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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, July 16, 2004


Out of service

Rainer Kolb retires from Sun Valley


Rainer Kolb has been a major cog in the Sun Valley wheel for 36 years and now he stepping out of the machinery.

Kolb, producer of the Sun Valley Ice Show, will present his final show this Saturday, July 17, but it is not just the ice show that he has had a hand in.

Brought here by legendary ski instructors Sepp Froelich and Sigi Engl in 1968, Kolb worked his way through the Sun Valley ranks with a single-minded determination that exemplifies his work ethic.

Rainer Kolb

Named director of the Sun Valley Ski School in 1974, Kolb also served as Director of Recreation for 23 years and general manager of another Holding resort, Snowbasin in Utah, for 10 years. He retired as head of the ski school in 1999.

As recreation director at Sun Valley, Kolb oversaw the resortís myriad programs, including golf, tennis, gun club, childrenís, lake, horseback riding and ice show.

"The ice show came along with the package. I did not really know much about skating and it took me awhile to learn," he said.

Under Kolbís direction, the ice show evolved from a mom-and-pop production to an extravaganza featuring some of the best talent in the world.

The names Kolb has pulled in are well known to even people who donít follow skating: Katarina Witt, Oksana Baiul, Scott Hamilton and Brian Orser are but a few of the luminaries who have graced the Sun Valley ice.

Sun Valley director of marketing and public relations, Jack Sibbach asserted,

"He brought the ice shows up to the caliber they are today. He put in the effort and made the Saturday night ice show a world class event.

"One of his biggest impacts, of course, was on the ski school. He made it one of the best in the world."

Now 65-years old, Kolb was born in Germany in 1939. His father, a German soldier, was killed in World War II and his motherís two sisters came and picked the family up and brought them back to Austria amid the chaos.

Though reluctant to discuss the details of his early years, Kolb did say, "It was a very vivid time to remember, just too many things.

"It was scary for a young kid. But it taught me a lot. I was very much afraid of the French during the occupation. It took me quite a while to realize that there are a lot of nice French people in the world. That it really has nothing to do with nationality."

Back in his motherís homeland of Austria, the Kolb family resided with an aunt in her inn on top of Kitzbuehel mountain.

Kolb remembers skiing to school every day down the famed Hahnenkamm run.

"We had kind of a mountain hotel up there where mother worked. I would ski to school and take the tram up after. It rained there quite often and would get very icy. I would just bite it and my homework would go all over the place. Not once, but quite often. When I was nine my mother built a house in Kitzbuehel," he recalled.

An accomplished skier, Kolb, along with other members of the Austrian National Demo Team, traveled to Aspen, Colo. for a meeting of the International Skiing Congress in April 1968.

In Aspen, Kolb met Sigi and Sepp and was offered a job instructing at Sun Valley. Aspen also made him the same offer, but Kolb opted for Idaho on the advice of his wife, Karin, who worked for Sun Valley Company.

"She pretty much said Sun Valley is great," Kolb recalled.

And the rest, they say, is history. In the tradition of so many who have settled in the Wood River Valley, Kolb embraced the towns, the mountain, and his job, and built a meaningful life of merit and accomplishment.

"This is an amazing country. It has been very, very good to me," Kolb remarked.

The father of two boys, Kolb is about to become a grandfather for the first time in August.

His younger son, Robert, is currently the tennis director at Zenergy in Ketchum, and eldest son, Christian, lives in Tampa Bay, Florida. His wife, Suzy, is a former ski instructor.

Kolb stopped by for a chat at the Idaho Mountain Express on Wednesday.


JZ: How are you going to cultivate your life as a retiree?

RK: I donít know. It will be hard to slow down, but I think I can. Suzy and I will sell our house this fall and go to Mexico for the winter. We have been doing that the last three or four years (The pair built a house on Isla Mujeres on the east side of the Yucatan Peninsula.) Maybe we will build something in Snowbasin. We have a lot there and a lot out in Warm Springs. It is so different, because for so many years I knew what I was doing from day to day. We want to travel. I have always dreamed of getting a fifth wheel. We both like camping. We want to go to Northern Idaho and Canada. We love Southern Utah in the spring and fall.

JZ: Do you remember your first impression of Sun Valley?

RK: I was with a group of Austrians. We were picked up in Twin Falls in a stretch limo. We drove up here and there was no snow. It was fall, so that was normal. I saw the hills and thought there is not much here. But the other guys who had been here before told me how great Baldy is. The next day I walked over to Dollar. There was nothing to do. I looked around and was a little bit disappointed. When the snow came and I went up to top of Baldy, I realized what a great mountain it is. It took me two weeks to find out what it was all about.

JZ: Are Ketchum and Kitzbuehel similar?

RK: Yes, in a way. They both have big mountains with about the same vertical. Both are pretty steep. I think more people live over there. Even now you can get away here much easier than there. All you have to do is go a mile and a half out Trail Creek and you are away from it. It took me a while to get used to the color of sagebrush. Everything is so green in Austria. Now I am sure I would even miss sagebrush.

JZ: Do you think of yourself as Austrian or American?

RK: I dream in English. It is easier for me to speak English than German. Sometimes my friends and I speak German with each other. But when Americans are around we speak English. It would be impolite and rude not to. But I have been here a long time. I have spent more than half my life over here.

JZ: Which person has had the most influence on your life and why?

RK: There have been so many people, a tremendous amount of people. First would have to be my mother. She was an unbelievably hard worker. She built our house with one bricklayer. She was 5-1 or 5-2 and she carried all the cinderblocks up to the house. She taught me about work ethic. She always said if you work hard and be honest you will never have problems. She was a widow with three kids. She died two years ago at 91. I regret that did not spend more time over there.

JZ: What is comfort food to you?

RK: A very good beef stew. Like goulash. I love cooking. Both Suzy and I love it. I like to cook some of our Austrian food. I like fish very much. When we are in Mexico, I go to the boats and buy from them. I love good salmon. I fly fish. I enjoy that very much. Sepp Frolich taught me how to fly fish in Copper Basin. It was amazing fishing then.

JZ: Do you believe skiing is a dying industry and why or why not?

RK: I donít think it is a dying industry. Snowboarding has definitely helped. The ski business is a difficult business. It is very competitive and a very expensive business to run. None of the top areas can survive without having huge grooming machines. All have to have snowmaking and detachable lifts. With the huge ski lodges it all adds up to an unbelievable amount of expense. We are very lucky to have the Holdings here.

JZ: What was your best day ever skiing?

RK: I think it was the first winter I was here. It had snowed hard overnight and we got to ski powder for two days by ourselves. It was before Christmas and no one was here. The powder is much lighter here than in Europe because of the low humidity. I will never forget that day in the bowls. Then we actually went over to Dollar and skied great powder on the side facing Ketchum. Dollar is a great place for powder.

JZ: Post-Harriman, can you tell me what made each Sun Valley era special?

RK: Bill Janss was a visionary. He always looked for something that was new. Bill got himself personally involved in everything, every hour of the day almost. He was a great skier. Actually, he took lessons from me. He and Glenn his wife came a lot. They sent their boys. Cam came quite often. Billy Janss. Those boys were great. Earl Holding has a work ethic and commitment to quality, and still tries to keep the tradition going. I donít think you can find anyone better than the Holdings for Sun Valley. They are very loyal. Earl has not made very major changes in management. It gives people a lot of stability. Bill Janss was seen everyday talking to everyone. People gave him ideas and it created problems. The Holdings are more reserved and private. I think people would be surprised how much Carol Holding is involved. Carol is as much involved in major decisions as Earl. They have good teamwork. I enjoyed both approaches and it was not difficult to change. Holdingís approach is more of a business approach. But the Holdings and Wally (Huffman) have been unbelievably supportive.

JZ: The best 10 Sun Valley skiers ever?

RK: Pete and Susie Patterson, I wasnít here when Dick Durrance was here, but Dick. I like Carol Levine. She is an amazing technician. I gave her the top class and people looked at me funny. Things have changed and that has been very positive. In Austria women were teaching kids and here too on Dollar. Even though they could ski rings around men. They never got the recognition they deserved. Danielle Crist is a great skier. Maybe one of the strongest skiers I have every seen is Manfred Jakober. He was a Swiss racer. He was an unbelievable skier. Eddie Reich is a great skier. Just a beautiful skier was Judy Nagel. She was an Olympic skier. She had the fastest time in the first run at the Grenoble Olympics in slalom. Maybe I missed someone I think is the best. I donít look how fast a person skis, but how controlled and fast. The average skier here is a much better skiing than in Kitzbuehel. Itís amazing. This mountain creates great skiers.

JZ: What do you think your legacy in Sun Valley is?

RK: I donít think there is one. I did my job as well as I could. Whenever I turned something over it was running very well. Hans (Muelegger) does a very good job with the ski school now. Lana Breazeale took over recreation. Frank Sweiding the ice show, and Cory Lavoi at the rink. I feel very good that good people are in place. I know it will be well run. It is a great time to be turning it over and I am ready to do it.


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