Scott Irvine is one of those people for whom Sun Valley seeped into their soul and they have never shaken loose of its spell.
“The allure of being in Sun Valley is legendary,” Irvine said. “It is one of, if not the only, full-size ice rink operating outside. The weather is 75-80 degrees, you can look out and see Baldy while skating on an expansive space. You don’t find that anywhere else. I have never met a skater who came here and said, ‘Nah.’ Some come back year after year or even move here.”
Irvine, now in his 11th year as director and fifth as producer of Sun Valley on Ice, was one of those skaters. Competing in the 1986 Summer Skating Championships in Sun Valley, Irvine returned every year from his home in Salt Lake City to train and began skating in the Sun Valley Ice Show in 1992. Back then, the shows used to run every weekend from June to September.
“As the business of the resort changed, fewer people were coming in early and staying later. The window naturally decreased to what we have today,” he said.
Irvine said that instead of 14 to 16 shows over the summer, Sun Valley on Ice this summer consists of seven shows from July 4 through Aug. 31. The reduction has resulted in increased originality and creativity and no show is ever exactly the same.
“We always try and mix up the shows between old and new—tradition meets the next generation,” he said. “People have an expectation when they come up here—this is my Sun Valley—and want that familiarity, but at the same time they’re bringing their kids. How do you create a production that appeals to all?
“We have really gone to great lengths to think about who our audience is and what Sun Valley represents to them. I can safely say I have not done the same ice show once in the last seven or eight years.”
Now in its eighth summer, Sun Valley on Ice is part of the heralded tradition of summer ice shows in Sun Valley dating back to the resort’s inception in 1936, and the quality and creativity are higher than ever.
It helps to have a great team to build on, and Sun Valley on Ice is fortunate to have a group of talented and experienced skaters who make up the ensemble cast and are the backbone of each production.
“One of the things we have tried to do is get the best skaters in the country, if not the world,” Irvine said. “The skating level is top-notch across the board.”
Harrison Wong, currently attending UCLA and a two-time national champion representing Hong Kong, is emblematic of the quality of skater the ice show attracts. Shows will also feature Jeremy Barrett, a 2010 U.S. national champion and 2010 Winter Olympian, and Ryan Bradley, a 2011 U.S. national champion and three-time collegiate champ. No doubt very pleasing to the hometown crowd will be the appearance of the valley’s Nicole Pratt, a Sun Valley Figure Skating Club alumna who skated with Disney on Ice before attending college at the University of Idaho.
The indomitable Craig Heath and veteran pairs skaters Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding anchor the ensemble cast featuring Isabella Brearton, Brent Bommentre, Ashley Clark, Jason Graetz, Erin Reed, Jonathon Hunt, Adam Kaplan, Cari Maus, Lara Shelton, Neill Shelton and Natalia Zaitseva.
“The group numbers are the thread that ties the whole show together,” Irvine said. “There are times when the headliner has an off night but the show itself can stand on its own. There is always that level of quality skating out there.”
To ensure a new production each time out, skating choreographer Stephanee Grosscup and Irvine employ an A/B format for their ensemble skaters, meaning each skater is responsible for creating and performing two numbers they alternate throughout the season. The advantage is two-fold; each performance is an expression of the skater’s own personality and the audience gets to experience something new even if they attend more than once.
“We used to try and put a theme on the show but found it pigeonholed what we could do—now it comes more organically,” Irvine said. “Each of the skaters is bringing their own flavor to the mix. When you’re seeing Ryan Bradley, you’re seeing Ryan ham it up in all his glory. He is personally shining, not skating as someone else in a character role.”
In addition to inherent talent of the skaters, the show is enhanced by a high production value. According to Irvine, Sun Valley Co. recently invested $70,000 in lighting upgrades and $65,000 in its sound system.
“We have really invested in aspects that enhance the theater experience to keep us on par with ice show productions across the country and the quality of entertainment,” he said. “We’re always exploring ways to make the show different thematically and musically.”
Playing a big part in the creative process is Grosscup, who first came to Sun Valley in 1972 to attend skating school, and joined the ice show as a skater in 1976. A longtime skating coach, Grosscup was also on the choreography team for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“One of the nice things about working with Stephanee is we come at things from different perspectives,” Irvine said. “We meet early in the season and present our ideas and hash out what we think works. I play a piece of music for her and she can see how to use the skaters to paint this piece of music. Stephanee knows how to put talent together and how they skate together as a group.”
Junior members of the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club, generally 7- to 8-year-olds, bring color to the highly popular kids numbers. Russian Master of Sport Zaitseva is in charge of coordinating the 15 to 20 young skaters who make up the cast.
“Quite honestly, they are one of the biggest highlights of the show,” Irvine says.
Also instrumental to the show’s success is Daisy Langley, the in-house costumer, Jay Cutler, lighting and sound technician, Brent McCarty, rink manager, and Marilyn Alcamo, backstage manager.
“Knowing [Alcamo] is there gives me peace of mind to do everything I need to do,” Irvine said.
Irvine said producing the shows is a year-round endeavor, planning the music, choreographing the numbers, designing and creating the costumes and hiring the talent.
“The thing that is crazy about this show is we spend all year thinking about it,” he said. “Then we have seven or eight performances and it’s gone. We spend so much time making the magic, and it’s very special, but fleeting. It goes by in a blur.”
The show opens with Coldplay’s “Clocks.” Irvine describes the number:
“It’s a really powerful piece of music. The show starts at twilight right when the stars are starting to peek out. The choreography is unbelievably powerful. It blew my socks off. The way the skaters are filling out the rink and the speed, power and elegance at the same time. Stephanee did a really great job. It’s going to be a number that appeals to artsy people. It’s “Wow!” The skaters are loving that they are booking it. It’s a great way to kick off the show and set the tone.”
The show changes pace by introducing a jazz medley by Clarence Gatemouth Brown.
“It starts off sultry and smoky and we bump that up into a fun brighter jazz piece,” Irvine said. “We take our powerful opening and lighten the mood a bit.”
Building on a resurgence of the band Queen, thanks to the 2018 movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” there is a medley of classic songs: “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Somebody To Love,” but with a twist that will put a smile on the face of all rock fans. Closing out the ensemble numbers is Elvis Presley’s catchy “A Little Less Conversation,” recorded in 1968, but just as enjoyable today as it was back in the day.
“It’s a fun trip down memory lane, something we haven’t done before and an easy one to like,” Irvine said. “If you have a smile on your face and are singing in the car on the way home, we’ve done our job.”