Friday, November 24, 2006

For the love of the mountains

Relationship to place is key for Hailey resident Eric Leidecker

Express Staff Writer

Hailey resident Eric Leidecker has a profession that many may only dream of. As a heli-ski and backcountry climbing guide, Leidecker?s work commonly finds him in the high-elevation places that make the Wood River Valley and surrounding areas so special. Photo by Jason Kauffman

Gaining an understanding of how south-central Idaho's major mountain ranges are pieced together into a seamless expanse of rugged vastness has been a benefit of Hailey resident Eric Leidecker's chosen profession.

Leidecker's work as a ski guide for Ketchum-based Sun Valley Heli-Ski Guides in the winter and his stake as co-owner and climbing guide for Stanley-based Sawtooth Mountain Guides in the summer, translate into a lot of quality time spent in the mountains.

"I definitely feel a connection to the actual physical area," he said.

Originally from California, Leidecker's family was heavily into the outdoors and was able to spend many of its summers in the Wood River Valley area. His father, Joel Leidecker, was a professor at a California college and thus had his summers off.

Eventually, the Leideckers moved to the valley full-time in 1983 when he was in third grade.

Leidecker still remembers the day as a young kid when he bought his first climbing rope from the Elephant's Perch in Ketchum.

"They kind of gave me the third-degree," he said. "They asked, 'Do you know what you're doing?'"

In those days, the Leidecker family lived in the Val d'Sol condominiums in Sun Valley. Immediately behind the development are low sagebrush-covered hills and on those hills are some rocky crags. On those crags, whose rock was questionable at best, Leidecker learned to climb.

"It's bad rock," he said.

But it was enough to hook the young outdoorsman.

Later, as a student at The Community School in Sun Valley, Leidecker took full advantage of all the school had to offer in terms of outdoor programs. Trips took the young man to places like Utah and beyond, "really all over the West."

Connection to place—"just the surroundings, the ranges, the relationships between the ranges"—is an important part of Leidecker's life.

While he won't say that he and his immediate family will never leave the Wood River Valley, he said he appreciates the unbounded opportunities for solitude the area still provides.

"It's the opportunity to get out," he said. "There's just an endless amount of backcountry."

Standing on top of a mountain in the area shows just how extensive the mountain ranges surrounding the Wood River Valley are, Leidecker said.

"It's just one amongst a whole series of mountains," he said.

And he does not believe that the vastness has been diminished by the increasing crowds who use it. "The terrain hides people well, I guess."

As the parents of two young girls—Sascha, age 4, and Svea, age 2—Leidecker and his wife, Gretchen Wagner, have begun to introduce their children to the open spaces of the world outside their door. Leidecker said he hopes they gain a similar appreciation for the outdoors as he has. Still, he also realizes they may not.

"If they're not into being outside, that's OK," he said.

For now, Leidecker tries to keep the outdoors interesting for his children. "I'm always quizzing them, 'What's that mountain?'"

As for following in his professional guiding footsteps, Leidecker is pretty sure of one thing. "I probably wouldn't wish it on them," he said with a laugh.

While admitting the area has changed somewhat since he was a young child, Leidecker, a board member for Hailey-based Citizens for Smart Growth, said one thing has remained a constant.

"The common element is recreation. We're a tourist town. People come here for recreation," he said. "You'll always have that community."

Unlike in many other mountain communities throughout the West, the Wood River Valley's hard-core outdoor athletes do their thing without being concerned about whether anyone notices, Leidecker said. It's not about the corporate sponsorship or the chance to be seen on the cover of some outdoor magazine.

"It's for the love of the mountains," he said. "I think that speaks well of the community."

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