeed.

“We get tricked into thinking that the end result is where knowledge, competency or ability comes from. But it doesn’t come from getting the answer. It comes from working to get the answer,” Kapala says. “We never say to anyone, ‘You’re not good enough.’ We just keep saying, ‘You can be.’”
He also enjoys seeing old students out training, even years after they have moved on from the team. Kapala hopes that if his students leave with any lesson in particular, it is how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. -Hailey Tucker



Sun Valley Magazine encourages its readers to post thoughtful and respectful comments on all of our online stories. Your comments may be edited for length and language.

Old to new | New to old
Feb 6, 2012 12:02 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Love these shots. And great stories too! Thx for sharing.

Oct 22, 2013 09:56 am
 Posted by  superskier

Bobbie Burns - I remember him when I worked on the Sun Valley Ski Patrol. Other characters were numerous - Les Outes, Cathy Palm, ALL 35 of the Ski Patrol and last but not least - Lea Bacos - my fellow Canadian who managed Dollar Mountain and was my room-mate. He called me his fellow wet-back.

Those were the days when moguls were moguls (not the whale-back shapes you find these days), men were men, and women were glad. We had 1st powder on our way to safe ski runs too steep for snowcats. Then packed the runs and then skied the rest of the time when not slated for the patrol shack.

The instructors hated us for that and we hated them for getting all the girls but never mind - we were there only for the skiing. One trick when en route to ski packing was to pick out a particularly unlikeable instructor addressing his class - and systematically ski over the back of his skis - one after another after another. Childish really, but the hatred was tangible and we couldn't help ourselves.

Wish I could remember the ski patrollers' names - but the guys from San Francisco and LA were as mad as hatters and the lieutenants were local ranchers when not skiing. And me - i was the mad Canuck. Not mad because of my behaviour but mad on my skis. I don't know why people made such a fuss over Bobbie Burns. In my mind - Exhibition after a good dump WAS ALL MINE. One explosion, then another, then another - avalement - sat waaaay back, arms in the air - but not in slow motion like Old Man Burns. I liked to keep my speed up and blast over those bumps. If i didn't fall 3 or 4 times a run - I wasn't skiing. No disrespect to Bobbie - just flying the maple leaf. Well done Mr Burns for all your successes - you certainly got me revved up. I can still taste those steaks in The Ore House on Fridays with pay packet in hand. And the heated outdoor pool each evening with a Coors in hand at The Ram Hotel. What a life - paid to ski, room and board and all the latest skis to try out. Lovely Job.

Oct 23, 2013 06:23 pm
 Posted by  superskier

And whatever happened to Moe on the ski patrol - I was The only Crazy Canuck on the Patrol...back in the winter of '68-69. I remember come springtime when folks would gather at the bottom of River Run at the end of the day to watch various Patrollers schuss from quite high up as the snow was slow and then jump the stream at the bottom. Moe was always asked to do silly tricks and he never shied away - even though he never managed to pull them off. I can still see Moe and his skis stuck in the river bank, vibrating until he gradually slid back into the water - what a clown! He's probably area manager today.

And there was some crazy yet colourful chick who skiied full out on hard pack down through the trees and if she ran into one - she'd break into fits of unconrollable laughter.

And then there were the wonderful jazz duos at The Ram - husband on piano, wife on double bass during Happy Hour after a hard day's skiing and a swim in the heated pool...with sometimes more than a few Coors. After the paid entertainment did their thing - i would sit at the piano and take requests - double shot of single malt if you please. i missed so many staff dinners that spring.

My room-mate and manager of Dollar Mountain - Lea Bacos - giving me a lecture for dating Cathy Palm - his future step daughter with him marrying her mother whose other daughter was possibly marrying his buddy Les Outes - Area manager which would make Lea - Les' step father in law. Lea had 3 pictures of himself on the mantelpiece standing as proud father of different families in each. And HE'S A CANADIAN.

What a laugh - it could only be Sun Valley...gosh - 1968/69 - that's 45 years ago. Raichle Red Boots and Head Killy 215 Downhill skis in moguls that were absolutely fabulous. THAT WAS HOTDOGGING !

Oct 23, 2013 06:40 pm
 Posted by  superskier

Part of our job on The Patrol was- first ride up to look for skiers who had sneaked in without paying for a lift ticket very early before the lifts had started and would hide face down in the trees and half way up the mountain. I could see them on a sunny morning as any metal bits would shine in the sunlight and we were supposed to catch them up and then escort them out of the area. I confess I felt if they went to that much trouble - leave them to it - bless them - lying motionless - freezing their backsides for the better part of an hour. they deseerved to ski for free...though these days I don't think the management would condone such tolerance.

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