Alice Schernthanner has been a fixture at Dollar Mountain for 30 years
But she wondered if she would ever fit in when she first came to Sun Valley.
As Alice tells it, she was following her Austrian ski instructor-husband Andy to Sun Valley in 1962
when her train from Denver pulled into Shoshone and the conductor ordered everyone out.
“I had no idea where I was. I had thought I’d be getting out in Sun Valley and, as far as I knew, I was in the wrong state,” she recalled. “There were three of us on the bus for Sun Valley. It was Jan. 18 and that particular year the mountains were as brown as could be—except for the White Clouds—and I thought they were clouds. They told me in Bellevue that it was the next town. But Hailey looked like Shoshone does now.”
Finally, Alice said, the bus pulled into Sun Valley where she came face to face with a group of California women in front of the Ram Restaurant “with boobs and big hair wearing bikinis.”
“None of my bunch had boobs–we were all flat-chested. And I’d never seen a bikini before. I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ If I could have, I would’ve turned around and gone home.
”She didn’t, though.
Instead, Alice and Andy built a home out Warm Springs where they raised six children. After years of supervising her own children on Dollar Mountain, Alice decided she might as well get paid for it and so she began teaching working with the Sun Valley Ski School in 1979, eventually becoming a supervisor.
Now 71 and still working at Dollar, she will be recognized for her work June 14 when she is one of five ladies crowned as part of the 2009 Blaine County Historical Museum Heritage Court.
While Schernthanner contends she did her growing up in Sun Valley, she spent her youth in Maine where her father ran a hardware store and her mother became the proud owner of the town’s first freezer.
“She went to school to learn how to freeze things and she took in friends’ food since they didn’t have their own freezers,” Alice recalled.
Alice met Andy when he was teaching skiing at Sugarloaf ski resort, and it wasn’t difficult to trade the 30-below temperatures there to ski in the sun with the rich and famous in Sun Valley.
Alice recalls being “totally overwhelmed” her first time atop Baldy: “I had never seen open slopes before. I’d always just skied down a trail through the woods. I got up there and I had no idea where to go.”
Alice handed out pie and cake to guests at the Inn cafeteria, skiing between her morning and afternoon shifts.
And at home she learned to make weinerschnitzel, goulash, gugelhof—an Austrian bundt cake and Austrian bread dumplings and crepes for her husband and Sun Valley’s community of Austrian ski instructors.
“I Americanized them all, adding more bacon and onions than they ever did back in Austria. Andy remembers his mother stretching a piece of meat this big because the meat was going to the Austrian army,” Alice said, forming her thumb and forefinger into the shape of a silver dollar.
As a supervisor at Dollar Mountain, Alice has taught three generations of skiers.
She was always strict but also quick to lighten things up with her sense of humor said Britt Palmedo, her
“My father taught me that every place has its uniqueness, and I figured here it was skiing. So I figured every kid should at least get the chance to try it,” Alice said.
Alice has worked with the famous and not-so-famous, including Ed McMahan, whom she recalls was so clumsy it took a week of lessons to get him to the top of Dollar.
“But we moved him around from one flat area to another and he had a great time because he thought he was making progress,” Alice said.
But her heart has always been with the kids. And, she says, you can’t beat Dollar Mountain when it comes to teaching kids.
“I took kids up Baldy several times and swore I’d never do it again. One time I took up some youngsters who were good skiers. But the weather changed on us. They got cold on the way down. We had to stop in the woods to go to the bathroom. And, by the time we got to the bottom, all of them had wet their pants and were crying. I think kids feel safe on Dollar.”
Alice’s daughter Heidi was the first second-generation ski instructor at Sun Valley to teach. Two other daughters—Monika and Liesl—also still live here.
Pater lives in Oakland, Andreas in Boise and Britta, who just give birth to Andy and Alice’s fourth grandchild, lives in Bozeman.
Heidi says one of her mother’s skills has been her ability to match young skiers to the right instructor and to work with their parents—even the difficult ones.
“I was all of those parents—I was the parent who thought my child was more brilliant than the others. And I could be nasty, too—so I understand these parents,” Alice shrugged. “And I understand the children’s needs because I’m a child at heart.”
Ethel Wells has enjoyed several very different lives in her lifetime—from that of a young mother to an award-winning career to a string of national tennis championships in retirement.
Now at 92 the perky 5-foot woman with a head full of red Lucille Ball-like curls is in the volunteer phase of her life.
“I think a lot of my good health comes from being active,” she says. “Of course, my mother lived to be 99. One grandpa lived to be 101 and the other lived to 100.”
Ethel was born in 1917 as World War I was ending.
She grew up two blocks away from the University of Kansas stadium that her uncle built. But the Depression hit her family hard as construction stopped and her father found himself out of work.
“My folks didn’t own a car so we walked everywhere. And we shared food with my aunt who lived next door,” she recalls. “Of course, that being Kansas we had to put up with 102-degree heatwaves without even an electric fan. And we spent a lot of time in the storm cellar, too, on account of tornados.
“This that we’re going through now—this is nothing, absolutely nothing compared to the Great Depression.”
Ethel majored in sociology at the University of Kansas where, she recalls, her classmates flocked to Kansas City for libations every weekend during Prohibition years. She herself ended up being feted one weekend at Kansas City’s swankiest hotel when she was named Junior Class Beauty Queen.
But she didn’t get her degree until 1970 at Boise State University because she quit the last semester to get married.
She raised three sons during the next phase of her life while her husband worked for the federal courts. And in 1956 she started a 23-year stint with the Idaho Department of Employment, placing handicapped people in jobs and recruiting troubled youth for the Marsing Job Corps where they could learn mechanics and other skills.
Ethel received the National Award for Women in Business from the American Business Women’s Association in 1970 and two years later was awarded the Idaho State Employee of the Year award.
She also served as president of the Idaho Mental Health Association from 1970 to 1976, during which time she also served on the National Association of Mental Health board.
“The government-funded community mental health center we set up in Idaho was a model—I even went to D.C. to put on a workshop about it,” she recalls. “Unfortunately,they disbanded the community mental health centers—we don’t take care of our mentally ill anymore.”
After Ethel’s husband died, she moved to Sun Valley.
“I didn’t know anyone here, but I wanted a change so I came up by myself,” she recalls. “I felt immediately at home with the beauty and small-town friendliness here.”
Here she continued playing tennis, winning Nationals in both singles and doubles in her age bracket.
And she took up a life of volunteerism, serving on The Community Library board and working on behalf of the Summer Symphony and the Swing’n’Dixie Jazz Jamboree.
She has put in more than 20 years behind the desk at the old Moritz Community Hospital and St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, says Debbie Hobart, volunteer services coordinator for the hospital.
“Ethel truly is an inspiration to us all,” says Hobart, whose St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center Volunteer Core Board nominated Ethel to the Heritage Court. “She is an ambassador for St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, encompassing our values of trust, respect, integrity, partnership and service, and most of all compassion.”
At 92, Ethel lives in a quiet neighborhood abutting the Elkhorn Golf Course. Her home is decorated with mementos from the nine winters she spent in Mexico, as well as a small walnut rocking chair her father made and the oversized mirror that was her mother’s wedding present.
And it boasts 12 steps that she climbs up and down at least 10 times a day, helping her to stay in shape.
In addition to her volunteer work at St. Luke’s, she hits the cross-country ski trails and water aerobics classes, getting around town in her 4-by-4 Jeep, a Jayhawks decal on the back window.
She also still plays tennis at the Harker Center with a modern-day tennis racket that, in keeping with the times, is double the size of the racket she used when she first started playing.
“I like the sociability. I have met all my best friends through tennis,” she says. “And it keeps me in shape.”
Ethel’s son Ray is a lawyer, in Palo Alto, California. Another son is a professor at the University of Washington and a third works for Boise Water Company.
Esther Boyd has been around long enough to tell a lot of big fish tales.
There was, for instance, the time she fetched a pail of water while camping near Redfish Lake and found so many coho salmon in the creek that the members of her camping party went after them with hooks stuck on the ends of two-foot sticks.
“We hooked seven big ones,” she said, holding her hands four feet apart. “We roasted them over the fire and had a mighty good dinner that night. Of course, I’m sure you couldn’t do that today. I don’t know whether it was legal back then.”
At 89, Esther is a card-carrying member of one of the valley’s pioneer families and so can attest to the many changes that have occurred in the valley through the years.
She was born in Carey where her grandfather John Peterson had one of the area’s first sawmills.
Though her family moved to Jerome shortly after she was born, they made frequent trips back to the Wood River Valley to camp and visit relatives.
“It used to take a couple hours to get here driving on those narrow dirt roads,” she said.
Esther married her husband Johnie Boyd three weeks before she graduated from high school. He worked a variety of jobs, selling Nash cars and helping to build the highway over Galena Summit, while she raised five children.
“I never had a career and I’m happy for that because I had the joy of being with my family,” she said. “There were some bumps and hard places, but that’s what teaches you the lessons and helps you learn to appreciate life.”
Towards the end of the Depression, Esther recalls, Hailey resembled little more than a ghost town.
“In those days people didn’t even have money for the taxes on their home. It reminds me as we go through this time not to worry.”
Back then, it was the Union Pacific Railroad that provided the economic stimulus package as it built Sun Valley Lodge in the mid-1930s.
“Wow! It was like a miracle,” Esther recalled. “Jobs opened up and everyone was so excited. The lodge was quite magnificent to us because we were very humble people. We got to see Sonja Henie ice skating—she was cheery as a button. Of course, the ice skating shows they have today are much more elaborate.”
As their kids grew, the Boyds spent their spare time riding horses and taking part in cattle drives in the South Hills near Twin Falls. They even raced horses at one time. But when Johnie had a heart attack in 1980, it was the Wood River Valley where he wanted to spend the rest of his days.
Here, he continued to ride horses and help with roundups as the three months the doctors had given him stretched to three years.
Esther never went back to the Magic Valley. She took on her first paying jobs, chauffeuring older ladies for picnic lunches outside the Sun Valley Lodge. And she got the joy of being close to each of her 17 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.
“I love to read. I get in a book and I travel with that book—to Australia, to the islands…” she said. “When one of the boys was having trouble reading, I told him, ‘You may never get to do what the boy in that book does so enjoy it with him.’ ”
Today Ethel lives at in a quite suburban home at Bellevue’s north end where she cares for her daughter Lynda Barbee, who has multiple sclerosis.
She’s fortunate, she says, that all of her children–Teri Niedrich, Peggi Mikel and Richard and Larry Boyd—live close in Hailey, Twin Falls or Boise.
“Now I’m trying to teach them how to have a happy senior life,” she said. “We have the most wonderful Senior Connection here. I resisted going for years because I thought it was too old for me. Now I wish I’d gone earlier.”
Her other pride and joy is her church, Calvary Bible.
“God came into my life and it gets more beautiful every day. To have a savior so I don’t have to work for my salvation…” she said. “I’ve had a rich, fulfilling life. They say, ‘Don’t look back.’ But—ohmigosh–how much we would miss if we didn’t look back.”
At 78, Rita Hurst putters around the Rosebud Deli, laying out silverware and carrying dirty plates to the dishwasher.
This is easy work, she sniffs, compared to what she used to do.
There was a time, Rita boasts, that she used to put in a full day doing a man’s job.
That included driving a 10-wheel logging truck up and over the narrow, dirt-covered hairpin turns of the old Galena Highway in the 1940s and ‘50s.
“I didn’t need to do it, but I loved it. I liked the smell of the pines and being my own boss,” says Rita, who will be inducted into the Blaine County Historical Museum Heritage Court on June 14.
A native of the Wood River Valley, Rita began spending her summers in the Sawtooth Valley when her stepfather Walter Wade homesteaded a 630-acre parcel of land along Beaver Creek on the other side of Galena Pass.
There, her stepfather cut timber for the small logging company he had in Hailey.
Her folks couldn’t keep her off the giant draft horses they used as workhorses. And, by age 9, Rita had her own draft horse, which she named Nigger for its black color. Together she and Nigger, whom she rechristened Jigger years later in the interests of political correctness, skidded logs from the woods to the logging trucks.
At 12 she got her own chainsaw so she could cut small trees herself. And by 16 she was driving a logging truck so primitive by today’s standards that she often had to bank it on the side of the hill to slow it down.
“It took an hour to drive it up over the summit on one side—sometimes I’d have to stop and back up to make the turns,” she recalls. “And it took another hour on the way down. Now, of course, you can drive up and down Galena Summit in 20 minutes or so.”
One time, Rita recall, she drove an overloaded truck to the Triumph Mine, As she started up the hill, the front end of the truck rose into the air. The miners had to stand on the front of it to force it down so she could finish the drive, she says.
To look tough, Rita carried a can of snuff, which she never chewed.
When pulling up to the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bellevue, she would jump out and kick the tires to show she was one of the guys, says her friend Chrissy Cheff.
One day a stranger heard her cussing and told her a young lady shouldn’t be swearing.
“Since I’m doing a man’s work, I’m entitled to swear like a man!” Rita retorted.
When her father built the Beaver Creek Store, which still stands north of Smiley Creek Lodge, Rita began cooking for the miners at the nearby Silver King and Eureka mines, along with sheepherders and government trappers.
She cooked on a wood stove with no running water or electricity.
“My mother—May—had crippling arthritis. So, mostly I cooked meat and potatoes, biscuits and gravy. But once in awhile, the government trapper brought some bear meat that he’d killed and I cooked it up in a frying pan, browning it up good like a steak. It had a taste of its own,” she recalls. “You had to make sure the fat was off, but the cooks loved to get the fat for baking pastries.”
As Rita got older, her family began spending winters at Beaver Creek. Three times a week she’d cross-country ski seven miles over the pass to the Galena Store where Pearl Barber would have the mail waiting for her.
To stave off cabin fever, she’d occasionally thumb a ride from there to Ketchum where she would attend a dance and movie before returning home.
In those days Bellevue used to get 8 feet of snow on the flat and Beaver Creek up to 12 feet, she said. Her stepfather kept city sidewalks plowed with B-plow made with two big planks. And he kept a team of horses ready to go 24 hours a day should they need to take firefighters to a fire.
Rita recalls one winter when she rescued three horses who had been left at the Beaver Creek store, taking them eight miles down the Salmon River where they could feed on exposed grass. Once a week she would ski to the horses, pulling a toboggan filled with bales of hay.
Each fall, she would drive the family’s own horses back to the Wood River Valley, leaving Beaver Creek at 5 in the morning and trotting into Hailey by 9 p.m.
Isolated as she was, her playmates were not other children but the local foxes, porcupines and coyotes. She named a pair of baby badgers Maggie and Jiggs and put them on a leash and led them around like a dog
And, when a government trapper killed a sow, she and her stepfather took in its two cubs, raising them for five years until the bears’ growing size prompted them to take the bears to the Pocatello zoo.
In 1953 Rita married Arthur Hurst, a Bellevue boy who had received a Silver Star for laying phone lines during the Battle of the Bulge.
The couple bought the timber operation from Rita’s folks and continued to log until 1968. They also tended sheep, living out of sheep wagons at times, says Rita’s friend Janis Walton.
After marrying, Rita ran the old Bellevue Cafe where Milano’s is now and worked off and on for 20 years at the Silver Dollar Saloon, luring customers with her homemade cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, doughnuts and dinner rolls.
And she opened a second-hand antique store next to her trailer home in Bellevue.
When her husband became ill with cancer, Rita got him a miniature horse, which kept him company indoors, even eating off his plate.
She, Rowdy and her Australian shepherd Joker, who resembles a small black bear, were common sights for a while walking the bike path.
Since Arthur died four years ago, Rita has busied herself at the Bellevue Community Church. She continues to frequent yard sales each week, bickering good-naturedly with her 80-year-old friend who accompanies her.
She often donates her finds to acquaintances in need, and she collects donations for the Rosebud Deli’s Tuesday night soup kitchen supper from Atkinsons’ Valley Market.
“She’s a character,” says Chrissy Cheff, who owns Rosebud Deli. “She comes across kind of gruff and grouchy but she’s got a heart. Ken and I stayed at her house when we were trying to get our restaurant up and running. She’s been like my angel—I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have without her.”