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UP AND COMERS
The stories behind our Sun Valley start-ups
BY Kate Elgee
Sun Valley has a long history of inspiring creative minds. Local innovators like Ed Scott, Bob Smith, Chuck Ferries, Bobbie Burns and Mike Brunetto toiled in frozen basements and garages, in backyard sheds and makeshift shops, to scrape together industry-changing equipment and build companies (in some cases, multi-million-dollar ones) from the ground up. That wintertime torch is now being carried by the new up and comers—ambitious entrepreneurial spirits of Sun Valley who are forming start-up companies right here at home. Here are a few of the promising new enterprises in our area and the stories and people behind them.
Two local bowhunters, Scott Robinson and Kenton Carruth, created this line of Merino wool hunting clothes that are, coincidentally, perfect for all outdoor activity. Merino wool is naturally warm and cool, durable, anti-static, a UV protector and (ladies!) it’s odor resistant. Add to that the camouflage patterns and you have the perfect Christmas present. They can be found locally at High Desert Sports and Silver Creek Outfitters and at major retailers like Cabela’s and Scheels.
Former pro snowboarder and Sun Valley local Cory Smith has solved the “approach” problem for backcountry snowboarders. The MTN Approach Ski, as it’s called, is a lightweight and sturdy trekking alternative to split boards and “slow-shoeing” (aka “snowshoeing”) up steep slopes. Developed in his garage, Smith says, “Each ski folds into thirds and fits perfectly into most backpacks. The bindings are specifically designed to fit a wide range of snowboard boots and perform like a pair of normal skis with climbing skins attached.” With the help of Apple engineer Dave Narajowski, Operations Director John Kaiser and new graphics from snowboarding legend Bryan Iguchi, the MTN Approach ski can now be found in over 30 retailers (including Backwoods and Board Bin locally) and 10 countries worldwide.
Founded by Hailey couple Marcus and Megan Lengyel in 2012, SQN stands for Sine Qua Non, which means “only the essential” in Latin. With a desire to create “quality, comfortable and performance fit apparel,” they designed SQN’s line of pre and post workout clothing to promote healthier lifestyle choices. “We decided to headquarter our company in the Wood River Valley to help grow the local economy and create jobs,” says Megan. Although they sell their products primarily online, you can find any number of their leggings, T-shirts, shorts and shirts locally at Zenergy Health Club and Spa, Gather Yoga Studio or SQN’s Ketchum showroom.
Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent series was designed with the help of Idahoan and mountaineering guide Peter Whittaker to create a line of expedition-quality outerwear, apparel and gear that was both guide-built and guide-tested. Many First Ascent athletes are Sun Valley locals, including Whittaker, Melissa Arnot, Ed Viesturs, Reggie and Zach Crist, Erik Leidecker, Wyatt Caldwell, Lexi DuPont and Lynsey Dyer. Why here? Because Sun Valley continues to be home to some of the best guides and athletes in their sport.
Local Troy Ballard (now the head of business development for PACT Apparel in Boulder, Colorado) brought Icebreaker Merino Wool to Sun Valley in 2005. This New Zealand company started with a small wool farmer and now sells products in 43 countries worldwide. Ballard, while living in Australia, befriended creator/owner Jeremy Moon and decided to bring the company to the northern hemisphere. What better place than Sun Valley to operate an outdoor and sport clothing company? Although Icebreaker is now located in Portland, Oregon, Sun Valley was its headquarters when it launched in the United States.
Longtime Ketchumite Corey Warren decided to celebrate Gem State pride with the Idahome line of T-shirts, hoodies, trucker hats and water bottles. First created in 2011, and now selling out in shops like the Board Bin and on his newly-launched website, IdahomeShop.com, the Idahome line has proven to have serious appeal.
Sun Valley born and bred, Conor Davis has created a line of premium detox products inspired by a lifelong battle with heavy metal poisoning. Conor took the same carbonized bamboo that was used to absorb toxins from his brain and created Black to Life (blacktolife.com)—a chelation supplement used to cleanse the body of industrial and agricultural toxins, chemicals, heavy metals, drugs and alcohol.
1936: Sun Valley opens as America’s original destination ski resort.
1936: World’s first ski lifts are installed on Proctor and Dollar mountains. 1939: First chairlift is placed on the Warm Springs side of Bald Mountain.
1941: “Sun Valley Serenade” starring Sonja Henie premieres and the film will draw people to Sun Valley from all over the world.
1946: Pioneering filmmaker Warren Miller gets his start by spending the ski season camping in the River Run parking lot.
1958: Ed Scott designs the first tapered aluminum ski pole.
1960s: Local legend Bobbie Burns is credited with creating the unorthodox “Hot Dogging” style of freestyle skiing.
1965: Bob Smith designs the world’s first double-lens ski goggle.
1966: Sun Valley Heli Ski becomes the nation’s first helicopter ski outfitter.
1968: Chuck Ferries helps K2 create the first foam core fiberglass racing ski.
1969: Sun Valley local Dick Barrymore makes the first of his iconic ski movies, “The Last of the Ski Bums!”
1970: Leif Odmark starts Sun Valley Nordic Ski School, the nation’s first cross country ski school.
1971: Scott USA produces the world’s lightest ski boot.
1972: Jake and Dave “Captain Powder” Moe launch Powder Magazine in Ketchum.
1973: Sun Valley hosts the first US Freestyle Championships.
1974: Bobbie Burns launches The Ski, the world’s first freestyle-specific ski.
1975: Mike Brunetto launches Research Dynamics, producing skis and eventually mountain bikes.
1981-82: Sun Valley sets its seasonal skier record with 475,000 skier days.
1987: Sun Valley ski coach Boone Lennon patents the “aerobar” cycling handlebar (it mimics downhill ski race positioning). Scott USA produces it in 1989 and American Greg Lemond uses it during his 1989 Tour de France win.
2010: 5B Ski Factory (now Big Wood Skis) begins producing boutique skis in Ketchum.
The history of this 31-year-old company begins with Joe Leonard, one of the original backcountry skiing guides in the Sun Valley area. He built the first huts in the remote Sawtooth Valley back in the late ‘70s. In 1982, he sold both the huts and permit for the then Leonard Expeditions to Sun Valley native, Bob Jonas, who renamed it Sun Valley Trekking. Jonas relocated the original yurts, built three new ones in the Sawtooth and Smoky mountain ranges and purchased the Pioneer Yurt from Sun Valley Heli Ski. After almost 20 years running the company, establishing one of the oldest and largest hut-to-hut ski operations in North America, Jonas passed it on to current owners Joe and Francie St. Onge. Sun Valley Trekking now has bases in Yellowstone, Alaska, Chile and Nepal and they have completely remodeled all six of their local yurts (including the Coyote Yurt, which burned in the Beaver Creek Fire). They offer year-round guided telemark and randonee skiing, cross country touring, snowboarding, snowshoeing, mountain biking and trekking.
The brainchild of Stanley local Kirk Bachman, Sawtooth Mountain Guides (SMG) was established back in 1985. “Backcountry skiing as we know it didn’t really exist back then—it wasn’t as much of a mainstream activity as it is now,” says Bachman, who was guiding trips around the Sawtooth and Teton mountain ranges in the ‘70s. “I’ve seen the whole evolution of this sport.” A yurt-builder by trade, Bachman perched the Williams Peak Yurt on an 8,000-foot peak near Stanley in 1988—a cozy overnight stay for SMG guests. Now owned by Erik Leidecker and Chris and Sara Lundy, SMG has access to prime backcountry terrain, including the steep couloirs of the Sawtooth, Lost River, Pioneer, Boulder and Smoky mountain ranges. They operate year-round guided expeditions all over central and southern Idaho. “The company is in good hands,” explains Bachman, who still guides, advises and teaches avalanche courses for SMG.
American-made and Sun Valley-inspired, Big Wood Ski is the baby of local ski enthusiast, Caleb Baukol. After originally creating 5B Skis with Brandon Doan between 2007 and 2012, Baukol decided to pursue his real passion,“creating functional pieces of art.”
“My inspiration was Stradivarius—one of the most renowned violin makers in the world. They’re very beautiful instruments, they’re valuable, they last forever, but they’re also functional. For me, it’s back to simplicity, back to the basics,” says Baukol.
Like the old school skis of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Baukol uses a one-piece core instead of three, and he removed the big protective sidewalls. Big Wood Skis even have a throwback appearance, with gorgeous veneers of African hardwood, domestic cherry, maple and black walnut. “But even the wood topsheet adds to the dampness or rigidity of the ski, so it’s all functional,” Baukol explains.
Though simplistic, Big Wood Skis are on the cutting edge of the revolutionary boutique ski industry. “I use an early rise tip, camber under foot and a race tail (no tail rocker) in almost every one of my alpine skis,” Baukol says, adding, “I prefer five-dimensional skis with a tapered tip and tail, but I can make anything.”
Based on an à la carte menu of options, every single product is made-to-order. “It’s like going into a tailored suit-maker,” says Baukol. “We are tailoring skis to suit you. Even if all you know is what you like, I can help you translate that into a pair of skis.”
Between flex, running length, shape, edge, baseline, tip profile, tail width, core taper and stringers, everything is completely customizable. Baukol uses a matrix of measurements—height, weight, strength, skier ability, skier type, etc.—to build a personalized pair of skis from the ground up.
“Ideally, I’d also like to ski with the person,” for an on-mountain evaluation, he explains. “I’m a product of the ski industry, over 28 years of experience. And it takes experience to put someone on a pair of skis with the confidence that it’s right for them.”
Once he gets the specs for an order, Baukol sends the files to a CNC engineer in Bellevue, Jason Georgiades, who sends back the templates. Baukol then assembles the ski in his shop, located in Ketchum’s industrial center. The whole process takes about three weeks.
In his line of Big Wood Skis, Baukol also offers a children’s powder ski and classic nordic ski, both with a standard footprint and customizable flex and topsheet.
“The Ski Shaper,” as Baukol trademarked himself, also owns and runs 5B Ski Garage, a private ski tuning and waxing club that shares a wall with Big Wood Ski. “It’s something to pay the rent until this takes off,” explains Baukol. “These are going to be the Ferrari of the ski industry.”