Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Donald E. Rhinehart

On a cold, clear day last December, Don Rhinehart visited his buddies in the patrol shack atop Bald Mountain. He breathed in the view of the Northern Rockies and the Wood River Valley that stretched out as far as the eye could see. Finally he began his descent, carving the effortless turns that belied his 80 years. Don took his last run that glorious morning. For the veteran ski instructor, Sun Valley Ski School supervisor and co-founder of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA), his season came to an end on March 15, 2008, after living undauntedly with cancer for five years.

A natural teacher, Don innately grasped what made something tick, from machines to people, and he enthusiastically shared that knowledge with anyone who would listen, repeatedly jabbing his "students" until he was sure they understood. His ribald sense of humor and irreverent one-liners ended every lesson with laughter, underscoring both his honesty and his humility. Even though he was unfailingly generous with his time and vast experience, Don never took himself too seriously and put everyone at ease with his great wit and charm.

Born June 23, 1927, in White Bluffs, Wash., Don grew up working his grandparents' ranch. At 16, he forged his mother's signature and enlisted in the Navy, serving two years in the South Pacific during World War II. In 1947, he started a roofing company in Seattle, but spent much of his time in Sun Valley working on Baldy cutting runs and on the Galena road crews. In wintertime throughout the 1950s, Don taught skiing at Stevens Pass and Snoqualamie Passe, and with his colleagues on the slopes began the development of a national affiliation of certified instructors.

In 1961, Don came to Sun Valley to stay. That same year, he and six other dedicated expert skiers founded the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) in Whitefish, Mont., creating a uniquely "American Teaching System." Observing Don on Baldy several decades ago, one of his old friends commented with a smile, "Look at that guy go! When Rhino skis, his skis don't touch the snow."

Don lived the life of the quintessential Sun Valley adventurer. As a licensed outfitter in the early 1970s, he kayaked the Middle Fork of the Salmon. He sailed his brother-in-law Ed's schooner down the Pacific coast through the Panama Canal. He enjoyed bird shooting in Canada and was a skilled bow hunter and fly fisherman. Using his experience as a horseman and mule handler, Don ran a private lodge in the remote Selway-Bitterroot wilderness with his wife, Virginia, from 1992-1996. They then moved to Baja for six years where Don built a classic Mexican-style hacienda in Loreto on the Sea of Cortez. There he pursued his love of free diving, spear fishing and sea kayaking. Don's last fall camping trip in Park Creek in September was spent chopping wood and building fires, making sure everyone was comfortable even though he finally admitted with a wink and a jab, "My ass is draggin' in my boots."

A legendary hard worker who doggedly finished every project he started from the first potato-storage facility he built in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1980, to the wrought-iron fence he forged and painted to encircle their 105-year-old Bellevue home, Don's energy, ingenuity and determination were boundless. He wanted to stay useful to the end, and he did even more: He openly shared his love and gratitude with those who came by for one more laugh.

Don's positive spirit will continue to thrive in the hearts and minds of his family, his friends and his community, especially his bride of 40 years, Virginia James Rhinehart, and their dog, Annie. He was preceded in death by their 16-year-old daughter Jessica in 1988. Don is survived by three children from a previous marriage: Dr. Robin Miller of Novato, Calif., Mark Rhinehart of Winthrop, Wash., and Darcy Brons of Ketchum; five grandchildren, James, Christina, Heidi, Gretta and Jake; and six great-grandchildren.

A memorial fund has been set up in Don Rhinehart's name by the Professional Ski Instructors of America to annually award a scholarship to a deserving local skier, instructor or coach to attend the PSIA certification program. Tax-deductible contributions in Don's memory can be made to PSIA Intermountain Division, Education Foundation, Box 548, Burley, ID 83318. Charitable gifts to the Hospice of the Wood River Valley and Camp Rainbow Gold are gratefully encouraged. Interment will be held at the convenience of the family at the Ketchum Cemetery, and a celebration of Don's life is planned for this summer when the weather is "hotter than a peppermint fart."

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