On a brilliantly sunny Thursday afternoon, approximately 40 students from Ketchum’s Hemingway Elementary School clamored off the yellow school bus and into the Skate House at Sun Valley’s one-of-a-kind outdoor rink. There, they traded boots for skates and helmets and spent the next 60 minutes learning basic figure skating or hockey skills or simply enjoyed taking laps around the large rink with friends.
Local schoolchildren enjoy free skating and some lessons each winter on Sun Valley's iconic outdoor rink
These children are a part of a four-week program that brings students from the nearby public school to Sun Valley to skate for free on Thursday afternoons. Sun Valley Company generously donates ice time, skates and helmets. The Sun Valley Figure Skating Club arranges to have a few of their amazing pros on the ice during the session to offer tips, lessons and inspiration. The local Sun Valley Suns hockey team always has a few players on skates, volunteering their time to work with students interested in hockey.
Sun Valley provides free ice time, skates, helmet and some lessons for young aspiring skaters
“It’s a great way for the kids to get on the ice,” said Sun Valley pro and former Olympian Judy Blumberg.“It’s good for the kids, it’s good for the Resort, it’s a win-win.”She added, while helping a young girl untie her skates, “This program gets kids to the rink who may never have gotten here otherwise.”
Hemingway teacher Caitlin Olson agreed. “For the kids who ski every weekend or are involved in different sports or activities, this is a terrific introduction to skating.” She adds, pointing to the rink, “This amazing facility is so close to school and they have a great time when they get here.”
Olympian and Sun Valley pro Judy Blumberg gives her own daughter, and all the skaters, a lot of great pointers
Skating is one of the athletic programs offered to local students through Sun Valley, programs that also include downhill skiing on Baldy or Dollar or cross country skiing. There is never any cost to the student. Sun Valley offers these skiing programs to Blaine County elementary school throughout the Wood River Valley and they are something students always look forward to.
The opportunity to lace up skates was added to this longstanding program three years ago when the Sun Valley Skating Club was looking for outreach opportunities to introduce more children to this lifelong sport. The fundraiser Battle of the Blades allowed the club to financially help make this a reality. With the tremendous support and input from Sun Valley Resort about 20 skaters showed up that first year.
Physical education was never this fun when I was in school
The doubling of interest among the children is a testament to just how much fun they are having on the ice and if smiles count as a measure of success, the first day of skating during the 2014 season was a huge success.
Pro Natalia Zaitseva works with an aspiring figure skater
Who knows if the next Linda Fratianne, Nancy Kerrigan, Gracie Gold or Evan Lysacek took his or her first tentative strokes on the ice this week. Who knows if one of these young skaters will develop an interest in figure skating or hockey that will carry them through high school. What really matters is that they enjoyed a beautiful afternoon filled with exercise, fresh air and laughter all around.
Showman and teacher, Maricich ushered in a whole new era in Sun Valley skating
If you have ever enjoyed a summer ice show under the stars, skated a few laps around Sun Valley’s iconic outdoor rink or taken in a Suns hockey game, you have seen something Herman Maricich helped create. For decades, he simply defined skating in Sun Valley. This showman, technician, teacher, visionary and Sun Valley icon passed away peacefully in his sleep on January 4 from congenital heart failure. He was surrounded by family in his Sun Valley home and had recently reached the ripe old age of 90.
Programs like the Three Musketeers were crowd favorites
He may be best remembered as a daring barrel jumper, a skating polar bear or comic bull in the ice show, or as half of the elegant duo performing to “Singing in the Rain” clad in a tuxedo, but Maricich’s contribution to skating in Sun Valley goes much deeper.
Maricich arrived in Sun Valley in a roundabout way. He began skating in Oakland, California, his hometown, when he was 12 years old. His first laps on the ice were taken on speed skates that he bought for $7 with paper route money. He took to skating right away and trained in speed skating, figure skating and stunt skating; the genesis of acts that would captivate Sun Valley audiences for years.
"Everyone was young, it was a great time," Maricich said of skating in Sun Valley's storied ice shows
In 1942, just after the Resort opened its doors, Maricich heard they needed skaters for the show, then called the Ice Carnival. At the time, he was working in a shipyard and the lure of sunshine, clean air and mountains made it an easy decision to hop on a Union Pacific train to Idaho. During that summer, he lived in dorms in the Lodge basement, called the Lower Three, worked as a skating instructor and performed in the weekly shows. In a 2011 interview he said, “All the pretty girls in the show were college girls. They waited tables during the day and skated. The boys also worked at the Resort, as bellmen and waiters. Everyone was young. It was a great time.” He spent free time hiking, picnicking and falling in love with Sun Valley.
Training to be a fighter pilot took Maricich away during the war years. He was an officer in the Air Force, flying P47 single-engine fighter planes. After the war, he returned to California and earned a degree in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley on the GI Bill.
During this time, he kept skating and competing and became Pacific Coast junior champion and skated in two national competitions, taking third place in the pair skating Nationals of 1947. He returned to Sun Valley’s summer shows in 1947 and it was here that he was discovered by Sonja Henie’s producer. Maricich got a part in the Sonja Henie Ice Show and started a career touring the country skating men’s pairs and singles programs.
Maricich's bullfighter number was a huge hit at Sun Valley's Saturday night shows
Sun Valley’s spell brought Maricich back to the Wood River Valley, however, and he settled among the mountains for good in 1953. Sun Valley’s Hans Johnson invited Maricich to come teach and skate at the resort full-time and the Maricich era began in earnest.
In the early 50s, the Resort had two outdoor seasonal rinks. One, a smaller precursor to today’s, had refrigeration system, and one relied on Mother Nature to stay frozen. In 1954, the Resort expanded the outdoor rink to the current size. But by 1962, maintenance of the outdoor rink in winter was proving expensive for the new president of Union Pacific who was trying to cut costs. “Sun Valley never paid for itself,” chuckled Maricich. “We had all these extravagant things going on.”
Maricich taught generations of skaters in Sun Valley and loved encouraging young talent
“I told them, “Why don’t you let me take this over? Clean the ice? Run it?” Maricich said. “I had an old cheap truck with a snowplow. I’d clear the snow and blow it off the end of the rink. I even had my own re-surfacer system.” This truck, called the Hermoni, was only retired last winter after 36 years of service. Maricich began to lease and run the rink in the winter.
When Bill Janss bought the resort in 1964, Maricich secured a year-round lease for the rink and was officially in charge. He said, “With that,” he said, “I changed the idea of the staff. I went out and got as many great pros as I could without all the hierarchy.”
Barrel jumping was a family act. Here, Maricich and son Nick practice this daredevil trick
The program gained momentum and credibility. “There weren’t as many skating schools back then. I could build the teaching program and get prominent pros on staff and they brought students with them as well as working with local skaters,” explained Maricich.
As head instructor, Maricich taught the famous and beautiful. He took Lucille Ball and her children for spins around the rink and had to keep reminding a gaggle of Kennedy kids that hockey was not allowed. During his heyday as manager at the rink and lead pro, he rubbed elbows with the likes of Ann Sothern, Leonard Bernstein and Gary Cooper. He took over the children’s skating program and directed their numbers in the ice show. Maricich went on to put together a skating school that has evolved into today’s Sun Valley Figure Skating Club that boasts more than 200 members.
Maricich skated with and taught many stars including Lucille Ball
Soon, the program that got so busy that it became evident that the resort needed an indoor rink. “Janss said it was a good idea, but he couldn’t finance it. He was investing in the mountain,” explained Maricich. “I thought about it for a few years and approached him again. I proposed trying to get it done privately with investors. Janss kind of laughed at the idea but wished me well.”
Maricich was determined. “I wrote up a proposal and presented it to about 100 people. Out of those, I got ten people to invest and I found financing for the rest.” He took over as the general manager of a project, paid rent for the land and secured a 15-year lease. Construction took a little more than a year and cost $450,000.
With the addition of the indoor rink, hockey was sure to follow. Bob Johnson came and ran a hockey camp while Maricich set the wheels in motion for a resort hockey team that evolved in the Suns. A strong junior and senior program quickly followed. Today, the Sun Valley Youth Hockey Association coaches almost 200 children every year and adult leagues are filled to capacity.
But even during this period of innovation and construction, Maricich continued to do what he loved to do: entertain. He performed in the ice shows for decades and was known for comedic and daredevil acts. Maricich would choose a theme for each summer season and help to choreograph all the numbers. “He was pretty much the dominant force in coming up with the acts,” said longtime friend and collaborator, Dick Haskell who started in the shows in 1957. He would also create intricate costumes for many of his roles: animal heads likes bulls and donkeys and bears that had moving tongues and tusks and eyes.
“Everything you see at the rinks today are just an extension of what Herman developed,” said Haskell. “He did an awful lot to keep it going.”
Maricich's second wife, Mariana, performed with him for 15 years as a Hermanette
Maricich’s “Hermanettes” were also part of the glamor. The “Hermanettes” were beautiful ladies clad in figure flattering costumes who performed support roles in Maricich’s numbers. “We’d pop a bottle of champagne after the shows,” Maricich said. “We were one big family.”
Maricich came to Sun Valley to skate, and skate here he did, for a lifetime. Generations of locals who took their first turns around the ice with the Learn to Skate program, hundreds of pros, Olympic skaters and recreational enthusiasts alike have all benefitted by Maricich’s vision, passion and dedication.
A doting father, Maricich lifted young daughter Maria overhead
On a personal note, Herman was my friend and my neighbor. He never forgot to ask about my two daughters who are figure skaters, wondering what jumps they were working on or what level test they were preparing for. He was charming, debonair, intelligent, perceptive … truly one-of-a-kind.
He will be missed by his five children: Nick, Maria, Tony, Alex and Stasha, grandchildren, Alexandra Maricich and Zac Siele, and the whole community to whom he gave so much.
A skater and a gentleman, the community celebrates this life well lived
Idaho's Famous Potatoes took Figure Skating Showcase Nationals by storm
The headline could read: Famous Idaho Skating Potatoes Mash Competition at Nationals. Or perhaps: Skating Idaho Potatoes Too Hot to Handle. But no matter how you say it, ten figure skaters from the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club took the highest honor given in the Production Ensembles category at National Showcase – a contest in theatrical skating. Sun Valley’s young competitors, ranging in age from 10 to 16, beat eight other clubs that had qualified to travel to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, from all over the country for the event that lasted from August 1 to August 3.
When the skaters first took to the ice, the large audience was, well, baffled. The girls, wrapped in huge “aluminum foil” suits found their mark, and to the music from 2001, A Space Odyssey, emerged from the silver ovals into full Idaho Famous Potatoes glory. What followed was six minutes of synchronized jumps, hip hop dance moves and high energy skating set to songs including My Own Private Idaho, Couch Potato, Hot Potato; even Madonna’s Like a Prayer (not potato-themed, but very funny). Wearing potato ‘sacks’ replete with eyes and roots (sewn with love by skating mom Lucy Bourret), the skater taters soon had the audience on its feet, cheering and howling with laughter.
Sun Valley Figure Skating Club members Alexandra Harten, Joyce Chan and Blake Letourneau are national champions
“For better or worse, Idaho is associated with our potatoes,” laughed choreographer Gia Guddat who created the award-winning program with input from Sun Valley’s very own favorite show skater Craig Heath. “We decided to embrace the potato theme in a funny, kind of twisted way. The girls loved it. I loved it. The audience loved and obviously the judges loved it!”
In a competition where show tunes reigned and many programs were beautifully executed but tended toward the traditional, Idaho’s Famous Potatoes mash-up couldn’t have been more unexpected.
World-famous skater “Mr. Debonair” Richard Dwyer, who starred in thousands of shows including Ice Follies and Ice Capades during his long and storied career and who started National Showcase, said the judges were shaking with laughter during the number. He came into the stands wanting to know who choreographed the piece. When he was told Gia Guddat, his response was a simple, “of course!” Later, he told Gia he wanted to visit Sun Valley to see what was inspiring that level of creativity on the ice.
Joyce Chan practices her award winning performance to Skyfall
The winning group was comprised of: Antonia Avery, Isabella Bourret, Joyce Chan, Sage Curtis, Alexandra Harten, Blake Letourneau, Lane Letourneau, Katie Peters, Alex Stuessi and Emma Stuessi. Coaches Holly Wheeler and Guddat traveled with the group providing not only coaching, but all costuming, hair, makeup and moral support. Many parents also traveled to Cape Cod to cheer on the girls.
The rest of the weekend offered individual and duet competitions at which Sun Valley skaters shone. Blake Letourneau, 12, dominated at the Pre-Juvenile level, becoming the Light Entertainment National Champion with a routine that featured a mannequin male partner with whom she wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye. At the Intermediate Level, 16-year-old Joyce Chan won the national title in Dramatic Entertainment with her stunning interpretation of Adele’s Skyfall. Alexandra Harten, also 16, won the Novice Light Entertainment division with a self-narrated comical piece about choosing music to skate to.
Alexandra Harten and Joyce Chan made the podium -- placing them ahead of more than 100 skaters and declaring them the best of the best
All three skaters were then invited to be judged one final time against the other winners. Blake moved to the Junior Parade of Champions and Joyce and Alex the Senior Parade of Champions according to their levels. Here, Blake ranked fifth overall in the competition against 236 other skaters. In the Senior Parade, both Alexandra and Joyce made the podium with Alexandra taking fourth and Joyce taking second, placing them in the top four skaters from 125 competitors at Nationals – the best of the best. All three girls are coached by Wheeler and Guddat and attend the Community School in Sun Valley. Guddat choreographed all of the winning individual programs.
The other athletes from Sun Valley also skated strong among tough competition. Skaters who advanced to the finals were: Lane Letourneau (Light Entertainment and Duet), Katie Peters (Light Entertainment), Emma Stuessi (Duet) and Alex Stuessi Duet). Alex Stuessi also won the bronze overall in Pre-Juvenile Dramatic Entertainment.
“The girls represented Sun Valley, our club and Idaho beautifully,” said Wheeler. “We couldn’t be more proud of all of them.”