Ketchum resident Carl Praeger, a well-known ski instructor, 50, died in his sleep Sunday morning. His sister, Sydney Praeger, and a dear friend, Heidi Flood, were with him through the night.
Since 1983, Praeger was one of the best skiers and instructors working for the Sun Valley Ski School. Earlier this year he underwent his fourth surgery in just three years to combat throat and neck cancer.
On the move until the end, on Friday Praeger skied on Bald Mountain, went to the gym and rode his bike to work at the Gold Mine Thrift Store from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
For the past 30 years, he was the consummate Wood River Valley athlete, competitor and citizen, the embodiment of a mountain-town lifestyle of healthy living and physical activity. An endurance athlete for most of his life, he grew up in Seattle, where he was a competitive water skier, swimmer, wind-surfer and Hobie cat skipper.
Though he originally came to Sun Valley to train as a bump skier, Praeger eventually joined the ski school in order to make money to complete his studies at the University of Washington. His best friend for more than 40 years, Gary Bamesberger, of Seattle, moved to Sun Valley with him in 1977.
"We'd always dreamed of living in Sun Valley," Bamesberger said. "He worked at the Sun Valley Snug originally, tuning skis, and I worked at the Sun Valley Lodge, tuning skis. Then he worked there too. In the off-season, we'd go back to Seattle to go to school. We graduated without ever going to school in the winter."
Praeger graduated with a degree in kinesiology from the University of Washington. At one point, the school notified him that it was going to get rid of the degree and he had to graduate by a certain date, Bamesberger said.
He also took up cross-country ski racing, road bike racing and triathlons. Praeger regularly finished in the top 25 in the Boulder Mountain Tour, a popular cross-country ski race that attracts more than 1,000 competitors each year. He always finished in the top 10 in the annual Baldy Hill Climb hiking challenge. And inspired by his younger brother, Wade, a runner, he posted numerous second place finishes in the Tri-Elephanton race. He won the Master's Expert division in numerous Northwest regional races in Idaho, Washington and Montana, as well as the Idaho state championships.
He had a "deep affinity and love for Lake Crescent," Wash., where he worked and played in the summers as a lifeguard, Bamesberger said. This experience led him to spend 22 years managing Elkhorn's two swimming pools.
He had another love, too—working at the Gold Mine, where he was known for his knowledge and enthusiasm. Store manager Jan Mason said he proved himself so helpful to so many customers that store employees finally decided they needed to pay him.
"He used to volunteer here just spending time and matching people with all equipment during our ski sale. He just walked around and had a good time, After a while I said, 'I have to pay you,'" Mason said. "People just glommed on to him. He was so knowledgeable. He loved every bit of it. He did the Baldy climb this year. I said, 'How'd you do that, it must have hurt.' He said, 'It would have hurt a lot more not to do it.' He was very beloved. He is not replaceable."
Earlier this year, Praeger went to Beijing, China, to look into a possible alternative treatment for the cancer.
"After seeing Beijing, he came home to Ketchum realizing how blessed a life he had had," Bamesberger said. "He was so lucky to have lived his life here in this valley. The outpouring of support from this valley opened his heart. It really affected him. People showed how much they cared for him here, and that sense of community meant a lot to him."
A celebration of Praeger's life is being planned. In the meantime, in lieu of flowers he asked that any monetary donations be made to the Blaine County Recreation District for the North Valley Trails.
Editor's note: An obituary for Carl Praeger can be found in Section A.