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Tim Silva’s Love of Skiing and the Ski Industry Made Impact on Sun Valley
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Michael Silva, left, says he has learned about the importance of having a passion for your work from his father.
   
Thursday, November 25, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Tim Silva will not have to spend Thanksgiving morning in a dizzying whirl making sure everything from the Roundhouse Gondola to the espresso machine in River Run Lodge goes off without a hitch on opening day.

He has handed that responsibility over to Sun Valley’s new General Manager Pete Sonntag.

But don’t be surprised if Silva makes at least one lap down Bald Mountain today, carving the elegant turns that skiers so admire. And, chances are he’ll grab a shovel to move a pile of snow outside the Ski Patrol hut or bus a table in the lodge before he heads home to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with his  family.

 
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Tim Silva says a love for the mountain lifestyle courses through his blood.
 

Silva made it his goal to put Sun Valley on the top of Ski Magazine’s reader survey when he returned to Sun Valley as general manager in 2009. And he saw Sun Valley not only ranked the No. 1 ski resort in North America in 2020-21 but saw it earn the No. 1 ranking again for the 2021-22 ski season.

It’s a tribute to his leadership, many say, and one of the reasons he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the ski industry this year. The National Ski Areas Association’s highest honor, the award recognizes leaders and visionaries who have exhibited a lifetime commitment to the industry that will benefit it for decades to come.

“For him the little things matter as much, if not more, than the big things. And he is always ready to get his hands dirty to help out,” said Tim’s son Michael.

Tim Silva, who has shifted from day-to-day operations to help with resort and mountain planning, is too modest to talk about himself, instead always trying to deflect attention to others he believes are doing a good job. But his family is quick to serve up praise, having watched him at work for years.

 
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Leslie and Tim Silva have relished the rare opportunities they got to take a run together.
 

Silva was in middle school when he accompanied the school ski club to Dodge Run, an 862-acre ski area 30 miles east of the Gold Rush town of Sonora, Calif. Claiming he had the mountains in his blood, he fell in love with skiing chose to dedicate his life’s work to the industry.

“I’ve always had a love of the outdoors, of the mountains. And even now I still feel that,” he said.

He started his career in mountain operations at Sun Valley in the early 1970s, then moved to Northstar-at-Tahoe where his leadership helped grow the resort into a major player.

He returned to Sun Valley in 2009, investing capital into new lifts, overseeing the Sun Valley Lodge and Inn remodel and expansion and last year opening 380 acres of off-piste terrain plus a new lift on Seattle Ridge that more than doubled the length of Broadway run.

 
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Tim Silva rang the bell signaling the opening of the new Broadway lift last December.
 

“He’s always referred to Sun Valley as a special place, not only in winter but year-round, said his sister Nancy. “I believe he knows every peak as well as how to get to the summit of each. He’s also a wonderful trail guide. He shares his knowledge on our hikes so that we too can see the majesty surrounding us through his eyes.”

Tim served on the National Ski Areas Association Board for 13 years, during which he helped create safety standards for aerial passenger tramways His attention to safety has been keen—Sun Valley won the Best Overall Safety Program award this past year for its campaign building a culture of safety on the mountain.

It was the sixth time Sun Valley has been recognized by the NSAA for its safety program.

Tim’s wife Leslie Silva says Earl Holding, the late owner of Sun Valley Resort, had a profound impact on Tim, especially during Tim’s early years in management.

“You will always see Tim picking up trash around the property or bussing tables when the restaurants are busy,” she said. “It was something Mr. Holding did and it always stuck with Tim.  If you care, if you lead, you aren’t too proud, you do it all, you lead by example.”

Michael Silva said his father’s love for the ski industry has always driven him to want to find a career that brings the same amount of fulfillment.

“Not many people choose to spend their days off at their place of work. But some of my favorite memories are of chasing Dad around Northstar and Sun Valley on our skis and mountain bikes,” he said. “And it’s one of the things I look most forward to every time I come back home!”

Tim Silva has never felt compelled to confine himself to Sun Valley’s chairlifts despite the resort’s ability to ferry 29,717 skiers an hour on its 18 lifts.  A month after the pandemic closed ski areas down across the world, he and his wife celebrated her birthday by skinning up and skiing to The Roundhouse on Bald Mountain.

His daughter, affectionately known as Miss Silva, says her favorite memories are the evenings they skinned up Dollar Mountain as a family, with dog Demo in tow.

“We unpacked the day, sharing stories and getting my Dad’s pearls of wisdom on the way up. Then, we let it all go as we ripped down Sepp’s Bowl under the cotton candy skies the valley is famous for,” she recounted.

Tim Silva often joked that he hadn’t had a Christmas Day off since the mid-1970s, although that was just a statement of fact and always said without a hint of complaint, said Michael Silva. And he somehow managed to make time to be with the family during the holidays, even though he could always be counted on to mash potatoes in the Limelight Room for the Thanksgiving and Christmas buffets.

“I will never forget his first year back in Sun Valley after returning from Northstar, when the Wood River Valley lost power late Christmas Eve through most of Christmas Day. In classic fashion he was out the door and back at the resort within 15 minutes,” Michael Silva said.  “I’m sure it was one of the more stressful periods he had, coming as it did at the busiest time of the year for the resort with full hotels and booked-out restaurants. But you never would have known it from his reaction. And the calm and collected way that he conducted himself under such a hectic time is something that I’ve always aspired to.”

Under Silva’s command, resort employees created a memorable adventure for guests from encouraging them to go Nordic skiing, which didn’t require power to run lifts, to serving them a free breakfast as they gathered around the lodge fireplace and outside on the patio in their pajamas.

“Most people would have come home and talked about how tough things were at the office. But his focus was 100% on making sure that everyone else around him was okay from his family to his team, to the resort guests. And then he got them back to doing what they were there to do—ski---the next day!” Michael Silva said.

Miss Silva noted that her father was planning to retire when she and her fiancé Dean moved to Sun Valley at the end of 2019. But when the COVId-19 pandemic swept through Sun Valley a few months later, Silva didn’t think twice about remaining at the helm until the seas were calmer, even as he had the unenviable task of shutting down the ski resort a month before it was scheduled to close for the season.

“It was such a special time to be in Sun Valley to witness how the last decade of Dad's service and leadership to Sun Valley and the community had made such a deep impact,” said Miss Silva. “Not a day went by when someone didn't mention their gratitude for Dad's leadership, how he had handled a particular situation or--my personal favorite-- how he had treated someone with respect and kindness, no matter who they were or what position they had in the company.”

It’s hoped that Tim Silva will have the opportunity to play more now that Sonntag is at the helm of the resort. But no one expects him to stop pitching in wherever he can.

“Each year I appreciate and love him more for his work ethic, commitment to his work and the passion he has for the life career he chose for himself,” said Leslie Silva. “I have always admired him for that ongoing and steady dedication.”

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