By Mike McKenna
The best advice I ever got about living in a ski town came from my boss at the time, a short and fiery legendary local named Mark Fisher.
“The only way you’re ever going to be happy living in a ski town is if you occasionally take a vacation and don’t go anywhere,” Fisher said, from across the pick-up window at the Sun Valley Brewing Company and Cafe in Hailey.
When I was first lucky enough to call the Wood River Valley home in the 1990’s, I spent a few years bartending at Idaho’s oldest microbrewery – Sun Valley Brewery, which was founded in 1986, and the cafe opened in 1992.
“Sometimes you’ve got to play tourist, too, and remember why you live here,” explained Fisher, who had a head and face full of dusty blonde hair and who tragically passed away while driving down one of the old, dusty Idaho mountain roads he loved so much.
As he handed over a homemade Wurst plate for a patron he sternly stated,” Otherwise you’re gonna be miserable and nobody wants to be around somebody who’s miserable. Got it?!”
Fisher then told me to take the next week off, paid of course, because that’s the kind of generous guy he was. He basically ordered me to take what we now call a ‘staycation’, although he’d probably never use that term, at least not without putting the word ‘damn’ in front of it.
Fisher told me to pretend that I, much like many of the people I regularly served, was a ‘touron’ too. And that’s exactly what I did, specifically because Fisher (who had forearms like Popeye and was an acclaimed big game bow hunter) wasn’t the type of guy who took ‘No’ for an answer.
For the next seven days I was lucky enough to enjoy the playground that we call home.
And since the Wood River Valley is home to the country’s first destination ski resort, it naturally offers all kinds of magical places to go outside to play no matter what the season is. While I’ll always love some of the other tourist-based communities I’ve had the blessing of calling home, like Taos, New Mexico; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Bend, Oregon and California’s Eastern Sierras, Sun Valley will always be my favorite.
As I often hear whenever I’m shooting the breeze with locals, second homeowners, or folks making a sojourn to Sun Valley, there’s always something magical about this place. Actually, there are numerous magical things: world-class skiing, hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, food, art galleries, culture, mountain views, plus it’s a great place to raise kids.
But it’s easy to forget all this when you’re just another overworked ski-town local trying to survive. For all the beauty and glory, it can be tough to make it in most ski towns- living in paradise require some sacrifices. It also requires some responsibility to treat it all with appreciation and help keep it special, healthy and pristine.
That’s why Fisher’s order/advice to stop and literally smell the roses- or the fresh snow or the squirmy fish or the blooming sage brush or my own sweat while hiking or biking in this breathtaking place- is the best I’ve ever been given. And one any ski-town local could make good use of ‘Take a Staycation’.