A Local Legend
Some folks are legendary in Sun Valley and some folks are lifers. Zach Crist is both. A Ketchum native, Crist has been through all iterations skiing has to offer—riding professionally, being featured in Warren Miller movies, coaching, owning a backcountry guide company—all while still living in the place he wouldn’t dream of not calling home. Now married to Emilie DuPont and father to four kids (ages 1, 3, 8, and 12), Crist has settled into his newest role as the owner of Sun Valley Guides and couldn’t be happier. Crist is evidence that you might think you’ve done all this town has to offer, but there’s always a new angle to enjoy the culture of Sun Valley, Idaho.
The Educational Years
Though he was technically born in California, Crist is an Idahoan through and through. He moved to Ketchum with his parents and siblings Danielle and Reggie (also a former professional skier) when he was 6 years old. With his experience on skis since he was 2, Crist ended up joining the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and was eventually picked for the U.S. Ski Team, joining his brother Reggie on the World Cup Tour. After seven years of racing World Cup, Crist quit alpine ski racing in his mid-20s and got involved with ski cross, competing in roughly 10 X-games and winning several medals: bronze in 2000, gold in 2001, and silver in 2005. “But all the while I was doing that, I was really focused on backcountry skiing,” explains Crist, the new owner of a backcountry ski guide company. “When I had time, I kept coming back to it.”
In his late 20s and early 30s, Crist and his brother made a number of appearances in the famous ski-town legend Warren Miller’s movies. But backcountry skiing and living in Ketchum full-time still called to him. “I got out of Ketchum a lot but it seemed like I kept gravitating towards coming back here,” says Crist. “Skiing’s always been my career path and this place is in so many ways ground zero for American skiing.”
In a rather backwards move, it was when Crist really wanted to delve into backcountry skiing that he decided he should get some education in it. “Looking at it now, I laugh at myself. Normally if you’re going to participate in that environment, you’d get an education first but I had all this skiing expertise which, it turns out, is really a small part of what’s important. I quickly learned that there’s no replacement for a good education.”
Crist got some education under his belt, and then some. Over the last 10-15 years, Crist has guided for Sun Valley Heli Skiing as well as Sawtooth Mountain Guides. He continued to backcountry guide while working for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation for the last six years, working in development in strategic initiatives. Crist helped launch the Ketchum Campus of SVSEF and was a project he ultimately got to see through, start to finish. Realizing it was time to move onto a new venture, Crist became interested in buying the guiding service of Sun Valley Trekking. A year ago he became an AMGA-certified ski and snowboard instructor and two months ago, took over full ownership of Sun Valley Trekking’s guide service, now called Sun Valley Guides (Sun Valley Trekking retains ownership of their six backcountry huts).
“It was time to move on to another venture,” Crist says. “It just seemed like a natural fit for me to come in and take ownership and management of a company like this because it’s really unique to Sun Valley.” The oldest and largest permit in the area, former owners Joe and Francie St. Onge (who took it over from original owner Bob Jonas) were concerned about who they would pass it on to. “Having grown up here and knowing the area as well as I do and the guiding experience I have, they felt they had a level of comfort knowing I would be a good steward of their legacy.”
Even though they’ve sold the guide portion of the business, Joe and Francie can be assured that their legacy will be preserved. “I’m not some outside entity that doesn’t understand the culture,” Crist explains. “I understand the culture as much as anybody. I think that’s important. It has to be somebody who respects the rest of the public users and the land managers.”
Crist and his cohorts now operate out of a beautiful new office space in Hotel Ketchum, across from Backwoods. Ask anyone there about the beauty of hitting the backcountry in the Sun Valley area and there’s no end to why. “You just can’t find this quality and quantity of backcountry,” Crist gushes. “It’s unique to this area because it’s huge. The Tetons are beautiful and the Wasatch is also an interesting range, but they’re tiny compared to what we enjoy here.”
With four kids under his belt, Crist will surely be taking them into the backcountry soon or at least getting the ski stoke into them early. Crist is grateful that his children have access to the same opportunities he had growing up here and more. “You just can’t find this kind of outdoor recreation experience at this level anywhere and with that is the culture. These kids are surrounded by experts from great teachers to mentors to coaches. It’s totally unique.”