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Passing the Torch

Sun Valley’s alpine Olympic past and future

Tai Barrymore has been turning heads at pro halfpipe contests by going bigger than anyone; he has come back from two blown-out knees in the last two years. Photo by Tal Roberts.

Sun Valley’s Olympic alpine tradition can be traced, almost magically, to its inaugural season. After representing the US at the Winter Olympics in Germany in 1936, the great Dick Durrance journeyed to Idaho to help develop America’s first destination ski resort. He would go on to win the original Harriman Cup that season, a downhill race that brought the best skiers in the world to Sun Valley each winter for decades.

Durrance would raise the Cup twice more to solidify his legend in Sun Valley, and for the next 75-plus years the resort would fashion its own legacy, serving as host and home to over 25 alpine skiing Olympians. With the 2014 Sochi Olympics this winter, it’s time to ask, “Who will be next to carry on Sun Valley’s Olympic tradition?”

Hailey Duke, a Sun Valley native, was passed the torch in 2010. At the Vancouver Games, Duke raced slalom for the most successful US Ski Team in history, which won eight medals in the alpine disciplines. After securing a World Cup start for the 2012 season, Hailey had to deal with a new challenge. “Everything was going well up until a few weeks before my first race,” says Duke, “when I found out that I had a pituitary brain tumor.”

Tanner Farrow enters his third season with the US Ski Team. Courtesy photo.She’d been nagged by symptoms for some time: hormonal imbalances, headaches, even numbness in her legs. While the discovery was shocking, explains Duke, who underwent brain surgery in February, the removal of the tumor has given her newfound optimism. “I feel like I have a new lease on life and my skiing career. I owe it to myself to go there [to Sochi] and do it again,” she says.

Despite battling a brain tumor and the stiff competition to make the Olympic Team, Duke is focused on making a comeback. As she explains, “I have no idea where it will lead me, but I know right now my goal is: Get to Sochi.”

Along with Duke, two other Sun Valley skiers have Olympic ambitions and face similar odds. Entering just his third season with the US Ski Team, Tanner Farrow is, more than anything, trying to regain his form after missing last season with a torn hamstring. Wing Tai Barrymore, who hopes to compete in the newly created skiing halfpipe, has had three blown ACLs over the last two seasons. But as alums of the SVSEF, Farrow and Barrymore understand the trials of an Olympic journey.

According to SVSEF’s alpine director, Ruben Macaya, Sun Valley’s community of skiing legends has been very influential. “Those Olympians definitely motivate us,” he says. Embracing that legacy, SVSEF included some inspiring touches to its training center at the base of Warm Springs. Specifically, explains Macaya, who himself represented Argentina in the 1968 Winter Games, “In the entrance, there’s a big glass door with a window that lists the names of all the Olympians that came out of SVSEF. And at the bottom, it says, ‘Your Name Here.’” Between Duke, Barrymore and Farrow, not to mention a prodigious crop of up and comers, there’s no doubt that Sun Valley’s illustrious list will grow for years to come. -Alec Barfield



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