Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Chamber recognizes 'hands-on' chair

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Express Staff Writer

Seventh in series of 9

Drew Chittenden recalls a decade ago being firmly entrenched in another life. According to him, his habits countered those of a professional astrologer, who, in part, is also responsible for helping steer the Sun Valley Mountain Wellness Festival.

"I am trying to phase out the carpentry part of my life," said Chittenden, the recipient of this year's Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitor's Bureau volunteer of the year award. He has not entirely quit his day job, but helping people to heal and find direction takes more of his time.

The transition from nail pounder to oracle has been slow and methodical with much study, including endless questioning of the wellness board members and attendants. The Memorial Day weekend event, entering its eight year, has been so successful it is recognized as a resource for other such festivals of holistic body and soul treatments.

Although Chittenden has been volunteering in many capacities, including as a member of the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission (where pay is nominal), when he got turned on to the Wellness Festival he was unstoppable as a supporter and eventually brought on as an organizer.

"I think they were tired of me asking questions," Chittenden said. "Some volunteering feels like work, but there are not that many committees (our) size where you can see Ram Dass or Deepak Chopra (both keynote speakers from previous festivals.) It is a thrill to be part of this. It is critical to where I am going in my life."

Chittenden's main volunteer task is to organize and manage the Hands-On Hall, where some two dozen practitioners, including massage therapists, acupuncturists and other body workers share their healing powers.

"Nothing ignites my passion like the Wellness Festival," Chittenden said, reflecting on his raw beginnings and the work that has gone into his spiritual awakening.

"This is really important work we do," he added, expressing his pleasure at how willing people from the valley are to explore, taste test and even delve into a new philosophies and treatments. "Watching people's eyes light up -- I love it to my toes. And now I get an award? To actually have invited me to an event this cool is amazing."

Chittenden, who is also a speaker at the festival, said he believes wellness festivals are coming at a critical time.

"The world is going through dramatic changes. It is easy to get wrapped up in the material and forget about the spiritual. You get so wrapped up in your job you forget."

Chittenden said embracing conscious change in his life came out of the desolation of a less healthful lifestyle. A goal of the festival is to inspire such change in others.

"I partied way too much and I pounded a lot of nails," he said. "There was nothing metaphysical or spiritual in my head. All the tourists go home and you're left sitting at the casino ... There have been a lot of changes in my life - getting over partying and getting over my thinking. I had gone so far in the wrong direction I had to go the other way."

Chittenden checked in with his own stars under the tutelage of his mentor and friend David Pond, a world famous astrologer who regularly makes trips to the Wood River Valley. Eventually Pond encouraged Chittenden to go out on his own.

"It's time for you to get out there and do this for people who need your help," Chittenden said, quoting Pond. "About 10 years ago I started researching some philosophies ... the more I knew, the more it blew my mind. I got the software and started practicing on my friends."

Chittenden continues his work to bring compelling programs and people to the Wellness Festival. This year he is excited to see Tibetan Buddhist Monk Geshe Michael Roach is part of the festival. The first American to receive the title of "Geshe" from Sera Mey, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in South India and part of the lineage of the Dalai Lama, Roach came to Ketchum last year on a book tour. The Dalai Lama is coming to Ketchum September 11.

One of Chittenden's pet projects was kicking off a new musical component to the festival last year by bringing Sanskrit singing sisters Shanti Shanti to town.

Make dinner reservations

The 8th Annual Community Awards Night will be held at the River Run Lodge on March 18. Social hour will begin at 7 p.m. and dinner and the awards ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. Local veteran entertainer Chris Millspaugh will perform "The Way I See It" after the awards ceremony. Tickets are $45 per person. Call Angela Shetler at 725-2103 or e-mail your reservation request to

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