Special Olympians Shine

At just before 10 on the morning of March 1, hundreds of athletes gathered around their coaches, listening intently to last-minute advice. Tips were given about practice runs, snow conditions and finishing strong. Then the Special Olympians, participating in alpine skiing and snowboarding at the Idaho State Games, lined up and hopped aboard the Quarter Dollar chairlift, ready to compete and have a great time.

Saturday morning, athletes competing in the Special Olympics Idaho State Games, listened for last minute instructions from coaches before hitting the slopes on Dollar

Saturday morning, athletes competing in the Special Olympics Idaho State Games, listened for last minute instructions from coaches before hitting the slopes on Dollar

Sun Valley welcomed 500 athletes to Dollar Mountain and the Sun Valley Nordic Center for a full day of races and participation on Saturday, but the experience started on Friday when athletes running with the Special Olympic torch, and accompanied by a police and fire escort, made their way to Dollar. One stop for the torch was Sun Valley’s Community School. High school students at the school have been working with Higher Ground all winter, training every Wednesday afternoon with Special Olympic skiers and riders on Dollar.

This program, run in conjunction with Higher Ground and Sun Valley Resort, helps provide athletes will everything they need to have a great, successful day on the slopes: from gratis lift passes to free rental equipment and instruction. Many volunteers and professionals help make this training possible and the fruit of everyone’s labor was on display this weekend.  

One skier shows great form in a practice run Saturday morning
One skier shows great form in a practice run Saturday morning

Jeff Rust of Ketchum, Games Director and Higher Ground board member said, “the Special Olympics Idaho State Games are always very memorable, but this year having them in Sun Valley really set the bar.  The Wood River Valley rallied around the athletes and made it a very welcoming experience.” He continued, “thanks to Higher Ground, Sun Valley Company, Wood River High School and our Local Girl Scouts, we were able to produce one of the most successful games to date.  As always, the Victory Dance was the highlight of the games, but the addition of the Law Enforcement Torch Parade and amazing Opening/Closing Ceremonies, directed by Kat Vanden Heuvel, really added to the overall sentiment.”

Volunteer Tracey Caraluzzi gets ready to cheer on the athletes

Volunteer Tracey Caraluzzi gets ready to cheer on the athletes

Saturday marked the second time this season that Special Olympians competed on Sun Valley’s slopes. In February, the Resort also hosted the Eastern Regional Winter Games. Volunteer Tracey Caraluzzi was at both games and her daughter, Isabelle, was one of the students working with the athletes all winter and helping on the course on Saturday. “It’s such a great day,” Tracey enthused as she lined up slopeside to clang her cowbell as racers queued up at the start. “You see so many familiar faces, both athletes and families, and there is so much joy.”

Some of the hardware earned by skiers and snowboarders -- but everyone was a champion on Saturday

Some of the hardware earned by skiers and snowboarders -- but everyone was a champion on Saturday

Judging from loud ringing of cowbells among fans stretched up and down Quarter Dollar and Poverty Flats and the ubiquitous smiles on the faces of athletes, coaches and supporters, the Special Olympic Idaho State Games were a huge success for everyone.

–RES

Athletes took a moment to pause during the Torch Run as it passed through Sun Valley's Community School (photo Community School)

Athletes took a moment to pause during the Torch Run as it passed through Sun Valley's Community School (photo Community School)

Midweek, Sun Valley Style

This is what an after school activity looks like in Sun Valley

This is what an after school activity looks like in Sun Valley

Even when you live in a ski town, daily chores, routines and schedules can make you forget that you do. That is, until you drive past Dollar Mountain on an average winter Wednesday and snap out of ordinariness of daily life, reminded in no uncertain terms that Sun Valley was built on snow.

At 3 p.m. during a non-holiday week here in Sun Valley, Dollar Mountain is a hub of activity.  Almost very chair on Quarter Dollar is full. Snowboarders perform eye-popping tricks in our unbelievable terrain park. Skiers drop into the new 22’ super pipe like they are stepping off a curb. The parking lot is full.

Cooper, a great Little Spud, fresh from some runs

Cooper, a great Little Spud, fresh off some epic runs

This is one of the many amazing pleasures and privileges of living in Sun Valley. Snow sports are not a special activity. They are not relegated to the few weeks a year called vacation or designated for weekend warriors. Skiing and snowboarding and cross-country are woven into the day, every day. People take a few runs before work. Students take to the hills for an hour or two after school.  Snow sports are truly a lifestyle.

On this particular Wednesday, a few distinct groups comprise the bulk of users on Dollar. Sporting race suits and skiing in picture-perfect form and at astonishing speed, are a large group of young athletes from the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. These U-14 competitors train gates on a giant slalom course on Dollar Face, perfecting their technique before gleefully taking on the terrain park jumps at the bottom of the run as they ski back to the lift.

At the other end of the spectrum are dozens of Little Spuds, practicing their first laps on Quarter Dollar and beyond. Little Spuds is a program offered by the Sun Valley Snowsports School that introduces children three to five years old to skiing. Sessions run when pre-school classes conclude on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The only requirement of this program is that the tots want to learn. From the broad smiles at pickup at the base of Quarter Dollar, it is evident enthusiasm and a new found love of skiing are in generous supply.

Higher Ground athletes train weekly at Dollar

Higher Ground athletes train weekly at Dollar

Also on Dollar on any given Wednesday, are Special Olympics athletes training with Ketchum’s Higher Ground program. Every week from 2 – 4 p.m., local alpine athletes hone their skills and practice their race techniques on Quarter Dollar. This weekend is a huge one for area Special Olympians and the Higher Ground organization, as they are hosting a Regional alpine and Nordic competition for the first time ever. Opening ceremonies will take place for more than 70 Nordic athletes at 10:30 a.m. at the Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center and at 11 a.m. for 40 additional athletes at Dollar Mountain. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the festivities.

Driving by Dollar on a midwinter’s midweek day, reminds us all to get out there and enjoy the amazing playground in our backyard.

Whether you are visiting Sun Valley for a week, spend a few months a year here, or call the Wood River Valley home, it never hurts to be reminded that the wonders and pleasures of the snow are yours for the taking.

–RES

Just another average Wednesday in paradise

Just another average winter Wednesday in paradise