Ice Dream Maker
by Robin Sias
photo by David N. Seelig
In a planner's distraction, Herman Maricich saw opportunity. While others toiled to bring the world's best ski resort to Idaho 75 years ago, it was his doggedness that contributed to making Sun Valley an all-season destination.
Today, skating in the picturesque rink at the back of the Lodge draws competitors, visitors and spectators to glide under bright blue skies or opaque moons, take lessons from legends or get close to Olympians in glamorous ice skating shows.
Maricich started skating in Oakland, Calif., when he was 12, his first laps on $7 blades bought with paper-route money. He trained in speed skating and stunt skating—the genesis of acts that would captivate Sun Valley audiences for years.
"In 1942, they needed skaters for the carnival, the precursor to today's Saturday night ice shows. I was working in a shipyard and needed a break," he says, laughing at the memory.
"All the pretty girls in the ice carnivals were college students. They waited tables during the day. The boys also worked at the resort, as bellmen and waiters. We lived in the Lodge basement (where today's executive offices are). "Everyone was young. The entire community was so much smaller."
Maricich moved here permanently in 1955, just as the plan for one large ice surface to replace two small ones was being implemented. Instructor to the famous and the beautiful, he glided around the rink with Lucille Ball and Ann Sothern, and had to keep reminding a gaggle of Kennedy kids that hockey was not allowed. "So the kids came back with a football that they wanted to toss around the ice after I told them 'no hockey,'" Maricich says. "They said, 'Well, you didn't tell us that wasn't allowed.'"
He also took over the children's skating program, coaching dozens of budding stars and directing their numbers in the ice shows. This program morphed into today's Sun Valley Figure Skating Club, a thriving entity with more than 200 members.
But by 1963, the winter maintenance of the rink was proving expensive.
"So I told the general manager, 'Why don't you let me take this over? Clean the ice? Run it?'" Maricich says. "I had a cheap old truck with a snowplow. I'd clear the snow and blow it off the end of the rink. I even had my own re-surfacer system. So I began to lease the rink in the winter and run it."
Using skills honed from working at rinks from a young age, coupled with his business degree from the University of California at Berkeley, Maricich started bringing his vision to life by negotiating with resort owner Bill Janss to secure a year-round lease.
"With that, I changed the idea of the staff. I went out and got as many great pros as I could."
The instructional program gained momentum and visibility and soon reached capacity. An indoor rink, Maricich thought, was the thing that would turn the operation into a world-class skating destination.
"Janss said it was a good idea, but he couldn't finance it," Maricich says. "He was investing in the mountain." When Maricich persisted, theorizing he could get it done with private investors,
"Janss kind of laughed at the idea but wished me well."
Undeterred, "I wrote up a proposal and presented it to about 100 people. Of those, I got 10 people to invest, and I found financing for the rest." Now general manager of the project, he rented the land and secured a 15-year lease. A year and $450,000 later, it was done.
Hockey came online with the new arena and Maricich devised a plan that evolved into the semi-pro team, Sun Valley Suns. Today, the Sun Valley Youth Hockey Association coaches almost 200 children every year and adult leagues are always full.
Maricich continued to do what he loved best: entertain, performing in ice shows for decades. Among his most memorable acts were a bullfighter tango, a comic polar bear and an elegant duet performed in black tie. Maricich also soared effortlessly over barrels, a talent he passed on to son Nick.
Each summer season had a theme and Maricich choreographed many of the numbers. "He was pretty much the dominant force in coming up with the acts," says longtime friend and collaborator Dick Haskell. He also created intricate costumes for his roles: bull and donkey heads, and bears that had moving tongues and eyes.
Maricich's Hermanettes were beautiful ladies clad in figure-flattering costumes who performed support roles in Maricich's numbers.
"Everything you see at the rinks today is just an extension of what Herman developed," Haskell says.
"I got a great deal of satisfaction from turning the dream I had into reality," Maricich says with a smile. "But there's always more to do."
Herman Maricich always preferred the air over the ground. He trained as a fighter pilot in World War II and when he returned to take over the rink at Sun Valley Lodge, he continued to soar, doing death-defying stunts over barrels and gracefully floating above the ice. Now 87, he still brings vigor to the sport with innovative performance ideas.
Photo courtesy The community library, REGIONAL HISTORY DEPARTMENT, Ketchum, ID
Sun Valley's outdoor ice rink is the coolest place in the summer to rub elbows with world-class stars, practice your skills, compete or simply sit back and be entertained.
Here's a short list of ways to enjoy one of the country's only year-round outdoor rinks:
Beginning July 2, every Saturday night at dusk, the stars come out to dazzle. Continuing a tradition as long standing as the resort itself, this year's Sun Valley Summer Ice Shows offer an impressive lineup of talent. The schedule boasts 2010 Olympic gold medalist and crowd favorite Evan Lysacek, who skates July 16 and 23. Perennial favorite and Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen takes to the ice August 6 and again September 3. Other headliners include Mirai Nagasu (July 2) Meryl Davis and Charlie White (August 3), Ryan Bradley (August 20), Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (August 27). Other exciting professional pairs, dancers and freestyle skaters are also sure to electrify audiences.
Tickets are now available at www.sunvalley.com, at the Sun Valley Recreation Office or by calling 208.622.2135 or 888.622.2108. Tickets may also be available at the gate prior to the show.
Skate with the pros:
And the ice show stars aren't just there to perform. Many also teach during the summer. In addition to taking lessons and clinics taught by Sun Valley's impressive roster of year-round coaches, a roster that includes Olympians and champions of every ilk, skaters may also sign up for clinics and lessons with visiting ice skating royalty.
Ice show performers, including dancers Brent Bommentre and Kim Navarro (two-time U.S. bronze medalist), spinning phenom Craig Heath (two-time American Open silver medalist), master entertainer Dan Hollander (two-time national bronze medalists, American Open professional champion) and solo sensation Ashley Clark (U.S. gold medalist) are available to teach and inspire. For a full schedule of clinic times as well as pro bios, log on to www.sunvalley.com/icelessons.
Just for fun:
For those who just wish to skate, no lessons involved, the resort offers a full-service pro shop that rents skates for recreational skaters, as well as a store that will properly outfit you. For a full listing of public skating times and rates, call 208.622.2194.
Fun and competition for amateur skaters:
This year, the resort also hosts its Seventh annual Adult Skaters' Weekend from August 24-28. This adults-only weekend includes on-ice seminars, world-class presenters and a variety of enjoyable activities around the area. For more information on this program, log onto www.sunvalley.com.
Young skaters also flock to Sun Valley in the summer. The annual Summer Championship showcases skaters from those in Basic Skills through Senior levels. The event is from July 21-24. This year, Sun Valley also hosts the U.S. Collegiate Figure Skating Championships, again, from July 21-24. This competition is the only figure skating event in the country open solely to high-level, full-time college students.
Nearly 300 skaters are expected to participate in these two exciting summer competitions. For more information, log on to www.sunvalleyfsc.com.
Skating with the Stars:
The rink will be the stage for a new event, "Battle of the Blades: Ice . . . It's Hard." The charity competition Sept. 10 matches nine local celebrities with skating professionals.