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.
Brian Boitano has a long history of headlining Sun Valley On Ice - now he returns to share his other passion, cooking (photo courtesy Craig Heath)
Olympic figure skating legend Brian Boitano just looks like someone you want to have as a friend; someone with whom you want to share dinner, a cocktail and stories. Now is your chance! Brian is coming to Sun Valley to host a special cooking class and party on September 1 and you are invited.
Cooking you might say? Brian Boitano? Yes! As the 1988 Olympic champion, the 1986 and 1988 World Champion, and the 1985-1988 U.S. National Champion in figure skating, he is one of the most exalted skaters of our time. After turning professional following his 1988 season, Brian continued and continues to skate, entertaining countless fans in shows and television specials each year. He has headlined Sun Valley On Ice many times and is a local favorite. But he also found a second career about which he is equally passionate – cooking.
Boitano creates all of his own recipes and will offer tips and techniques to prepare them at home with the fortunate guests at his August 22 event
A self taught chef, Brian took his love of food and entertaining and parlayed it into a popular television program on both the Food Network and Cooking Network. In What Would Brian Boitano Make? the eponymous star of the series shares recipes, techniques and tips for entertaining with viewers, all with his signature style. From his television work came a cookbook by the same name, a collection of his best recipes that will help you look like a gold medalist in your own kitchen.
On September 1, 100 lucky people will gather at the spectacular home of Kim Selby in Ketchum to learn from Brian as he gives a cooking lesson and offers tips a la his popular television show.
The Valley Sun caught up with Boitano to discuss the upcoming event.
TVS: You have a long-standing connection to Sun Valley. Are you looking forward to returning next week?
BB: Sun Valley is near and dear to my heart and I always love to come back. Not only do I have wonderful memories of all the shows I’ve performed in, but I have good friends here.
TVS: But this time, you’re trading in your skate blades for knife blades. Tell us what people who attend the function on the 22nd might expect.
BB: Well, you can expect great food and drinks that you will be able to replicate at home. You can also expect to learn these recipes in one of the most beautiful kitchens in the Northwest. Kim’s house is gorgeous and is fully stocked with everything you need to make an unforgettable meal. She even has a pizza oven that we’re going to use.
TVS: Is this event for the seasoned cook or for anyone who is interested?
BB: My philosophy on cooking is that everyone can do it. You just need a plan. My cookbook, from which I will be choosing recipes for that event, lets you make delicious food in very few steps. It’s for everyone from the novice to the experienced chef.
TVS: You created all the recipes in your cookbook yourself, correct?
BB: Yes, they are all mine! Usually I follow something that interests me when beginning a new dish. I may not have used much allspice in cooking and would like to try it, so I think about what allspice would be good with. Rice? For sure! Let’s try rice. Then I lay out how I’m going to make a new dish. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t but if it doesn’t I can dissect what went wrong and learn from it. The dishes in my cookbook have gone through a lot of changes to get to where they are!
During all my travels for skating, I have been able to indulge my interest in food from many cultures and many different flavors. I also give a nod to my Italian heritage. It all comes through in my recipes.
TVS: Any ideas about what you plan to cook and teach the guests to cook?
BB: One of the things I’m making is southwestern sopapillas – a recipe in the cookbook that people just love and I love. Where sopapillas are usually sweet, mine are savory. They are little dough balls that puff up when you fry them. Then I poke a hole in them and stuff them with salsa and bean dip. They are absolutely delicious, easy to make and certain to impress dinner guests! I am also planning on a white wine sangria with fresh mint in it and pizza because when you have a pizza oven in the house, you have to use it!
TVS: Any plans to take to the ice while you are in town?
BB: I actually do plan to skate a little bit in Sun Valley to get in shape for my upcoming season. There are a lot of people at the rink I really appreciate working with and it’s a beautiful place to skate. I have two NBC shows coming up in the fall so I am ready to train for them.
TVS: This dinner benefits the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club. Do you have a special connection to the organization?
BB: Skating in Sun Valley is very special and I always want to support and encourage young people in the sport. When I was an up-and-coming skater I competed in the Club’s annual Summer Championships and I am happy to help this excellent program.
Boitano has a long history in Sun Valley. Here he enjoys time off with fellow skater and choreographer Gia Guddat (photo courtesy Craig Heath)
Tickets to this once-in-a-lifetime chance to break bread with Brian Boitano are available at www.sunvalleyfsc.com, by calling 208.622.8020 or at the Club office located behind the skate house. Very limited VIP tickets are available for $200 ($375 per couple) and include a private cocktail hour with Brian Boitano. Tickets to the cooking demonstration, that include signature cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are available for $100 ($175 per couple). Guests will also receive a signed cookbook. All proceeds benefit the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club, dedicated to skating excellence and making this lifelong sport available to children in the Wood River Valley.
I have my ticket and look forward to this amazing night! See you there.
PLEASE NOTE: DUE TO RECENT FIRES, THIS EVENT WAS RESCHEDULED FOR SEPTEMBER 1. TICKETS ARE STILL AVAILABLE!
The fundraiser benefits the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club and encourages children to pursue this lifelong sport
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.”
The Sun Valley Lodge boasts one of the most beautiful, unusual and iconic backyards in the nation. The year-round outdoor ice rink is the largest in the world and sets the stage for Sun Valley’s famous Saturday night ice shows, the crowd-pleasing Christmas Eve Nutcracker on Ice and competitions for skaters from all over the nation. As the old adage goes, everyone who is anyone in figure skating has performed in Sun Valley. Every Olympic medalist in recent history, world champions and the sport’s rising stars all love skating in Sun Valley’s intimate venue under the stars.
Poised for greatness
Last week, this huge slab of ice was also the platform to launch a lifelong love of skating for about 35 children participating in the first “Skate With Us” class of the year. This program, sponsored by the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club, invites youngsters to learn skating basics in a supportive group setting, taught by some of Sun Valley’s outstanding coaches.
Giggles, chatter and smiles prevailed as the mostly four to seven-year-olds wiggled while parents and caregivers wrestled with fidgety feet, lacing them into skate boots. When asked if they were excited, the answer was a resounding “yes!” and “skating is fun!” Josie Sarchett was one of the first on the ice, gliding confidently out to the middle, a seasoned pro in her second year of “Skate With Us.” Sporting the signature Sun Valley fall uniform of summer shorts with a puffy coat, a misplaced toe pick landed her on the ice. “Maybe I should have worn pants,” she laughed.
Skating is an integral part of most local kids’ childhoods. Many join the Figure Skating Club to learn to glide, spin and jump their way through either a competitive track or just for enjoyment. Countless others pick up a hockey stick and puck and play on the Resort’s indoor rink as a part of Sun Valley Youth Hockey. Skating birthday parties and get-togethers are wildly popular. And, why not? Where else can you skate, every day of the year, with the picturesque Lodge on one side, and views of Dollar and Baldy on the other?
The smiles on the little “Skate With Us” participants shone as bright as the Sun Valley sun as they extended gloved hands to a coach, anxious to get going. Who knows? Among this group may be a future national champion, a show skater or someone who simply will enjoy skating for decades to come.
As the mother of two competitive figure skaters and one aspiring hockey player, the Sun Valley ice rinks are my home-away-from-home. During the winter months, it is a certainty that we will be skating, collectively, at least four to five days a week. If you are looking for me, the rink is a good place to start! It has been wonderful to see the confidence, dedication and character my own kids have built through their time on the ice. Nothing like a few hard falls to inspire you to get up and get it right. I highly recommend a spin or two around the rink to any guest, local, or aspiring skater. The Sun Valley experience is not complete without it.