Wednesday, May 22, 2019
SVSEF’s Scotty McGrew-Giving the Gift of Focus and Vision
Scotty McGrew was tabbed to head the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation now in its 53rd year.
Sunday, November 18, 2018


The red rock of the Navajo Nation appeared at first to have little resemblance to the snow-capped forested mountains of Sun Valley where Scotty McGrew romped as a kid.

But, as he listened to members of the Pueblo and Navajo nations share their stories about racism and poverty, he learned an empathy that he could use with nearly 700 youngsters taking part in the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s programs.

“I learned to put myself in the shoes of kids who are struggling and to see the world through their eyes,” said McGrew, who studied cultural anthropology at the University of New Mexico. “I learned how I need to shed my biases and help kids find solutions and learn new skills.”

Scotty McGrew says part of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s mission is simply celebrating snow sports.

McGrew has striven to do just that in the few months since he was named executive director of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.

He has, for instance, helped raise funds for a colorfully painted bus that will ferry youngsters from the south valley to Bald Mountain. He’s worked to expand programs at Rotarun Ski area and the new Quigley Nordic area on Hailey’s edge to engage youngsters who might not otherwise have an opportunity to try skiing and boarding. And he, along with others, brought back the ski swap to help young winter recreationalists purchase inexpensive clothing and equipment for playing in the snow.

Scotty was an infant when his parents John and Jane McGrew traded the crowded beaches of San Diego  for the mountains of Sun Valley. Today there are four generations of McGrews in the valley ranging from his grandmother Margaret Traylor who just turned 101, to McGrew’s children--11-year-old Simi, 9-year-old Leila and 7-year-old Jaxon.

While his father worked as a senior project manager for Power Engineers, Scotty grew up—one kid among 30—in his Mom’s day care.

“It was mayhem but an amazing childhood with a lot of relationships,” he said. “There are a lot of kids, I think, who would consider my Mom another parent.”

McGrew quickly became “a mountain kid” alongside his father, sister Lisa Scales, now an instructor at Swiftsure Ranch Therapeutic Equine Center, and his brother Mike, a former F-16 pilot now based in Germany flying for Federal Express. His parents enrolled him in the SVSEF’s alpine program when he was 8.

“The first thing I remember is meeting at Lookout Lodge with Doran Key, who was my first coach. I was surrounded by people who lived from the inside out and I grew to love and respect the authenticity that they exhibited, and I still do to this day,” he said.

McGrew also learned respect for the natural world through the SVSEF.

“The mountains don’t negotiate with you. You learn to respect them,” he said. “There are real significant consequences for failure so it sharpens your ability to focus in a way nothing else does. And I believe that’s one of the gifts we can provide our young athletes--the gift of focus and vision.”

While ski racing gave him an outlet, it also taught him skills he could use in everything from taking a college test to taking part in a job interview.

“I went out in the world with an incredible amount of self-confidence,” he said. “I had no problem navigating challenges. I had a skill set that allowed for adaptability, being able to work through stuff and not get overwhelmed.”

After graduating from Wood River High School, McGrew studied biochemistry at the University of Washington with the idea of going into medicine. He followed that up with cultural anthropology at the University of New Mexico, intrigued at the idea of exploring what motivates and connects people.

But a call from SVSEF Alpine Coach Ruben Macaya in 2002 brought him back to Sun Valley as a ski coach.

“He said, ‘We need your experience, your background, your attitude,’” McGrew recounted. “I thought I would be a coach for one winter before heading off to med school. But I fell in love with the amazing young kids. Next I knew I had gone from assistant coach to head coach, then alpine program director and now executive director.”

In his new role McGrew has been striving to find new ways to solve old problems and improve communication. Recently, he championed the inclusion of Nordic skiers in training at the SVSEF air barn at Sagewillow.

“By bringing athletes together so they see each other training, they gain respect for the other athletes,  and it builds camaraderie and community,” said McGrew, who has a Master of Business Administration.   “And having more kids exposed to a coach like (head Nordic coach) Rick Kapala, who has so much knowledge and experience, elevates the entire program.”

McGrew’s mission includes getting kids to set goals and to think long term.

“Kids have a tough go of it right now in a world where digital is telling them what they should be. It undermines their childhood and makes them feel inadequate when they’re not. Kids who come up through the ski program have community support that sets them up for success. They have the transmission of knowledge from father to daughter, or grandmother to grandson or mountain people to mountain kids that’s transcending. This keeps them grounded. It keeps them real.”

McGrew is also trying to find new ways of partnering with community organizations and creating access for youngsters and their families at Rotarun ski area.

 “Rotarun is special—it’s where I learned to ski before graduating to Sun Valley Resort,” he said. “I remember the rope tow dragging me up. It took a lot of courage to latch on to that, and the rope shredded plenty of mittens. But that’s where I found my purpose.”

Aiding and abetting McGrew in his quest is his wife Siri, who was raised in New Mexico but spent some time at a boarding school in North India.

She is the embodiment of discipline, he said, starting her day off with yoga and a cold slower at 3:30 a.m.

“She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met,” he said. “She has strong principles--a sense of right and integrity that’s unflappable. And she has clarity and focus about living an impactful life.”

McGrew hopes he can provide that same kind of inspiration as executive director of the SVSEF.

“I had incredible role models as a youth. Cheeso Craig Kjesbo –he climbed Durrance Mountain two or three times in the morning prior to skiing around the mountain with us. That I got to spend time with him was amazing.

“Ruben Macaya—he was raised in a mountain lodge in the Andes and skied down to school—that was so real.  Lane Monroe—he was the Sun Valley Ski Education for a lot of years, pushing it to the forefront from the 1970s to the 1990s. He believed in its worth and he knew how to motivate kids and the community. And Michel Rudigoz—that man’s passion is amazing. And he still has passion—he was out there every morning helping to get the race courses ready for the U.S. Alpine Championships last spring.”

Scotty McGrew says the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation has a strong group of kids across all the disciplines.

Among the ones to watch: alpine ski racers Teagan Palmer and Jack Smith and Nordic racer Johnny Hagenbuch. They and their fellow athletes are coached by a cadre of early 100 World Cup athletes, third-generation coaches and NCAA All-Americans.

“Our athletes have been working hard all summer long. There’s a lot of horse power there, and the nation knows it,” said McGrew. “We have the best staff arguably on the planet—and our kids deserve to be surrounded by good people, good plans, good minds.”

The Ski Education Foundation purchased a new bus with help of Keller Williams Realtors Katherine Rixon and Rob Cronin. It will be a “big blue beautiful bus jam packed with kids” that will take kids from the south valley to Bald and Dollar mountains so parents don’t have to struggle to get kids to the mountain, McGrew said.

The SVSEF will also continue to help build Rotarun’s afterschool program, addition to its night skiing on Wednesdays and Fridays and regular weekend hours.

 “It’s an asset to the whole community. And, while it didn’t get much snow last winter, we are working on getting snowmaking so we will have the confidence we can run programs in the future,” McGrew said. “And Quigley is going to be a game changer. It’s easy to get to, it has fantastic trails with better snow than Croy and we hope we can get snowmaking there.”

Of course, it’s where the kids go beyond the program that is at McGrew’s most deep felt interests.

“My hope is the kids find confidence to navigate the turbulence of youth, that they find a tribe that’s supportive and uplifting and that they find their passion,” he said. “That sets the standard for everything else.”


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