After its first year in operation, the new Sun Valley Ski Academy continues to grow, with 14 out-of-area young Olympic hopefuls signed up to ski and study this upcoming season in the Wood River Valley.
The ski academy, organized as a partnership between the private Community School in Sun Valley and the nonprofit Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, is off to a good start, said Community School Head of School David Holmes.
"The partnership between the academic side and the strong skiing side has really been a great success," Holmes said at a Tuesday night fundraising event at the Ketchum-area home of entrepreneur Kipp Nelson, who also serves on the Ski Education Foundation's board of directors.
About 100 people attended the event hosted by Nelson and ski academy Director Steve Shafran, which included a free cocktail hour followed by a concert in the amphitheater built into the hillside behind Nelson's house. Performing was the Louisiana-style rock band Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers.
The amount of money raised at the event was not available by press deadline Thursday, but last summer a similar ski academy fundraiser at Nelson's home featuring the music of Michael Franti and Spearhead grossed about $200,000 at the event and within the next few days.
The concept behind the ski academy is to bring young competition skiers to the Sun Valley area to train with the Ski Education Foundation while receiving an education with Community School. But a lot of local skiers who attend Community School have embraced the ski academy too, bringing total enrollment this year to 55.
"It's allowed athletes from outside the area who want to train with this fantastic program to come here," said Don Wiseman, Ski Education Foundation executive director. "The attraction we've had with this first year has been unbelievable. They know about us. In the long run it's going to be a great program."
There are also benefits to local skiers who were already enrolled at Community School and involved in competitive skiing, said Elkhorn resident Gary Black Jr., co-owner of Sun Valley-based Ski Racing magazine and former executive director of the Ski Education Foundation. Black said his 14-year-old daughter, Lexi Black, a ninth-grader this year enrolled in the ski academy, loves the program.
"She loves the school and she loves the ski team," Black said. "I've seen that the academy will raise a lot of levels, skiing on one side, academic on one side and socializing on another.
"It brings a social appeal because kids are coming from all over the United States and not just the Wood River Valley," he said. "It helps broaden their perspectives. To me, I think that will be a huge asset and I think people will see it."
The 14 out-of-town skiers will be living at the Community School residential dormitory at the former Bald Mountain Inn building in Warm Springs. Now in its second year of operation, the dormitory housed eight students last year, four of them ski academy participants and the other four exchange students from China.
The dormitory this year is near its capacity of 25, with 23 students now enrolled, including nine who are here for mainly academic purposes.
Dormitory Director Jessica Wasilewski said she's pleased with the near-triple number of students but noted that there will be challenges.
"The good news is we really had a good test run last year," Wasilewski said. "It's still small enough that we can be a good family."
Head of School Holmes said he hadn't expected the dormitory to be near capacity in only its second year. He said a few more out-of-area students are considering enrolling.
"We've got two more in the chutes right now and we'll get at least one of those," he said.
While the largest draw has been for the ski academy, Holmes noted that eight of the academic students enrolled for the dormitory program are from China.
He attributed the success of the ski academy and dormitory programs mainly to Shafran, Wasilewski and Jonna Mendes, a former Olympian and national champion ski racer hired last year as the ski academy's director of recruiting.
"It's really been a lot of hard work on the ground to tell the world about Sun Valley and its skiing," Holmes said. "I'm really excited with the success we've made in a year. Success doesn't happen by chance and we've had phenomenal leadership from a lot of people.
"You head off into the unknown and you don't know what's going to succeed until you make it succeed. And I think it's this entrepreneurial atmosphere of Sun Valley that helps you proceed into the unknown and make it work."
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org