Wednesday, February 24, 2021
A ‘Magic’ Hill Named Rotarun
Students on Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s LASAR teams get pulled 475 feet up the mountain via a Poma lift that came from a small Austrian town.
Saturday, January 30, 2021


Kathleen Eder knows every dip and rise in the treeless white hill that constitutes Rotarun Ski Area. She spent many hours here watching her daughter Lauren and son Jason take the first turns that launched their ski racing careers.

Had the warming hut not been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, she would have been able to point out the Arkoosh and Slush Cup trophies that bear their names.

But the community ski hill Eder returned to this week is vastly different than the one her children grew up on 20 years ago.

A young skier finishes her day of training.

Snowmaking, installed this year, has transformed the face of the mountain into a white expanse with none of the wheat-colored bunchgrasses that dot the slopes in lean snow years. Instead, the hill resembled a little factory with a steady stream of pint-sized skiers catching a ride on the Poma lift that ferried them 475 feet up the hill.

Some rode the wave track, a course of rollers near the bottom designed to teach them skills like parallel skiing naturally. Others raced head to head through a course of slalom gates. At the top, coaches with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation led their young charges through a drill emphasizing pressuring and edging their skis before they turned them downhill.

And at the bottom LASAR (Learn to Alpine Ski and Race) Coach Brian Caulkins reminded a group of young girls about teamwork.

“Respect others. Be kind to each other. Teamwork is so important,” he told them.

Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Director Scotty McGrew says the Poma lift offers perfect distancing during the pandemic.

“The manpower behind this is amazing,” said Eder. “Kids who would never have had the chance to ski otherwise are getting that chance here. And that’s great because this is what we do in this valley--we ski.”

Eder was among several Wood River Women’s Foundation members who journeyed to the ski area three miles west of Hailey to check out the small ski hill. The Foundation had contributed $10,000 to help secure the infrastructure necessary to implement snowmaking and they wanted to see what their donation had accomplished.

Ketchum resident David Hitchin tagged along with his wife Jill as a member of 100 Men Who Care. They also had made a donation to the Rota-Rippers ski program, providing scholarship money to ensure that every child who wants to learn to ski can.

That scholarship money is augmented by the coats and skis that parents donate to the program after their own children outgrow them.

Kathleen Eder, Sylvia Hartman, Brian Caulkins, Carrie Morrow and Nancy Wasilewski checked out the Rotarun Ski Area on behalf of the Wood River Women’s Foundation.

“This is exactly the right thing to contribute to,” said David Hitchin. “Look at this—it’s such a great Norman Rockwell scene. These guys are so fun to watch because they have such a low center of gravity and so many can’t wait to get back to the top of the mountain. A lot of these kids will grow into skiing because of this.”

This summer Rotarun installed two snow guns. It leased three more at the beginning of the year to  make enough snow to get the hill ready for a pre-Thanksgiving race camp. Teams from Bogus Basin have utilized the mountain for training, as well.

And last week Eder watched as 94 girls competed in a U-14 race that was easily viewable from the bottom of the north-facing slopes of Art Richards Mountain.

More than 700 youth on Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation teams, including the Nordic teams, have trained at Rotarun at some point during the winter. Many of the youngsters participated in a Rip-athon at the start of the season where they skied laps around a Nordic track, ran slalom gates over and over and jumped myriads of times into air bags to raise $106,000 for the SVSEF.

Jill and David Hitchin have contributed money to the ski area through two different organizations.

A few years ago, Caulkins told the women, Rotarun had no snow. Coaches kept the kids busy hiking the mountain, ice skating and playing in the Air Barn trampolines an at Sagewillow.

“We had fun, but we didn’t get much chance to introduce them to skiing that year,” he said.

Rotarun sprang into existence as an official ski hill when Bill Mallory, Bob Jackson and Jim Hurst arranged for a tractor-and-pulley rope tow to pull skiers up the 5,895-foot hill. And Jimmy Savaria gave ski lessons for $1 per week.

His services were augmented later by Ann Janet Winn, who competed in the 1948 Winter Olympics.

Hailey Dentist Dr. Art Richards and the Hailey Rotary Club replaced the old rope tow with a newer one in 1957, and in 1958 the ski area was christened Rotarun in recognition of that. The same year, the Arkoosh family of Gooding gave the newly named Rotarun a 99-year- lease on the land for $1 a year.

In 2001 the J-bar was replaced with a Dopplemayr Poma lift from a small hill in an Austrian town.

Over the years the ski area has built a broad partner base with local ski shops, St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation, Sun Valley Company, and even the Hunger Coalition, which provided face masks for the children this year.

“What I like is that they’re teaching teamwork, discipline, sportsmanship AND how to ski,” said Carrie Morrow, a member of the Wood River Women’s Foundation.

In addition to the snowmaking, Rotarun recently obtained a Prinoth groomer that has made a big difference because it can pack the snow down early in the winter so it won’t melt. The ski area is also upgrading its lights for Friday night skiing, Caulkins noted.

“This hill is magic,” said Caulkins. “One of the great things about it is that the coaches can see one another, they can hear one another, maybe learn ideas from one another. Here, we’re raising kids to respect one another’s differences. Here we’re raising great citizens.”


Rotarun is open to the public for free skiing under the lights Friday nights. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Saturday lift tickets are free for children 10 and under, $5 for those ages 11 through 18 and $10 for those older than 18. Lift tickets for an entire family cost $25.



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