Friday, June 8, 2012

Skiers honor Sun Valley trails hero

Butch Harper feted for contributions to Baldy, public lands

Express Staff Writer

Butch Harper, far left, celebrates his award with friends and supporters, from left to right, Doug Abromeit, Janet Kellam and Richie Bingham at the annual Intermountain Ski Area Association banquet and conference Wednesday in Sun Valley. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Intermountain Ski Area Association presented its annual Pioneer Award to Ketchum resident Butch Harper Wednesday in Sun valley.

The 31-year veteran Forest Service snow ranger worked with the Sun Valley Co. from 1964 until he retired in 1994, designing and implementing avalanche warning systems and overseeing the resort's expansions on public land.

As part of its annual conference at Sun Valley Resort, the Intermountain Ski Area Association also awarded Sun Valley General Manager Tim Silva the group's Outstanding Contribution Award.

"In Butch's day, the snow ranger was the avalanche person," said longtime friend and avalanche educator Janet Kellam. "It was a big responsibility. He later shared his 20 years of avalanche control experience with the ski patrol, when they took over."

Harper taught basic avalanche awareness classes in the Sun Valley area decades ago, traveling widely to gather expertise. Kellam said his programs were among the first in the country to reach out to the winter recreational user on national forest lands.

Many friends, including Bill and Annie Vanderbilt, Mary Austin Crofts and Bob Rosso, attended the event to see Harper honored.

"During Butch's oversight, Baldy went from a total of 33 trails and barely having a ski run down Warm Springs to having 62 trails, including the Seattle Ridge complex, many new or replaced lifts, one of the world's best snowmaking systems and the development of just about all the Bald Mountain lodges," Kellam said. "He worked hard to support the development of our Nordic trail systems and our summer trails. I think we'd all be amazed if we actually drove up the valley and recognized everything that Butch had been a part of."


Harper grew up in Rupert, Idaho, and began skiing at the age of 3. His father helped operate a rope tow with several other men at nearby Howe Canyon Ski Area, on some days hiking two and a half miles from Interstate 84 to ski.

The Harper family made regular trips up to Sun Valley. In 1957, after ski racing and graduating from high school, Harper later attended university on a skiing scholarship. After graduation, he returned to the Wood River Valley as a schoolteacher and ski coach from 1962-1963.

In 1964, the Forest Service snow ranger position opened up. Harper attended and taught with the National Avalanche School, in turn teaching and mentoring hundreds of professionals and skiers about snow and avalanches, safety and rescue.

Harper and his family were instrumental in the early youth Nordic program and cross-country ski trails in the area. In the summer, he developed and brought together a diversity of users to share and help maintain more than 350 miles of backcountry trails.

In 1976, Harper, along with Rosso and Crofts, spearheaded the Wood River Trails system, which eventually connected the entire valley using the old Union Pacific right of way as a bike path.

The Blaine County Recreation District bike path now runs more than 20 miles from Bellevue through Ketchum, and includes the 30-kilometer, summer and winter Harriman Trail, starting north of town and ending at Galena Lodge.

Tony Evans:

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