DIVAS: Sitting Down with Nicky Biddle Elsbree

Nicky Biddle Elsbree

Mom (of two), Sun Valley SnowSports School Ski Instructor, DIVAS Program Co-Founder

By Laurie Sammis

As part of an ongoing Winter Profile series featuring real mountain divas–who are living and working and loving life in the mountains–we caught up with former collegiate ski racer, wife, mother of two, DIVAS Program co-founder (along with Danielle Crist Carruth) and Sun Valley SnowSports School ski instructor extraordinaire Nicky Biddle Elsbree last week. Here is what she had to say about life in the mountains.

Sun Valley SnowSports instructor and DIVAS co-founder Nicky Biddle Elsbree

First Run in the A.M.?  On a Powder Day…Upper River, the road less traveled. On any other day it would be Graduate for a groomer, as it’s so sweetly falls away…

Last Run of the Day? Plaza… Picabo’s Street…whatever you want to call it. It’s a nice little secret–if your legs can handle “one more.”

Favorite Run on a Sunny Day?  Maybe a groomer..and I don’t know exactly why, but there’s something about skiing Squirrel with the sun on your back and your shadow stretching slightly ahead. Also any Bowl on a sunny day.

Best Run on Baldy? Exhibition and Lefty’s are my favs when they are ripe for the taking. They are interesting and challenging: right, left or straight down the middle.

Favorite Lunch Spot?  I’m not big on combining lunch with skiing. I just don’t have time to get bogged down and prefer to just snarf down a snack. Although my body somehow requires a Bowl of Soul for Apres, no matter what the time.

First Memory on Skis?  I have two (hundred). The first real memory was going down a patch of parental packed snow on a hill in our neighborhood. We’d get lugged up (again by the parents) and ski down…or at least try.  The packed snow hill (involving shovels) represented a huge effort on the part of my folks and there are some fun pictures to prove it.

The second is letting the rope tow at Nashoba Valley (MA) whirr through my mitts as I tried to get brave enough to really grab on and go. That thing was fast and furious. And scary. But it had the advantage of making the ski down seem easy.

When did you learn to ski?  I learned when I was 2 years old. The between-the-legs, work-my-parents-back method was our only option. Lucky for them we figured it out pretty fast. Unlucky for us, my big brother and I both broke our legs at 5 and 3 years old (at Stowe and Nashoba the same winter). After that, we figured it out a little better, so it was easier on everybody.

Favorite Memory on Skis?  That’s tough as there are memories galore. Eastern skiing, western skiing, dabbling in Europe, good days and GREAT. My fondest memory of skiing (as recently as two hours ago) remains the FREEING feeling that magically happens while on the slopes. There is nothing on earth that compares.

Favorite Off-Mountain Activity?  Let’s see…with kids, I’d have to say sledding, tubing and hockey. Without kids, I gotta give nordic skiing the nod, even though it doesn’t happen very much. It is great for the dogs and good to clear the head and inhale that mountain air while getting exercise!

Do you have a skiing or mountain obsession (something you couldn’t live without)?  Hats. I pretty much love hats and could not live without them.  I do wear a helmet as it’s the right thing to do, but oh how I love my hats. Oh, and ski apparel too (jackets, pants, outerwear)…but I’ve really gotten a grip on that. Really.

Why Sun Valley–what do you love about it?  I love Stoecklein’s Baldy poster from way back.  It evokes what Sun Valley is to me: magnetic, peaceful, wondrous, alluring, changing, quiet, western. And after one year (tops): HOME. And now, 23 years later, it’s still home.

What is Your Passion?  I’m passionate about coaching. It seems I’ve found my niche in ski coaching and instructing, adults and kids alike. I like to empower people to become better and it lights me up when they do.

What is your job on the mountain? I am in the midst of year seven with the Sun Valley SnowSports School, and count my blessings every day, as I’m a ski instructor and there are a lot of times when it doesn’t feel like a job. It hardly feels like work on an early-up powder morning with clients (most of whom become, or have become, friends) or while skiing, and laughing, with “my” Thursday Smith kids. So guess I am a living example of the philosophy that you should do what you love and it usually works out.

Parting Thoughts… When my parents come out to visit, I always say thank you (for taking the time to teach us how to ski and introducing us to the industry and the mountain and the lifestyle). Thank you.

Divas: What I Learned from Skiing

Jonna Mendes showing off her Olympic form.

A chat with Olympian, National Champion, former US Ski team member, and Sun Valley Ski Academy Director of Recruitment Jonna Mendes.

By Katie Matteson

Two-time Olympian and four-time National Champion, Jonna Mendes knows a thing or two about skiing. Skiing since she was three and a member of the Heavenly Ski Foundation‘s Alpine Team since she was eight-years-old, Jonna worked hard to balance skiing and academics throughout her youth and her career, learning the values of time management, hard work and sacrifice.

Now, as the Recruiting Director for the new Sun Valley Ski Academy  (SVSA), which provides housing, academics and winter sports opportunities in conjunction with the Community School and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), she gets to help young athletes achieve their dreams in a balance, supportive atmosphere in a community where skiing is life. Jonna talked with Lift Line about growing up in a ski town and some of the positive things happening in the Sun Valley ski community.

 "Time management. That was singly the most important thing I learned from skiing," she says. "Balancing elite-level skiing, maintaining good grades and traveling, it is hard not to see how important ski racing can be to kids. Beyond that it was about confidence and travel. All have been things that carried straight through to college and into my professional life."

"My parents wanted me out of their hair," Jonna jokes about her introduction to skiing. "Learning to ski, like so many other kids raised in a ski town, is a form of daycare. I first learned to ski when I was three and as soon as I could, at the age of eight, I joined the Development Team of the Heavenly Ski Foundation. Now, my 17-month-old already walks around the house with his skis on. There are so many life skills to be learned on the mountain, so I do really hope he skis competitively."

 "It’s amazing it didn’t happen sooner," she says of the new ski academy. "So many incredible skiers have come out of and through Sun Valley, it’s amazing there wasn’t already a ski academy. Now that the buzz is just beginning, I can only imagine the places the SVSA will go. Sun Valley has the skiing and the community. The SVSEF has the world class athletics and the Community School has the stellar academics."

"The Cross-Country and the Alpine programs here are so strong.," Jonna  syas. "Everything from the training to the competition opportunities, it is amazing."

"The other day I watched the freestyle kids stay in the park for 4 and half hours straight. The coaches had to make them take a break. The freestyle program is becoming a bigger and bigger reason that kids want to come here," she says. "The new facilities that SVCo has created are a big draw for snowboarders and freestyle skiers.

"The biggest benefit of the SVSA is that there are NO COMPROMISES," Jonna proudly states. "If they came to the SVSA, young athletes wouldn’t have to sacrifice one thing to make another work. Instead, it is just about if you will apply yourself academically and in your training, you’ll succeed. There is no rushing through the school week, getting in a car, driving to the mountain, rushing back. It is all at their fingertips. And they have the support that the need to take advantage of everything the SVSA, the SVSEF, the Community School and the town has to offer."

I may have been on the US Ski Team, competed on the World Cup and raced in the Olympics but before that I was just like the SVSEF kids, a rug rat on the mountain giggling and laughing," Jonna recalls. "All of my achievements have been because of people who supported me, the coaches, the scholarships I received, the teachers…It is important to understand what a difference it made in my life and what a difference it can make in the life of all the athletes at the SVSA."