Sun Valley Guides
In the 25 years since the debut of the Sun Valley Guide, change has penetrated the valley. as pervasive today as mining’s effects were a century ago, change is a necessary bedfellow. In this installment of the Sun Valley Guides series, three valley residents, each separated by 25 years, share their Sun Valley stories.
Ollie Cossman:The bookie with class
On December 15, 1954, Ollie and her best friend, Ellie Etter, arrived in Sun Valley. They worked in the Lodge Dining Room, earning $2.75 a day plus tips. They made friends quickly and the two young women burst onto the Sun Valley social scene.
Their favorite pastime was walking from the Lodge to the nearby town of Ketchum, then a hamlet of 500 people living in modest homes on dusty dirt roads. Their objective, Ollie recalls, was checking out the boys in the popular Alpine Saloon.
Life in the West was a whole new experience. Movie stars came and went. Excitement and glamour was all around. Being a waitress in a ski resort was the most fun she had ever had. People were independent, friendly and outspoken. Ollie’s sister, Bev, put it best: "Does anyone in this town have an unexpressed opinion?"
Within months of her move, Ollie began dating Jack Cossman, superintendent of lodge services. "I’d come into the cafeteria where the employees gathered to eat and see about 20 girls at a table. Jack would be right in the middle."
The new couple hit it off right away and married the next year. A son, Nicholas, followed and they bought a home on Sixth and Walnut in Ketchum for $7,500. Ollie has lived there for 51 years. "You wouldn’t believe how much I’ve been offered for this place in the last few years." But she will never sell. "I’m comfortable right where I am."
Her memories of life in the West are of endless fun. One year, Jack and his good friend Ned Bell—who addressed everybody by their initials—decided to start a football pool to break up the fall slack doldrums. It endured for 20 years. Her husband’s bookie activities led Ollie to a career as another kind of bookie. In 1962, she became a board member at the new Community Library. Her primary responsibility was fundraising. Going door to door, she’d say, "Come on! Give me a quarter. We’re going to build a library!"
While the new library was being built, Ollie worked
tirelessly at the old one (now home to The Gold Mine thrift store).
"Everyone pitched in. It was a real community effort. Men would come
after their day shifts were over and work on the new construction. There
was a lot of beer and a lot of sweat."
When Ollie arrived in Sun Valley, Ketchum was the bedroom community. She tells her friends back East that she lives in a town with one grocery store and 13 banks. "I generally hear a gasp from the other end of the phone. We all used to live in small houses on quiet streets, but that is no longer the case. I feel I have the only short, brown house left in town."
This valley owes a great deal of thanks to Ollie. With her thoughts and deeds over the years, she has made a substantial impact on the area. Many townsfolk are grateful that Ollie didn’t listen to the "woulda-shoulda" folks back East and decided instead to leave her footprints here.
After living here for 28 years, he is a poster child for mountain living. At 54, Watanabe is surely the envy of middle-aged men. He has a stable job that he loves, working out of a Ketchum office in the shadow of Bald Mountain. On lunch breaks, he goes skiing, trail running or mountain biking. He lives with his family—his wife, Heidi, and two stepchildren—in a house he built mid valley in 1992. His two children from his first marriage, Shoji, 29, and Graham, 27, are out and about in the world. And his home is where his heart is. "I’ve always said, if I could get away with it legally, I’d just get buried in my backyard in the Heatherlands."
For Watanabe, that’s saying a lot. Early in his life, he never thought he’d leave northern Utah, where he was born and raised. He grew up on a family farm near Brigham City, north of Salt Lake City. His family—including his first-generation immigrant Japanese grandmother—grew sugar beets, tomatoes, beans and other crops on a 100-acre plot. Family life, which included Japanese traditions and attending Buddhist religious services, involved lots of hard work.
In 1979, he landed a job as human resources director for Scott USA, the skiing, cycling and motorsports gear manufacturer founded by Ketchum legend Ed Scott. The company was headquartered at the time in Clearfield, Utah. In 1981, Scott USA moved back to Ketchum, and they wanted Watanabe to move, too. "Honestly, I didn’t want to come," he said. "Truth is, I didn’t want to quit farming." He came anyway, he said, because he needed the job. Then, the love affair began.
"It was awesome the first year after I came up here," he said. "The first winter season I think I got in 75 days of skiing. It was a fantasy, really." Watanabe found that the valley and surrounding mountains were the ultimate playground for an outdoor enthusiast. He skied on Baldy and went trail running in Fox Creek and Adams Gulch. He eventually took up Nordic skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking and dirt biking. And he climbed the ranks at Scott USA, where he is now vice president of the Motosport Division. "I’ve been in heaven for 28 years. Being able to have fun while you work, I didn’t know that sort of career existed."
For years, dirt bikes were his passion. From his first house near Hailey, he rode mountain trails to work. But in 1987, he reluctantly gave up the sport following a severe crash on an unfamiliar desert course west of Salt Lake City. He spent a week in intensive care with, among other injuries, four breaks in his pelvis. "It didn’t seem worth giving up all of the other great things there are to do up here."
Having a career at Scott USA not only allowed Watanabe to work and play in the place he loves, but also to pass his zeal for the outdoors on to his children. "I told them they had to do physical fitness, one winter sport and one summer sport," he said. "Later, I told them there’s this new sport called snowboarding, so we should try it."
Both Shoji and Graham were naturals at snowboarding, with Shoji holding a slight early edge. Shoji moved on and now lives in Eugene, Oregon. Graham has made a career of it. A resident of Park City, Utah, he is a nine-year member of the U.S. Snowboarding Team and an Olympic boardercross racer.
Throughout the years, Watanabe’s job has sent him around the globe. Other opportunities have appeared, but he couldn’t imagine leaving his home. "I like the attitude, the philosophy of life, the way people support each other here. It feels like a community."
And is he a true local? "To me, a local is somebody who just loves the area for what it is," he said, "somebody who takes advantage of what there is." If that’s the case, Scott Watanabe is as local as they get.
Baked into Sun Valley
Vincent Carpenter isn’t just another twenty-something killing time before the snow flies. He is an anomaly: a young man whose career brought him to ski bum country. Hired away by Sun Valley Company from the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida, Carpenter, 28, moved to Idaho to work as night supervisor in a resort bakery.
After graduating from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Miami, Carpenter saw the Sun Valley opportunity as a step toward pastry-making independence. The native Floridian had never lived in the mountains or around snow. "I thought, ‘Why not? What do I have to lose?’"
In July 2007, Carpenter and his friend Steve Schafer packed up his Cadillac and drove to Idaho—as if to Mars, for all they knew. The Caddy had no room for extras, so they sold everything they owned except clothes and some cookbooks. To their shock, Mars was verdant. "The approach to Sun Valley was dry," Carpenter said. "Then it got greener, and then it was so surprising to be in mountains for the first time."
Schafer, who had worked in fine furniture and art, was hired at Tribes Interiors in Ketchum’s 411 Building. He told Carpenter of the quirky twins running an eclectic basement catering business and restaurant beneath his feet. Carpenter dropped into Rasberrys and offered to help out, but Callie and Maeme Rasberry put him on the backburner. "They didn’t know that they wanted me," he said with a chef’s cocky laugh. But when a big wedding deadline loomed, Carpenter tried Rasberrys again. This time the girls asked a simple question: "Can you do small pastries?’"
He whipped up an array of desserts including honey truffles and lemon custard vol-au-vents. The twins hired him that day. "It kind of evolved. It grew. It was two or three days a week, then five days, then work for the rest of your life," he joked.
One of the joys of a small town is the inextricable link between work and life. At Rasberrys, the loyal clientele knows him as Vinny. He shares cooking tips and glows in the praise that flows from dining room to kitchen.
While he tries to make the most of the valley’s social and recreational activities, Carpenter is an unrepentant workaholic. To prep his baked-goods stand at the Ketchum Farmers’ Market, his Tuesdays start at 2 a.m. "I’m frickin’ tired, but it’s a labor of love. The end result is so rewarding, when someone eats your bread and says, ‘That’s so great.’" After the market closes, he heads to Ketchum’s Forest Service Park for the Ketch‘em Alive outdoor concerts where he and friends listen to the tunes and eat the leftover spoils of his trade.
For Carpenter, as for many, life in the valley means working hard to make sure he can stay. But it also means opportunity. Want to start an orchestra? Go for it. Think the town needs more independent bakers? Fill the void.
Carpenter is proud of his craft and feels he has something new to offer. "It’s the one thing I can bring to Ketchum that no one has seen before—a new look at pastry, a fresh new face. I have people—a small following—who come in just for my pastries. That’s why I want to stay here. I think I can develop who I am here."
And in Ketchum, he feels at home. "I can be relaxed and unstressed here," he said. "Ketchum is like a diamond in the rough. You think gravel roads. You don’t think sophisticated."
Carpenter has discovered that this small Idaho town presents limitless opportunities. Since leaving Florida, his world has expanded rather than shrunk. He is more in tune with his surroundings. "I never had this sense of nature before. It’s so beautiful. There are more trees than buildings. There’s fresh air, blue skies and access to lakes and rivers. The next thing I want to get into is rafting higher-class rapids."
As for town, Carpenter has pastry visions. He sees a store where the valley’s groggy, early-morning risers find fresh bagels, doughnuts and croissants, "an actual pastry shop." As the afternoon light pours in, his store will turn to sandwiches and some bread. Also the sweeter things: cakes, cookies and truffles. Like any savvy self-starter, Carpenter identifies a market and makes plans to capitalize. The young entrepreneur’s dream shop will fill a quirky town’s whimsical desires. "You want a dozen petit fours? They will be there."