“A Sense of Place” – The Past, Present, and Future of Sawtooth Mountain Guides

By Kirk Bachman

With the coming of 2013, Sawtooth Mountain Guides enters its 28th year as a 4-season guide service. This New Year brings a landmark for SMG, with my turning over the ownership reins to Stanley residents, Sara and Chris Lundy, who now hold my 50% interest joining Erik Leidecker. In addition to their many talents as ski guides and avalanche educators, they bring with them many of the requisite skills to steward a growing business, including office skills and web technology. Their talents are combined with Erik’s skills as a world-class mountain guide. However, what graces this Transition for SMG, is the primary ingredient which has made this a successful and rewarding venture, the on-going owner’s love of the Sawtooths and along with our core guides, ‘A Sense of Place.’

When I first started my guiding career in the Stanley Basin and the surrounding mountains, I was awestruck with passion and love of the intricacies of the geography, the rugged ridgelines of Sawtooths, wild terrain that also gave way to the free-flowing rivers. When I founded, SMG in 1985, my primary tools for development of this vision of a mountain guide service were my ‘closely held assets’- a climbing rope, backcountry skis, and a kayak paddle. Core to the business development was a contagious passion to explore this incredible backyard.

As word was out about the guide service, the phone began to ring requesting knowledgeable local guides who knew the best of the mountain routes and experiences the Sawtooths had to offer. Often we would combine those experiences with our guests paddling the incredible Salmon and Payette Rivers. Sawtooth Mountain Guides’ were the dedicated professionals who did it all in putting seamless adventures together.

The Stanley component of being well rounded included wearing a carpenter’s belt. The inside humor was that I was the ‘Saw’ in SMG often joined by many of the guides and friends who helped build my house in Lower Stanley and guide service headquarters when not guiding in the mountains. It is the shared dedication of the many guides and friends over the years that have also contributed in building the Williams Peak Yurt. These physical manifestations are a few of the satisfying personal outcomes of the many years on the trail with SMG.

Erik Leidecker joined the SMG guide crew in the early 90’s, graduating from college, and jumped in headfirst with this shared vision and passion for this ‘Sense of Place’ having grown up in the Sun Valley community. He coupled his knowledge and love of the area with well-rounded outdoor skills and pursued the path of a professional mountain guide along with myself. Key to Erik’s involvement was the continued dedication of many of our loyal clients who joined us year after year because of our personalized approach to putting adventures together. It was clear to me at that point the vision had legs as the business continued to develop. I reminisce of SMG’s past of early development that included replying to trip requests, often coming in from the mountains to sit down to a typewriter and send a letter. Technology became a requisite tailwind with emails and websites, replacing stationary and licking stamps. In many ways technology kept us outdoors where we wanted to be, by making the office time more efficient.

Over a ten-year time span of overseeing Sawtooth Mountain Guides as a partnership, the business has continued to grow and mature, but continues to remain rooted in the professionalism and passion of the owners and guides and the love of our terrain. The challenge for us has always been to address what needed to be done in the office, so as to accomplish those tasks with the same skills we held in guiding. Both Erik and I have been constantly challenged by our office skills and I would quip that ‘the guiding was the easy part of running the business!’

Now, Sawtooth Mountain Guides is at a juncture well poised for the future as Sara and Chris come on board as owners to join Erik. The Lundys are extraordinary mountain professionals and also they approach their time in pulling off the tasks in the office, whether keeping the books or making more posts in SMG social media and web technology, with more natural grace. These skills don’t eclipse why they have chosen to make Sawtooth Mountain Guides a lifestyle which is anchored by the home they built in the Stanley Basin so as to explore their backyard with SMG’s clientele and their, ‘Sense of Place.’

The timing of this SMG milestone is my good fortune as well, as I can continue to contribute as a ‘senior’ guide and as a member of the guide staff. But more importantly to me, to keep exploring the geography I love with my climbing rope, backcountry skis, and kayak paddle and share many of these experiences with my loving wife Kelley. I thank you all who continue to share in our experiences and passion.