Friday, November 11, 2011

In the genes

Express Staff Writer

From left to right, these smiling SVSEF ski racers are Josie Allison, Sam Busby, Alexandra Black, Loni Unser and Julia Vorsteveld. Photo by Glen Allison

The late Jack Simpson's conception of a club accessible to anyone who lived in the valley and who dreamed of participating on a ski racing team started around his daughter Kelly, her siblings and their buddies.

Today, Kelly Allison and her husband, Glen, are coaches for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, and both of their daughters, Simpson's granddaughters, Josie, 14, and Laine, 9, participate, Josie in alpine and Laine in alpine and Nordic.

The foundation will host its 35th annual Fall Game Dinner and Auction on Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Limelight Room in the Sun Valley Inn. Just like the foundation began humbly with an intimate gathering of like-passioned people, so did this fundraising dinner, which used to be held at Simpson's Warm Springs Ranch restaurant with meat, foul and fish donated by hunters. The ski team kids were the servers, hosts and clean-up crew.

Now the game dinner has become one of the most anticipated events of the year. Proceeds from the dinner go to provide scholarships for youths who could not afford to compete otherwise.

"Skiing and racing are definitely expensive endeavors," Glen Allison said. "But Jack didn't want anyone who had a desire to be left out."

Desire, and a proficiency on Bald Mountain, be it on snowboard or skis, is what it takes for second-graders wishing to join the development team. There are also teams in freestyle and Nordic.

Currently there are more than 450 athletes in the program overall. As they move up in rank, so do the standards of participation. There is a strict no-drug and no-alcohol policy, and athletes who fall below a C in any subject are not allowed to travel with the team. Racers participate in eight to 10 regional and national competitions each year, and kids miss up to 40 days of school in a winter season.

Still, according to foundation Assistant Events Director Katie Matteson, there were no grade point averages below 3.16 among the ninth- to 12th-graders on the team last year and many of the athletes were eligible for the foundation's Academic Elite Team.

Allison said being on the team has made Josie strong, independent and reliable.

"It's taught her how to manage life," he said. "It makes life a lot busier with training six days a week and five months to juggle it all. She was never the most organized kid as time management goes before, but now she's learned how to run her life and make decisions and keep her motivation up. She's learned how to win and how to fail.

"I think it's one of the best things a kid can get into growing up here."

It was 9:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night when Josie breezed in from a soccer dinner while her father was being interviewed. There was none of the traditional teenage hemming and hawing that goes on when a kid is forced to spontaneously talk to an adult, especially a stranger, and even more challenging, after what had been a long day of school, practice and banquet outing.

But the chipper and articulate young woman from the Community School stepped up and fielded questions without hesitation.

At her level, J3, "that's kind of people's deciding moment, that's when you are being noticed by the U.S. Ski Team and other prestigious teams, so this is when people flake off and quit or keep going.

"I don't know what I want to do yet. I can't see myself doing this forever, but I can't see leaving this group of people. It's hard to think about quitting them."

She credits Scotty McGrew for keeping the enthusiasm in the team.

Josie said being on the team has always been like having an extended family. It's brought her close to people across the valley whom she might not otherwise have met, and it's a refuge from the distractions that derail other kids her age.

"On ski team, everything is different. It is not about how well you're doing, or being the best on the team, it's about pulling the best out of each other and knowing that you're supported all around no matter how you do," she said. "Someone may not be your favorite person in the world, but you learn how to work together."


Fall Game Dinner

Event tickets: $100. Contact Katie Matteson at

Online auction open now at

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