While many think of skiing and its long history when they think of Sun Valley, snowboarding its own legitimately legendary history in as well. Since the inclusion of snowboarding into the Olympics in 1998, there has been a Sun Valley rider on every Olympic snowboard team. And, playing a huge role in that is Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) Snowboard Coach Andy Gilbert who has helped guide the careers of snowboarders like Kaitlyn Farrington and Chase Josey as well as all other level of snowboarders in his 25 years as a coach (along with several other amazing coaches and staff at SVSEF over the years, of course!) Despite the caliber of snowboarder he’s worked with and traveling the world over, Gilbert still calls Sun Valley home, a place where his wife and two kids can hit the slopes and he can also work in screen-printing, another passion of his.
Since moving to Ketchum in the winter of 1993, Gilbert has been a snowboarding coach, primarily for SVSEF, but also last year as the U.S. National Team Rookie Halfpipe Coach. “Last year, the U.S. team lost their rookie coach right before the season and I was on the short list,” says Gilbert about the experience. “It was a ton of fun and a great opportunity.”
Although Gilbert was born in Sun Valley (something his friends like to contest), the snowboard aficionado actually grew up in Portland, Oregon ski racing at Mt. Hood every weekend. Both of his parents are from Portland but lived in Ketchum in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, with his dad working at Pete Lane’s and his mom at the Ketchum Drug Store in order to make it by as ski bums. But even when they moved Gilbert back to Portland when he was 3, many vacations were taken back to Sun Valley and a love of the place was instilled in Gilbert from a young age. After transitioning to snowboarding through his love of skateboarding, he decided to go somewhere and snowboard for a winter; that somewhere was Sun Valley.
“Sun Valley made sense because I knew people and though it’d be easy to find something to do with myself,” explains Gilbert. He was hired by Mike Connelly who owned a screen-printing shop in town; Connelly also happened to work for the local snowboard team.
Since then, Gilbert has made a name for himself in Sun Valley on the snowboarding front, coaching all walks of riders from beginners to up-and-comers to Olympians. One of the things Gilbert has come to appreciate over his years of coaching is to sit back a bit more and really trust his athletes. “I’ve learned to be way more patient. I’ve learned to trust my gut and really trust my athletes. It’s about them, it has nothing to do with you. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way as a coach.”
While coaching is obviously a factor, Gilbert also credits the number of great riders in Sun Valley with Baldy’s terrain. Gilbert himself had to learn to ride Baldy when he moved to Sun Valley after riding much flatter terrain where he grew up at Mt. Hood. “When I started, we had a pretty amazing group of kids at the time including Graham Watanabe (Olympian), Claire Cetera (U.S. Snowboard Team), and Wyatt Caldwell (National Champion, 2002). We had no terrain park, no pipe, we literally just spun laps. We had this run we called “The Run” and it was a combination of groomers and cat tracks and little side hits and everything you could do. We’d do it over and over until the lift closed. Those kids just rode. I have a friend who always asks, ‘Why are your kids so good at pipe when there isn’t one?’ I just say, ‘Because we’re on our feet all the time!’”
There are few flat run outs on Baldy, meaning that for snowboarders, there’s few rest stops, making those who ride Baldy even better. “Even on the ski side, there’s a reason why kids like Lexi DuPont and Tai Barrymore and Colter Brehmer and are able to further their careers and it’s because they’re just good skiers,” explains Gilbert. “They all came up through ski racing or SVSEF or moguls, but they’re able to reinvent themselves because their fundamentals are that much better because of this place.”
Coming full circle, Gilbert has taken to the craft that gave him his start in Sun Valley: screen printing. Over the years, Gilbert has worked for every print shop that’s been in the Valley. Gilbert opened up shop in 2011 with Cory Smith from Mountain Approach, sharing space until Gilbert moved into his own spot in the industrial area in the fall of last year. The last print shop he worked at, in 1999, closed and a lot of local business left the Valley. Gilbert is striving to bring that business back, doing business for local’s bars and restaurants as well as events like the Baldy Hill Climb and Rebecca’s Private Idaho. “For my small business, I need the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley to keep bringing in events because it directly helps me,” explains Gilbert.
A family man, Gilbert is married to his wife, Janessa, whom he met about six months into moving to Ketchum. Their kids, 16-year-old Angus and 13-year-old Olive were originally skiers but unsurprisingly made the switch to snowboarding at about the age of 8. “We told them that they were free to choose between skiing and snowboarding but that they were going to be around snowboarding and snowboarders the rest of their lives. We’ve been that family ever since.”
Gilbert and his family have truly found their home in Sun Valley, a place that Gilbert has found to be unique compared to other ski towns he’s traveled to in his 20+ years working with the snowboard team. “It’s totally different than other ski areas,” explains Gilbert. “The fact that the town is right at the bottom of the hill means that if I want to ride for an hour at lunch, I can do that. The same is true in the summer; if you want to go outside and fish on your lunch break, you can. This place is pretty unique that way. You can tell people that, but until you get a chance to see it, it’s pretty hard to explain.”