Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Game on!

Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation celebrates 40th anniversary

Express Staff Writer

Smiles abound at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation?s annual Fall Game Dinner Saturday in Sun Valley. From left to right are the foundation?s head Nordic ski coach, Rick Kapala, foundation supporter Tom Ogara, fellow supporter Mike Turzian and Michel Rudigoz, who was honored with the foundation?s Jack Simpson Dedicated Coaches Award. Photo by Willy Cook

Marrying mirth, merriment and magnanimity, the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation marked its 40th anniversary with the 30th annual Fall Game Dinner Saturday.

Reveler Mary Reagle remarked, "It gives locals a chance to support the ski team, and we love the ski team."

Sun Valley's elegant Limelight Room provided the backdrop for the fete as 420 people enjoyed what has proved to be year-in and year-out a highlight for the local community.

Ski Education Foundation Executive Director Don Wiseman addressed the crowd, "Thank you all for coming. You are the reason we exist."

Wiseman also extended his gratitude to his crackerjack staff, including office manager Julie Moses, business manager Katrina Collins, event director Kate Berman, assistant director Lenore Carroll and Piper Loyd, as well as the 185 volunteers who spent so many days making the night a success.

"This event would not exist without two fantastic women," Wiseman said, singling out Berman and Carroll, "and Kate Berman is the one person who really makes this rock."

For the past three years, Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation has honored a past or present coach with the Jack Simpson Dedicated Coaches Award, given in memory of Simpson. The description states: "This is a coach whose unique character encourages self-reliance and self-discipline, who leads by example, who stresses good sportsmanship and the importance of physical conditioning, and who has an unconditional dedication to young athletes and the job of coaching."

This year's recipient was Michel Rudigoz, who joined the Sun Valley ski team in 1972, after being lured to the states by Lane Monroe.

Rudigoz was introduced by one of his star pupils, Cristin Cooper, who went on to win a silver medal in giant slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics and with her World Cup success remains one of the most successful skiers in U.S. history.

She addressed Rudigoz's coaching technique that could be "crystallized by four little words."

"You ski like (crap)," Cooper said, bringing the crowd to hysterical laughter, "and sometimes he was right, and sometimes I proved him wrong—or at least tried to."

"Michel kept it fun and created the conditions for success," she added. "My life and career wouldn't be the same without him. His spirit was infectious."

On stage after a standing ovation, Rudigoz was brought to tears by the homage and paid a tribute of his own, addressing co-coaches Jim Savaria, Pat Savaria, Craig Chesbo, Lane Monroe and Ruben Macaya.

"Jim, you are my inspiration in this town. If I am here it's because you let me come here," Rudigoz said.

He also quipped, "I knew something was up tonight, because Kate called me and said I could have whoever I wanted at my table."

Rudigoz was instrumental in moving the Sun Valley alpine team's training to Bald Mountain from Dollar. Because of his success with the Sun Valley and Intermountain alpine teams, Rudigoz was hired by the U.S. Ski Team and led the most successful U.S. women's squad to unprecedented success, including several Olympic and World Championship medals.

Rudigoz retired from full-time coaching a few years ago, but continues to be a force within the organization, both coaching and as a board member.

"I am not quitting, and I am going to be here again!" he exclaimed at the conclusion of his speech.

Berman calls the Fall Game Dinner one of the Ski Education Foundation's "most important" events of the year, but not only because it is one of the organization's most successful fund-raisers, along with the Bill Janss Pro-Am.

"What I like about it is it is a community gathering. The locals are all together having a good time, raising money for the kids," Berman said.

The community rallied for the event, contributing auction items, donating funds and talents.

The top live-auction item brought in $50,000.

The kids of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation did their part as well, selling raffle tickets for a Sun Valley alpine season pass, won by Jackie Flanigan.

Dominique Calhoun sold $1,370 worth of tickets. Logan and Gavin Shipley brought in $865, and Ali Appleton sold $630.

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