Friday, January 31, 2014

Skiers revered for their contributions

8 inducted into Ketchum-Sun Valley Hall of Fame

Express Staff Writer

Former Olympic skier Maria Maricich enjoys a moment under the lights Wednesday evening when she was inducted into the Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Societyís Ski Hall of Fame. Photo by Roland Lane

The Ketchum-Sun Valley Historical Society enshrined eight new members during its fifth annual Ski Hall of Fame ceremony at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum on Wednesday evening.

There were inductees for Nordic skiing and for alpine skiing. The inductees in Nordic were Bob Disbrow and Kim Kawaguchi, Joe Engen, Alison Owen and the Teresa Heinz family. In alpine skiing, the inductees were Earl and Carol Holding, Jimmy Griffith, Don and Gretchen Fraser, and Maria Maricich.

Historical Society President Heather Daves said that all of the inductees brought something special to their sport.

“We are proud to honor those who have touched and shaped our community with their examples of athletic prowess, tenacity, creativity, generosity and willingness to lead by example,” Daves said. “We have the privilege of honoring families and people in our community who have impacted us in the sport of skiing.”

Alison Owen became a trailblazer for women’s Nordic skiers when she qualified for the U.S. junior team in 1966 as the only woman to do so. After some discussion, Owen was allowed to compete in the championships as the competition’s first female. From the next year on, there has been a women’s division at U.S. national cross-country skiing events.

Owen went on to win eight U.S. national titles and has been a ski coach at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation for several years. During her acceptance speech, Owen voiced her excitement for the future of women’s skiing.

“This will be the first year in the Olympics that women get to ski jump,” Owen said. “I think women are really going to excel at ski jumping because they’re light and you need to be small-boned so you can fly like birds. One of the reasons women haven’t been allowed is because they’re probably going to out-jump the men and it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Bob Disbrow and Kim Kawaguchi have spent 20 years in the Wood River Valley as part-time residents. Both have been cross-country ski enthusiasts and have offered much needed financial support to the local ski community since the early 1990s. Both have also been actively involved with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.

Don and Gretchen Fraser were inducted posthumously after both passed away within a month of each other in 1994. The sport of alpine skiing was what brought them together, as they traveled to compete in the Harriman Cup in 1938. Both went on to compete for the 1940 U.S. Olympic team. Gretchen went on to win an Olympic gold medal in slalom in 1948, making her the first American to win a gold medal in skiing. Their daughter Heather said she was honored to represent her parents at the induction ceremony.

“They were wonderful people. They loved each other and were very inspirational in the way they lived their lives,” she said. “They were wonderful role models for the people that knew them, and this is one more piece of a great legacy to us here.”

In 1977, the Earl and Carol bought Sun Valley Co. and all of its assets. Since then, the Holdings invested in improving the Sun Valley Lodge and Inn, while also building the Warm Springs, River Run and Seattle Ridge lodges on Bald Mountain. More recently, they funded construction of Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge, which revitalized the ski scene at Dollar Mountain.
In addition, the Holdings built the 1,500-seat, open-air Sun Valley Pavilion to host the Sun Valley Summer Symphony and other musical performances.

     Maria Maricich is currently a Ketchum chiropractor, using modern techniques to help hopeful Olympians reach their highest potential. An Olympic downhiller, she is one of few Olympians who was born and raised in Sun Valley. She started skiing on the World Cup circuit in 1979, and finished second at a World Cup downhill competition in 1983. She finished 16th in the 1984 Olympics after being ranked as the top downhiller in the United States and 10th in the world before the competition. On Thursday, Maricich said she immensely enjoyed her competitive skiing.

     “Skiing became a spiritual experience for me,” she said. “If I could overcome myself and my fears, then I was more successful. Being a downhiller, you have to overcome your fears. I feel very fortunate to have been born into an athletic family in Sun Valley.”

     For more than a decade, Joe Engen has served as a personal ski coach, ski instructor and has led the Sun Valley Masters cross-country skiing program. He has remained active with Idaho Olympians and served as chief of competition for the cross-country events of the World Special Olympics in Sun Valley in 2009. He is also a three time Olympian and has served as the chair of the Cross-Country Committee of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

     The Heinz family was inducted as a result of part-time valley resident Teresa Heinz’s efforts to save Galena Lodge after the 1991-92 ski season, when there were struggles to keep it financially viable. After a committee raised the funds to groom the Boulder Mountain Tour trail in the 1993-94 ski season, Heinz offered to give the full $325,000 necessary to purchase the Galena Lodge. The purchase was on the condition that the community created an endowment of $250,000 to operate the lodge, which the community successfully did. 

     Jimmy Griffith was the first native Ketchum and Sun Valley skier to be named to an Olympic ski team. He began his serious competitive ski-racing career when he enrolled at the University of Colorado in 1945 when he was 15 years old. In 1950, Griffith finished first in the U.S. Men’s Downhill Amateur and Open Championship. In 1951, Griffith joined the Air Force and received a temporary deferment of duty to prepare for the 1952 Olympics, in which he’d been named. While training for the Olympics, Griffith suffered a fatal high-speed ski accident in Alta, Utah. In 1971, Griffith was elected to the National Ski Hall of Fame. During his enshrinement, his sister, Ketchum resident Mary Jane Griffith-Conger, said she has spent a lot of time recently reflecting on her brother’s life.

     “Jimmy’s life was so full, yet so brief,” she said. “As I think of him now, I realize what was most outstanding was his passion for life, to be so imbued with a desire to succeed and be a leader while remaining so humble—it was breathtaking.”

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