Alice of Wonderland

 

Alice Schernthanner, July 24, 1938 - July 23, 2012. “Alice does ski here forevermore in our hearts.”

Sun Valley can lay claim to many icons. From movie stars to literary giants, world-class athletes to world-wide leaders, hundreds of inspirational people have graced the hallways of Sun Valley Lodge since its birth.

But beneath the glamor and behind the facade of fame lies another legacy – an unforeseen outcome of Averell Harriman’s million dollar palace in the snow – that of the birth of a community in the heart of Idaho’s mountains; one with icons of its very own.

This past Sunday that community came together to celebrate one of those icons. Not an olympic skier or a nobel-prize wining author, but a woman whose life had a much greater impact on those who live in the Wood River Valley.

“The name Alice Schernthanner will remain on the lips of this community for a very long time,” Amy Federko said in her eulogy to Alice, reading from a letter written by Amy’s son, Josh.

A singular woman, Alice was both “famous and infamous, a legend in her own right,” Amy told the packed crowd at Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge, and there was not a murmur of dissent.

Alice’s legacy in the Wood River Valley community could be measured in the number of pancakes she’s flipped for the Papoose Club, which she formed in 1954 as a baby sitting co-op for skiers and went on to transform into a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting local organizations that serve children. Or it could be measured in the number of times she proudly led her Warm Springs Riding Club along the Wagon Days Parade route. It could equally be celebrated for the foresight she had in starting Blaine County’s recycling program from the back of a semi-truck, or for being a vocal and active advocate for affordable community housing – to the extent her and her husband, Andy, built some on their own Warm Springs property.

But it will be measured in the hearts and minds of the thousands of children she taught to ski both on Dollar Mountain as the children’s program supervisor for close to 30 years, and through her tireless promotion of the Blaine County School Ski Program.

Hundreds of those children, now grown up with children of their own, gathered at Dollar Mountain Lodge on Sunday to celebrate the life of this remarkable woman, who blazed a trail for modern homesteaders: building her own home from the ground up, skiing for a living and raising six children, all while living life on her own terms in the Wild West. The lodge she helped create was full to bursting on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the peals of children’s laughter emanating from the grassy knoll at the base of Dollar making a fitting tribute to the woman who helped create their perfect playground.

The lodge’s namesake, Carol Holding, wife of Sun Valley Resort owner Earl Holding, offered her thoughts on her friend and colleague Alice to the assembled community. “Listening today I was happy to hear she really had a happy life away from this cabin,” she said with a smile. “I’d been under the illusion all these years that she lived in this little cabin.”

Mrs. Holding went on to say how it was Alice’s persistence that brought this 26,000-square-foot state-of-the-art children’s skiing facility into being “When Earl built River Run, Alice and I were so upset with him. We tried everything we could think of to get him to build a children’s school there, but he wouldn’t. But she said to me, it’s ok – give it time, it’ll work. It took 15 years, but we got it. And this lodge here is Alice’s lodge as much as it is mine. It wouldn’t be here without Alice and through it all she suffered many hardships to get it here and changed so many children’s pants… .”

Local folklore has it that the lodge was almost named after Alice, but she wouldn’t have it. “I told them, if I don’t own it then I don’t want it named after me.”

Mrs. Holding’s touching and laughter-filled remembrances were followed by a free-for-all as friends, family and former students of Alice shared their memories. What emerged was a portrait of a strong-minded, high-spirited woman with fantastic earrings, who took life in her stride and always told the truth, whether you wanted to hear it or not.

Two of the many stories shared at the celebration of Alice’s life paint a technicolor picture of what was important to Alice: skiing, children and family.

“I would come here from Florida in the winter to ski with Alice,” said her friend Sherry. “One year she was pregnant, just starting to show, and she had the first daughter in a backpack on her back. As we came down the mountain we could hear people at the bottom whispering, aghast, saying ‘That’s child abuse!’ Alice looked at me, clearly baffled, and said ‘I don’t understand. They know I’m only skiing the groomers don’t they? I’m not skiing the bumps.”

Alice’s daughter Heidi shared a favorite story she had heard in the days following her mother’s death on July 24 (the day before her 74th birthday and 50th wedding anniversary).

“Alice was looking after a sick girl at the lodge, she had just come out of the bathroom with her when a grand woman in a mink coat swept in demanding service. Alice said to her ‘Let me just help this little girl lie down, she’s not feeling well.’ The lady replied, ‘Well, she doesn’t look sick.’ Then the girl projectile vomited all over her.”

Alice at home in Dollar Mountain Lodge ski school. Photo by Cody Doucette, courtesy Sun Valley Magazine

Rest in Peace Mrs. Schernthanner. In the words of the condolence book laid out for the hundreds of mourners to sign: “Alice does ski here forevermore in our hearts.”

Mrs. Sun

Share your memories of Alice and read other’s here. Read her obituary here.