It would be hard for the town of Sun Valley, Idaho, not to be mentioned when talking about professional and Olympic skiers and snowboarders; the town is practically synonymous with greatness. With Bald Mountain as their training ground, ski greats from Picabo Street to Gretchen Fraser back in the day to more recent pros like McKenna Peterson, Wing Tai Barrymore, Lexi DuPont, Banks Gilberti, Colin Collins, Karl Fostvedt, Lucy Sackbauer have added to the legacy of the place.
And snowboarders too—did you know there’s never been a U.S. Olympic snowboard team without a member from Sun Valley? Repping the boarders are Olympians Chase Josey, Kaitlyn Farrington, Graham Watanabe and a whole lot of other pros and amazing riders. The time has come for some of those same skiers and boarders to pass the torch to the next generation, which promises to bring it just as hard, race just as fast, jump just as high, and continue to put Sun Valley on the map for winter athletes.
“For me, skiing on Bald Mountain was a privilege that took me years to appreciate.”Toby Rafford
Starting out the list of the new generation are brother and sister duo Addison (Addie) and Toby Rafford, both of whom are making their mark on the ski world at just 21 and 19 years old, respectively, after growing up skiing in Sun Valley their entire lives. Toby was featured in Warren Miller’s 2022 Daymaker and is currently pursuing a ski career, in his words “essentially just skiing as much as possible and traveling a bit to compete and filming with Karl Fostvedt’s local production company NativeEarthProductions.” Toby has also been competing in the Freeride circuit. “For me, skiing on Bald Mountain was a privilege that took me years to appreciate. The skiing is like no other; you can get to the mountain at 2 in the afternoon and still manage to get 10-plus laps in. With its steep terrain and ultra-fast lift rides, there’s no place quite like it.”
Addison is currently on the Freeride World Tour 2023 and travels in the winter months to do a mix of freeskiing and competing (in the off-season, she is a freelance producer). This year she is working on a short film with two of her many sponsors, Black Crow and Sun Valley Resort. “Growing up in Sun Valley has entirely influenced the skier I am today,” says Addie. “I was able to go out every single day of winter while still attending school thanks to the SVSEF. I love everything that Sun Valley has to offer: the accessibility of the mountain and terrain is all-time. It took me moving out of town to realize how lucky I was to have this in my backyard.
The Sun Valley lifestyle we live has everything to do with why I am the skier I am today..Harper Mallet
Nineteen-year-old Harper Mallet manages to find a perfect balance between being a student at Montana State University and skiing every day, a must for the skier who has, in his words, had sticks on his feet for as long as he can remember. Growing up, Harper carried a full competition schedule in addition to school, competing in park and pipe through the SVSEF and being invited to the U.S. Ski Team Gold Camp when he was just 10 years old. He’s gotten into big mountain skiing in the last few years, with the good fortune of ski filming with some of the aforementioned local ski legends.
This season he will compete in multiple Freeride World Tour qualifying events, with the hope of competing professionally in the future as part of the next generation. “The Sun Valley lifestyle we live has everything to do with why I am the skier I am today,” says Harper. “For starters, I live five minutes from the ski lift, which allows me to ski almost every day. The community itself is also very ski-oriented; I’ve met some of my best friends on the ski hill. They push me every day to be the best skier I can be, which I love. The mountain itself is one of the reasons why so many great skiers come out of this Valley: it is consistently steep from the top to the bottom, with great grooming, amazing off-piste options, and few people skiing. I would not be the skier I am today without growing up in Sun Valley.”
Kai Van Bueren
“I have been exposed to big mountain, mogul skiing, and now park skiing. When I was young, my dad would show me videos from Instagram of some of the pro skiers around here like Crazy Karl and Colin Collins, just to name a few. For the future, I just want to keep skiing and having fun while doing it. I also want to start getting more into the backcountry and building big jumps into pow.”
On the younger end of the new generation spectrum is 14-year-old Kai Van Bueren. But don’t let his age fool you, this skier is already super accomplished and in the words of local ski legend Karl Fostvedt, Kai is “next level.” Also featured in Warren Miller’s 2022 Daymaker, Kai is a SVSEF member competing mostly in slopestyle competitions; last year he placed 7th for his age group in nationals. “Growing up in Sun Valley has been very cool because I have been able to do a lot of different aspects of skiing,” says Kai.
Heading up the next generation of snowboarders is 21-year-old Elk Spencer, winner of the Pro-Open Class Men’s division at the 2023 Baldy Banked Slalom, earning him an entry spot in the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom. A snowboarder since he was 6 years old, Elk won his category in the Banked Slalom several times growing up, in addition to competing in slopestyle and half-pipe events while on the SVSEF snowboard team as well as national championships.
As student at CU Boulder, Elk is focused on his studies and snowboarding for fun at the moment, though he says pursuing a professional snowboard career was always his dream as a kid. “Sun Valley is a very special place to learn how to snowboard,” says Elk. “The steep terrain and long runs teach you how to ride in a much more fundamental way than just training on jumps and rails. The SVSEF snowboard program provided me with an incredible opportunity to be able to ride on a weekly basis, and even ride up to six days a week when I was in high school.”
These are just a few of the talented next-generation skiers and snowboarders in Sun Valley; obviously, if we listed them all, we would likely break the internet. So be on the lookout when you’re on Baldy or in the backcountry for these gifted young bucks—you might just be meeting a future Olympian.