Erin Zell and Don Shepler take a break while picking up supplies in Ketchum last week.
Express photo by Willy Cook
Whether they’re skiers or snowboarders, full-time or part-time residents, men who work on Bald Mountain are all passionate about the same thing: snow.
With employees of Sun Valley Resort gratified that portions of both Dollar and Bald Mountain opened on Thanksgiving Day, there’s plenty for skiers and snowboarders to look forward to this winter season.
Three longtime Sun Valley Co. employees, who work behind the scenes all winter, took time out from hectic schedules to talk about what keeps them hooked on winter and why they like the work that allows them to share their passion with fellow residents and visitors. For them, it’s more than a job.
Snowmaking Manager Corey Allen
As snowmaking manager of Bald Mountain, Corey Allen oversees the largest snowmaking operation in North America. In spite of all the responsibility that comes with his job, Allen insists that he doesn’t find it stressful and that he truly loves his job.
“I love everything about this place,” Allen said. “When I came here I only intended to be here for one season, but I fell in love with this place and wanted to live here full-time.”
Allen, who never saw snow until he turned 22, said his life felt directionless until he started making snow in his native Australia. He’s worked in the snowmaking industry since 1997.
From 2001 to 2004, Allen went back and forth between snowmaking in Sun Valley and Australia. He went snowboarding 180 days a year during that time. He said he loves to snowboard and that he will never ski.
“I’ve known for a long time that this is the right job for me because I’ve always wanted to enjoy every day at work,” he said. “I wanted to lead an enjoyable life where most people would call my worst day a good day for them.”
He became a full-time Sun Valley resident in 2004 to make snow for Sun Valley Resort. He met his wife here and now has two children.
As snowmaking manager, he works for Snowmaking Supervisor Dennis Harper. He said that Harper is a major reason he has stayed in Sun Valley. The two enjoy a great working relationship and have become close friends.
“I just love it out here. I intend to stay here and keep doing what I do,” he said.
“This is a great place to raise kids, and I also take a great deal of pride in doing what I do. It’s a very rewarding job, and for me it’s all about the good times.
“My motto is ‘cool is the rule,’ and that’s something I try to pass down to my children.”
Ski Patrol Supervisor Bryant Dunn
As Ski Patrol Supervisor for Sun Valley Co., Bryant Dunn is responsible for overseeing a staff of 67 ski patrollers. Being the supervisor is a responsibility he takes very seriously.
“It is a true honor to be the ski patrol supervisor here,” Dunn said. “I consider myself extremely fortunate; it’s a privilege to go out every day and serve our guests.”
Dunn has worked as a ski patroller for Sun Valley for 13 years. This winter will be his fourth season as supervisor. He said he has a lot of different responsibilities that make each day working on Bald Mountain a unique experience.
“It’s all about the good times.”
“Ski-patrol work is a combination of duties that range from trauma care to avalanche mitigation to explosives handling to trigger avalanches artificially so skiers don’t trigger them accidentally,” he said.
“It’s a very valuable job to our guests. There’s no such thing as avalanche control, but we can still put ourselves out there on the line and still expect to go home safely to our families.”
Dunn has visited more than 40 countries during his life. He said he never found a place like Sun Valley.
“I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he said. “In my opinion, this place is without equal as the best to raise a family.”
Dunn has been a ski enthusiast since he was a child, and said he often skipped class in high school and went skiing instead. With his wife, Debby, he is passing his passion for skiing down to his two daughters, whom he began to teach as soon as they could walk. He plans on doing the same with his 9-month-old son.
“I feel a greater adrenaline rush skiing today than I ever did before,” Dunn said. “I know the mountain so intimately. Every tree has a story.
“I’ve made so many runs, and every day is better than the run before. The experiences are even more valuable now because I get to share it with my kids. The days with my daughters are the best ones.”
Dunn said he is working his dream job and remains as happy and passionate about his work as the day he started.
“Everyone who came to this valley had other opportunities,” he said. “We all made conscious choices to be here, sacrificing other opportunities. There is no place I would rather be than right here, and there is nothing else I’d rather do.”
Snowmaking Supervisor Dennis Harper
After working as a farmer in the Raft River Valley, Dennis Harper decided he needed a new challenge. He knew he wanted to work in the mountains, and when Bald Mountain Manager Peter Stearns got hold of him, he became a snowmaker.
Harper has been the snowmaking supervisor of Bald Mountain for five years, after working on the crew for 10 years. He said snowmaking is intense and fun at the same time.
“One of the biggest challenges as snowmaking supervisor is ensuring the safety of our crew,” Harper said. “We also have to keep the equipment running to the point where you can get enough snow to open the mountain.
“It’s always a worry of if you can get it, but you can only do what Mother Nature lets you do. It’s very important to capitalize on the cold temperatures when we get them.”
Surprisingly, snowmaking is a year-round job that requires constant maintenance to sustain the largest snowmaking system in North America.
“I’ve always maintained that all the work we do in the summer determines how well we’ll do in the wintertime and how well the season will come off. We need to know when every gun, compressor and pump needs to be repaired or be rebuilt. It’s ongoing maintenance 24/7.”
Harper, who enjoys both skiing and snowboarding, said he doesn’t enjoy either activity quite as much as he used to because they are both part of his job. When he has time off, he prefers to ride his motorcycle or go snowmobiling.
With experience, Harper said his job has become less stressful. He attributes his low stress level to having better equipment, consistent safety precautions and improved maintenance to help manage the complexities of the snowmaking system.
“We have seen a lot of things start to wear out, so we had to get into a program of scheduled maintenance so you know what you have worked on and what you haven’t worked on,” he said.
“As the years go by, it seems like we get more leaks in the system, so getting the money to replace things can be a challenge. Most of the time, we get the backing to get the things we need, and that’s been great.”
With a job he enjoys and is comfortable performing, Harper said he’s happy with life off the farm.
“I have found that I really enjoy living here in the mountains,” he said. “It’s not all tied up in work here; it’s also about the things I enjoy.
“I moved to a place where I can go out my backdoor and snowmobile up a canyon. Seeing the beautiful country is awesome, and it’s been great living here for the past 15 years.”