Skiing & Riding
Sun Valley is Still a Big Part of the Ski Racing Scene
The history of ski racing in Sun Valley is as rich and as impressive as anyplace in the country. And the future is looking pretty bright, too.
It is as if the slopes of Baldy and Dollar were blessed by the ski gods, Ullr and Skadi, to groom the fastest and strongest skiers and snowboarders to ever ride on snow.
Sun Valley has been home to the best in the alpine sports scene since shortly after inventing the world’s first chairlift back in the 1930s. It’s a tradition that’s staying strong and is proudly on display as Sun Valley hosts events like last weekend’s Junior Freestyle/Freeskiing National Championships and this week’s FIS Western Region Open.
A Racing Foundation
In many ways, ski racing in America really started here, in the heart of mountains of Idaho.
It all began with Gretchen Fraser. Born in raised in Washington state, Gretchen moved to Sun Valley to pursue skiing and to train with the best in the nation. Gretchen excelled and became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport. She took the top spot at the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz.
Gretchen’s win would pave the way for generations of women who would hone their skills at Sun Valley—skills that led to international success.
Local Susie Corrock took home Bronze at the downhill in Sapporo in 1972.
Before she was a TV personality, Sun Valley’s Christin Cooper earned silver at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo. Picabo Street, who grew up along the East Fork of the Big Wood River in Triumph, brought silver home from Lillehammer in 1994 and gold from Nagano in 1998. Not be overshadowed by traditional alpine skiers, Sun Valley’s Muffy Davis earned bronze at the 1998 Paralympics Games in Nagano and three silvers at the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City.
All have runs on the Seattle Ridge section of Baldy named after them: Gretchen’s Gold, Muffy’s Medals and Picabo’s Street.
Of course, Sun Valley also produces some terrific non-racing skiers and snowboarders as well, highlighted by Kaitlyn Farrington. Raised just down the road from Sun Valley in Bellevue, Kaitlyn took home the gold medal in the halfpipe at the 2014 Sochi Games and local school kids lined Main Street of every town in the Valley to welcome her home with impromptu parades.
A passion for winter sport is the real foundation for Sun Valley’s success. It’s a passion that runs deeply through those of us who live and love to visit Sun Valley. A sentiment Andrea Meade Lawrence knew well.
Andrea trained alongside Gretchen Fraser on the slopes of Sun Valley during the dawn of the sport for women. Andrea would go on to become America’s first multiple Olympic gold medalist in alpine events at the 1952 Games in Oslo. I was lucky enough to interview her about a decade ago, shortly before she passed, and Andrea shared some sentiments most of us can relate to.
“Mountains are sacred. They bring the earth to the sky,” Andrea said about the power of skiing. “You have to bring your heart, your head and your passion and then get focused.”
While athletes from Sun Valley have continued to rep our area well at the Olympics, the X Games and as stars of ski and snowboard films, successfully hosting high quality events has really helped reestablish Idaho on the racing scene.
Last year, the U.S. Alpine Nationals returned to Sun Valley for the first time since 1951. By all accounts the Championships were terrific as Sun Valley proved to be a perfect host. Things went so well that the Alpine Nationals will be returning to Sun Valley in 2018.
Last weekend, Sun Valley was also delighted to host the USSA Junior Freestyle/Free Skiing National Championships. The 300 top freeskiers in the nation descended upon Sun Valley to show their stuff. And they were all clearly impressed with Sun Valley.
“It went fabulous,” said Phil McNichol, the Athletic Director for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF). “It’s big deal for kids 19 and under and, all in all, everyone was super happy with how things went.”
Even though no one from Sun Valley made the podium, our local skiers showed well, and offered much promise for the future. Skiers like Luke Rizzo, Will Griffith, Hannah Blackwell and Sammy Smith all performed exceptionally well. Mogul skiers Holden Largay just missed making the podium after what Phil called “the best mogul performance we’ve seen by a local kid in well over a decade.”
Andy Ware, SVSEF’s Junior Nationals Director, said the weekend was downright awesome.
“It was fantastic. It couldn’t have gone any better,” Andy said. “We saw the best athletes in the country performing at a very high level and our local kids were right there with them.”
Andy said that other contests, which came from Maine to California and everyplace in between, were impressed with every aspect of Sun Valley. From the terrain and courses created by Nate Sheehan and his team of park designers, to fun side events like the Dodgeball Tournament, to the general community support. “The other kids were all fired up. They loved it,” he said,
Andy pointed out that the key to hosting great events and grooming top-notch athletes is the great relationship SVSEF has with Sun Valley Resort.
“Sun Valley was always there for us, “ Andy said, explaining the big reason the future of racing and competing in Sun Valley looks so strong.
“Kids here couldn’t have it any better,” he said. “This is the best place to be a skier or a snowboarder. The future most definitely looks good.”
Catch the Future:
The FIS Western Region Open is in Sun Valley this week
The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation is hosting an Open FIS Western Region Tech Series March 23-26 on Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain, with a bonus slalom on March 27. Events include two Giant Slaloms and two Slaloms for men and women.
The races are spectator friendly and will feature some of the best up-and-comers in the West, so you know Sun Valley will not only put on a great event, but will help provide some of the best racers out there.
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