Sun Valley Guides
getting out there
In a community so connected, it is common to feel as though we know everyone. A trip to the supermarket brings hellos from familiar faces. A yard sale is a social happening.
But when our lives hook into repeating orbits, we lose sight of neighbors riding different tracks. Then, just when we think we’ve met every set of eyes there is to meet, shaken every hand there is to shake, we meet someone new, traveling a different and unseen path.
In this fifth gathering of Sun Valley Guides, we sought out friends who can help us get out there, into the spaces between our well-worn roads. Whether on horseback, mountainside or with shotguns shoulder slung, these are the folks who live the life and can show us the way.
Elizabeth Hendrix & Julie Zapoli
Zapoli’s first mentor was her uncle Joe, and her description of Joe as an old man after a caribou hunt in Alaska says it all: "The picture I have of him shows the bright blue Alaska sky overhead, the lichen and blueberry covered mountains all around him, his hands holding up the animal’s head for the photo. But it’s his eyes, still like a young boy’s, that show you everything. They were as bright as the color of the sky, filled with both the thrill and sadness of the hunt, his passion for the outdoors, and most of all his gratitude to the caribou."
Hendrix’s outdoor initiation came later in life, but her need for the outdoors was innate and her self-knowledge is apt. She has written thoughtfully on the memories: "I remember picking up that fly rod. It was the first one I touched, and I knew it would become my own. I was drawn to it months before I actually stepped into the fly shop. I decided that being a recently divorced woman raising two small children on my own wasn’t going to be the thing that defined me. I took that beautiful Winston rod, the handful of flies the shop sold me, the borrowed reel—I couldn’t afford a reel in those days—and I went to a river outside Winthrop, Washington. I taught myself to cast, and in the process I learned to breathe deeply again. In the warmth of the sun, among the verdant, warm wilderness I began to take back my life, first by casting my fly into a tree, then finally into a riffle."
Zapoli and Hendrix met more than five years ago at a fund-raiser for The Conservation Fund and reazlied their mutual interest was helping more women discover the outdoors. They soon met again on an Alaskan float trip Zapoli was leading. On that excursion, Zapoli said, "all we talked about was how to get women in the outdoors."
They acted first on Hendrix’s forward-thinking idea: an outdoor Web site for women. This virtual space was followed by a physical address on Sun Valley Road. Today, Ketchum on the Fly is distinguished as a Filson dry goods dealer, and for the first time in the Northwest company’s 111-year history, Filson is producing outdoor clothes for women. The company’s 2008 spring catalog was shot locally and features Zapoli and Hendrix on the cover.
Ketchum on the Fly is not a bottom-line driven enterprise. "Our mission," Hendrix says, "is about impacting the community, conservation of the environment, and helping women have great life experiences." Four women she recently guided on a Silver Creek canoe and casting trip reported they hadn’t laughed that much or slept that well afterwards in years. They felt "energized" by the day.
Zapoli said, "We want to encourage women—really all people—to get out and experience the beauty, connection and the sense of accomplishment that the world of the sporting traditions give us."
Photo by Craig
Jeff and his wife Deb Bitton have owned and operated Mystic Saddle Ranch since 1980, when they purchased the outfit from Jeff’s parents. Today, the Bittons offer customized and catered horseback trips from two locations: Galena Stage Stop and Redfish Lake Corrals, 25 minutes and an hour north of Ketchum, respectively. Their equestrian trips include hunting and fishing excursions, backcountry hiking and camping, and a five-day "Horse Adventure Camp" filled with "horses, fun, laughter and education." When Bitton talks about his life with horses, the word "fun" pops up with noticeable frequency.
His mission is to "provide a recreation horseback experience that is a lifetime memory for people." Indeed, horses are an integral part of the West and the Sawtooth Mountains are among its loveliest and least traveled spaces. Anyone who combines the two will not soon forget the experience.
Bitton’s father, a south Idaho rancher, trained and loved horses and raised his son to love them as well. After buying an existing guiding permit in 1969, the elder Bitton started Mystic Saddle Ranch, and Jeff feels lucky to have grown up helping his dad with the business. But Bitton didn’t grow up as an athlete, and steered clear of traditional sports as a boy "Hunting, fishing, riding and being in the backcountry were plenty for me."
The Bittons permanent home, where they raised two children, is in Fisher Creek on the east side of the Stanley Basin. Though Jeff is a director with the local electrical cooperative, the Bittons spend their winters near Phoenix, Arizona. Two years ago, they bought Cave Creek Trail Rides, a similar, Southwestern outfitter in the Sonoran Desert north of Phoenix.
This summer was Jeff’s 40th in the Sawtooth Valley, "a great place to live and view what others get to see only on vacation." His life has been rooted in place and that sense of connectedness—combined with his love of horses and the outdoors—has contributed to his noticeable happiness.
"I have fun every day," Jeff Bitton said.
Kirk Bachman is one of those rare people who followed his passions to define his lifestyle. His passion is mountains, his disciplines are skiing and climbing, and his ethic is no more complex than, as he explained it, "taking ideals and applying them to everyday life."
A philosophy major at Idaho State University, Bachman, 53, was as deeply influenced by the eastern philosophy he studied as the Western cowboy culture of his outdoor upbringing. Born in Nebraska and raised in southern Idaho in a cattle-business family, Bachman’s path to Stanley is easily recognizable to that tribe of people who follow their mountain passions.
Bachman learned to ski at Boise’s Bogus Basin at age 10. From then on, he said, "Skiing was my foundation." When his family moved to Idaho Falls, his skiing continued in Jackson Hole. He skied "all day at every opportunity, often with the members of the ski patrol, who I thought were the coolest people on the planet." He became a ski racer and at age 15 learned to climb in Wyoming’s Teton Mountains. The fundamentals were in place.
He describes his early climbing education in the Tetons, Idaho’s City of Rocks and the Sawtooths as a "cowboy-style, howling at the moon" school of climbing. On an early trip to the City of Rocks, he and his friends didn’t know how to get a rope down from a climb, so they tried to shoot it down with a .22. But their climbing was better than their shooting. The rope was lost.
Bachman soon had his own clients. Guiding an ascent of the Grand Teton’s classic and difficult Petzoldt Ridge, he had a serendipitous encounter. At the top, he found Paul Petzoldt, an icon of American climbing and the route’s pioneering namesake. By then an old man, Petzoldt had just taken an easier summit path and greeted Bachman by announcing to his own partners, "Now these lads have just climbed a real route." The historical context still pleases Bachman; it is one of his fondest mountain memories.
Bachman’s backcountry skiing began on wooden skis with pine-tar bases, corduroy knickers, long hair, and a 15-pound ski repair kit hauled on every trip. Like many mountain dwellers, he became an expert kayaker and worked as a guide after college. Between gigs, he learned carpentry skills. "You pick up your carpenter belt when the guiding season is done. That’s how you get by," he said. In the 1970s, Bachman built the first North American backcountry ski yurts in the Sawtooth Mountains and today is well known as one of the best yurt builders in the area.
In 1985, Bachman moved to Stanley—what he calls "the land of one-hand clapping"—to start Sawtooth Mountain Guides. It became the first guide service in Idaho certified by the American Mountain Guides Association, and its staff includes some of the best known, most competent climbers in Idaho, among them Pete Patterson, Aimee Barnes and Erik Leidecker, who in 2002 became co-owner with Bachman.
These days Bachman guides mostly winter backcountry ski trips, builds beautiful yurts and lives in the quiet of Lower Stanley. He studies and practices a philosophy he aptly describes: "I think all observers of nature would highlight the process as the primary principle, rather than the importance of the end goal."
reels and wheels innovator
Entrepreneurs see opportunities everywhere. Mark Farris is an entrepreneur.
In the mid-1980s, Farris and fellow industrial designer Michael Harrison gazed at their own feet before designing one of the very first clipless mountain bike pedals. Not long after selling the innovation to Cannondale, they formed C1 Design Group in Ketchum. In 1996, Farris and partners developed Waterworks, a brand of ultra-lightweight fly reels designed from scratch. "We’re not a typical fly-fishing reel company," Farris said. "We design, do prototyping, product design, research and development."
One of their first products, the Ketchum Release, is one of Farris’ 16 patents. Another, the Ultra Large Arbor fly reel, is among the strongest on the market.
Farris’s vision made his company "a 13-year overnight success story." In a gadget and gizmo industry, his minimalism sets him apart. "I’m essentially a Bauhaus guy in the wrong era." But Farris is more than a designer with a modernist flair. Another impulse sparks the work.
"At the core, we are environmentally aware people," he said. "Either that means you’re working on the environment or on things that get people out into it. You only protect the things you love. We want to make it easier for people to drag their sorry asses out into the hills."
When Farris has a moment, he rides his bicycle—to Carey—for fun. He blasts south on his VO2 bike made by a company he started with Ketchum’s Tom Knudson. "It’s the lightest steel bike you can buy—the most precise, light, immaculately crafted steel bike that you could ever lay your hands on."
Farris is a design Renaissance man. In addition to fly reels and bikes, he is also a jewelry maker. His wearable stainless steel and titanium art is sold in galleries and studios in Toronto, Seattle and San Francisco. In design, he strives for the bare essentials. But in life, Farris lives large.