Photography by Tanner Haskins & Scott Knickerbocker
Interviewed by Emerald LaFortune
Name: Sara Lundy
Hometown: New Meadows, Idaho
Current Location: Stanley, Idaho
Job Title at Sawtooth Mountain Guides (SMG): Co-Owner and Guide
Years Guiding: 15 years
How did you become an SMG guide?
After attending the College of Idaho, I had been working in Stanley during the summers and decided to try a winter season. I lived at Papa Brunees and made pizza a couple nights a week. I met Kirk Bachman, the founder of SMG, and started to help haul loads up to the Williams Peak Hut. Ibecame the hut keeper, hut cook and assistant guide. By 2003 I had enough experience and training to get my first ski guides license.
You have been a river guide as well?
I got my first Idaho guides license in 2001 as a river guide for Sawtooth Adventure Company on the day stretch of the Salmon near Stanley. I had only ever done a few private trips (mostly with Telly!) but Jared Hopkinson took a chance and put me on the stick. I ended up working 4 years on the day stretch and 9 years full time on the Middle Fork. I still run a few Middle Fork trips every year with Jared at Rocky Mountain River Tours.
What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
Introducing people to wilderness experiences that they wouldn't have had otherwise. I love the mountains and rivers and wilderness! Time spent in the wild fixes most things - it's meditative and rejuvenating, it untangles my brain and refills my reserves. And at the same time it's challenging in all the right ways - physically, mentally and often emotionally. The wilderness experience is a core necessity for me so it's extremely satisfying to share that with others. It's really rewarding to help a first time camper set up a tent and witness them enjoy the simplest camp stove dinner like it's a 3-star michelin experience. And it's just as rewarding to belay a long-time skier into the 50 degree couloir she'd been eyeing for years but needed a little technical help to enter.
The most frustrating?
As with any profession, the frustrations change over time. I remember early on trying to piece together enough work to survive and now as a business owner there's not enough time for the work.
Have you ever thought of moving on from guiding? Why did/didn’t you?
My husband Chris and I had worked on the Middle Fork for an incredible family for many years. When they decided to sell we thought it might be a good time for us to move on. We didn't want to be the old guides saying, "That's not how we do it around here." But even before the next season we realized that we weren't ready to be done. It was a good reminder to not get burned out, stay flexible and open to new ideas, reevaluate often. Also, before we decided to build a little house in Stanley and buy into SMG we did some serious soul searching and exploratory traveling. One hard thing about guiding is that we realize we might not be able to do it forever. My body will get tired and I won't want to be out on big physical days, day after day. I feel lucky to now be a part of the business side of guiding. But what about our guides? I don't know the answer but I'm excited that the Redside Foundation is around to be a part of those kind of discussions.
Who inspires you as a guide?
Kirk Bachman, who founded SMG in 1985 and whose dedication and character provide a solid, timeless inspiration. All of SMG's guides, past and present, who work so hard, are constantly striving to be even better guides and who go above and beyond for every client. Kurt and Gayle Selisch, who always believed in me and loved me and make me want to be the best guide I can be and inspire that in others.
What inspires you as a guide?
The mountains and rivers and sunsets and sunrises.
How do you support your fellow guides and how do they support you?
As a business owner we have the responsibility of providing certain support for our guides. We believe it's our responsibility to pay well, have a fair hierarchy for scheduling, have a pay scale based on experience and training (increase in pay for every additional training), provide training, morning and evening meetings to check in on the day of guiding and also guide concerns, try to keep everything as transparent as possible and support our guides doing what they need to do to make the guiding profession work. And our guides in return work so hard and make sacrifices in their lives to support SMG and provide the best service for our clients. Our guides are amazing! On a more personal level, I think most all guides are watching out for each other.
How do you take care of yourself during the guiding season?
Usually not well enough! The seasonal work means that when the season is on it's gogogo. Eat as much as you can, sleep as much as you can, find a day to go ski for fun if you can. I actually tore my meniscus this season and had repair surgery that has put me out for the rest of the ski season. One thing that I'm realizing is that we go a little too hard! This forced downtime reminds me that an occasional break is so important. I really respect the guides who take a week off mid season. I see how important it is now for so many reasons...physically, mentally, for friendships and in order to be the best you can be and come back strong and healthy.
What advice would you give an aspiring backcountry skiing/climbing guide?
Figure out how to get as much personal experience as you can. Ski and climb and explore and love it. Then get training. The American Mountain Guide Association offers training that is becoming the standard. And then get guiding experience. Sounds so easy, huh!? I know it's not, but it's possible if it's what you really want and you're willing to get creative, be patient and humble and not give up on it.
After college I traveled around quite a bit, spending a chunk of time in Bend, Missoula and even NYC for a few months. I was always drawn back to Idaho and Stanley in particular maybe because it has the perfect amount of wild for me. I figured that where my dog was happiest, so was I. She preferred Stanley.
You knew Telly Evans (the guide and friend that the Redside Foundation was started in memorial of) - any favorite memories of your times with him?
So many! And they all include his big laugh and crinkly-eyed smile. One early season private trip on the Main Salmon I was running my own boat for the first time. I came around the corner at Big Mallard and see Telly on the right bank dancing around and pointing left, left, left! The Big Mallard rock was out and Telly, being the strong, amazing boater that he was, thought he'd try going right. He ended up plastered on the rock and swears the only reason they didn't flip was he had two big farm boys wedged under the table up front. They peeled off and he made it to shore in time to point everybody following him to the left. He was an incredible leader for many reasons but one big one was his ability to make mistakes, share them and make you feel fine about making your own mistakes. I think of him every time I sneak between those big Big Mallard rocks. And lots of other times too.
What’s your favorite yurt meal?
Mexi! Pork carnitas, rice and beans, slaw and Yurtaritas.
Thanks Sara, we'll see you on the slopes and on the water!
Know a guide that goes above and beyond? Nominate them for Redside's Idaho Guide of the Month by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.