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Sun Valley Information

Sun Valley is a resort city in Blaine County in the central part of the U.S. state of Idaho, adjacent to the city of Ketchum, situated within the greater Wood River valley. The population was 1,406 at the 2010 census, down from 1,427 in 2000.The elevation of Sun Valley (at the Lodge) is 5,920 feet (1,804 m) above sea level. The area is served by Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, approximately 15 miles (24 km) south. Visitors to Sun Valley are relatively close to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, accessed over Galena Summit on Highway 75, the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.

Tourists from around the world enjoy its skiing, hiking, ice skating, trail riding, tennis, and cycling. Few of its residents stay year-round, and most come from major west coast cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and more distantly Chicago and New York.

Among skiers, the term “Sun Valley” refers to the alpine ski area, which consists of Bald Mountain, the main ski mountain adjacent to Ketchum, and Dollar Mountain, adjacent to Sun Valley, for novice and lower intermediate skiers. Bald Mountain, or “Baldy,” has a summit of 9,150 feet (2,789 m) and a vertical drop of 3,400 feet (1,036 m). With its abundance of constant-pitch terrain, at varying degrees of difficulty, coupled with its substantial vertical drop and absence of wind, Baldy has often been referred to as one of the better ski mountains in the world. The treeless “Dollar” at 6,638 feet (2,023 m) has a moderate vertical drop of 628 feet (191 m).

The term “Sun Valley” is used more generally to speak of the region surrounding the city, including the neighboring city of Ketchum and the valley area winding south to Hailey. The region has been a seasonal home to the rich, famous, and powerful, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mark Zuckerberg, Mats Wilander, Warren Buffett, Walter Annenberg, Adam West, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Miller, Demi Moore, Peter Cetera, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher, Richard Dreyfuss, Jamie Lee Curtis, Steve Wynn, Justin Timberlake, Mohamed al-Fayed, Barbara Kent, Bill Gates, and Tony Robbins.

Union Pacific Railroad (1936–64)
The first destination winter resort in the U.S. was developed by W. Averell Harriman, the chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, primarily to increase ridership on U.P. passenger trains in the West. The success of the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, spurred an increase in participation in winter sports (and alpine skiing in particular). A lifelong skier, Harriman determined that America would embrace a destination mountain resort, similar to those he enjoyed in the Swiss Alps, such as St. Moritz and Davos. During the winter of 1935–36, Harriman enlisted the services of an Austrian count, Felix Schaffgotsch, to travel across the western U.S. to locate an ideal site for a winter resort. The Count toured Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Yosemite, the San Bernardino Mountains, Zion, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Wasatch Mountains, Pocatello, Jackson Hole, and Grand Targhee areas. Late in his trip and on the verge of abandoning his search for an ideal location for a mountain resort development, he backtracked toward the Ketchum area in central Idaho. A U.P. employee in Boise had casually mentioned that the rail spur to Ketchum cost the company more money for snow removal than any other branch line and the Count went to explore.

Schaffgotsch was impressed by the combination of Bald Mountain and its surrounding mountains, adequate snowfall, abundant sunshine, moderate elevation, and absence of wind, and selected it as the site. Harriman visited several weeks later and agreed. The 3,888-acre (15.73 km2) Brass Ranch was purchased for about $4 per acre and construction commenced that spring; it was built in seven months for $1.5 million.

Pioneering publicist Steve Hannigan, who had successfully promoted Miami Beach, Florida, was hired and named the resort “Sun Valley.” (Count Schaffgotsch returned to Austria and was killed on the Eastern Front during World War II.) The centerpiece of the new resort was the Sun Valley Lodge, which opened in December 1936. The 220-room, X-shaped lodge’s exterior was constructed of concrete, poured inside rough-sawn forms. The wood grain was impressed on the concrete finish, which was acid-stained brown to imitate wood.

The Swiss-style Sun Valley Inn (formerly the “Challenger Inn”) and village were also part of the initial resort, opening in 1937. Hannigan wanted swimming pools at the resort, “so people won’t think skiing is too cold.” Both the Lodge and the Inn have heated outdoor swimming pools, circular in shape. Hannigan had the pools designed this way, unique at the time, in the hope they would be widely photographed, providing free publicity, and it worked.

The world’s first chairlifts were installed on the resort’s Proctor and Dollar Mountains in the fall of 1936. (Proctor Mountain is northeast of Dollar Mountain). The U.P. chairlift design was adapted by an engineer recalling banana loading conveyor equipment used for tropical fruit ships’ cargo. Single-seat chairlifts were developed at the U.P. headquarters in Omaha in the summer of 1936. The chairlift went on to replace primitive rope tow and other adaptations seen at ski areas at the time. The original Proctor Mountain Ski Lift is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bald Mountain
While Bald Mountain was one of the reasons for the selection of the site, it was not initially part of the resort. The plan was to eventually develop it as a ski mountain, but sometime in the future. Alpine skiing was still in its infancy in America, and it was believed by management that there were not enough accomplished skiers to justify its development in 1936. But it was quickly realized by the resort’s restless Austrian ski instructors that this fantastic mountain needed to be opened to the skiing public (and promoted) as soon as possible. The instructors had hiked up and skied down Baldy on their off days during the resort’s first few seasons. These men were among the best skiers in the world, and had fled Austria just before it had come under control of the Nazis in 1938 (Anschluss).

Author Ernest Hemingway completed For Whom the Bell Tolls while staying in suite 206 of the Lodge in the fall of 1939. Averell Harriman had invited Hemingway and other celebrities, primarily from Hollywood, to the resort to help promote it. Gary Cooper was a frequent visitor and hunting/fishing partner, as were Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and several members of the Kennedy family. Hemingway was a part-time resident over the next twenty years, eventually relocating to Ketchum (“Papa” and his fourth wife are buried in the Ketchum Cemetery). The Hemingway Memorial, dedicated in 1966, is just off Trail Creek Road, about a mile northeast of the Sun Valley Lodge.

Sun Valley was featured (and promoted) in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade, starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, Milton Berle, and bandleader Glenn Miller. Scenes were shot at the resort in March 1941. Sun Valley transfer local and future gold medalist Gretchen Fraser was the skiing stand-in for Henie. The film is shown continuously on television in the resort’s guest rooms and nightly at the Opera House during the winter season.

Warren Miller
Noted ski film producer Warren Miller, while in his early twenties wintered in Sun Valley from 1946–49, first living in a car and small teardrop trailer in the River Run parking lot. Miller would later rent an unheated garage for five dollars per month and sublet floor space to friends to pitch their sleeping bags (at fifty cents per night). One of these friends was Edward Scott, the future inventor of the lightweight aluminum ski pole. This extra cash helped Miller purchase his first rolls of 16 mm movie film, jump-starting his motion picture career. During this time he evolved from ski bum, to ski instructor, to ski filmmaker.
Miller has since traveled and filmed all over the world, but until recent years he continued to return to Sun Valley virtually every year. He has featured Sun Valley in dozens of his annual films, which has helped publicize the Sun Valley region worldwide. His movies still play around the country today.

Bald Mountain in June 2009
Four additional high-speed quads were installed in the 1990s. Two of these replaced older chairlifts on River Run (1992) and Seattle Ridge (1993), and two cut brand new paths: Lookout Express (1993) and Frenchman’s (1994). Baldy’s 13 chairlifts have a capacity of over 23,000 skiers per hour. With an average of 3500 skiers per day (& less than 6000 skiers per day during peak periods), Sun Valley has kept the lift lines to a minimum, a rarity among major resorts.

The Dollar Mountain Lodge opened in November 2004. This day lodge replaces the Dollar Cabin, and also serves as the headquarters for the Sun Valley Ski School. It is similar in construction to the newer day lodges at the big mountain.

The interior of the original Sun Valley Lodge has been remodeled twice during Holding’s ownership, in 1985 for the golden anniversary and again in 2004. The Sun Valley Inn was also remodeled recently.
The Sun Valley golf course saw significant improvement in the summer of 2008, with the opening of the new “White Cloud Nine” course on the site of the old Gun Club (relocated further down along Trail Creek road), as well as the opening of the “Sun Valley Club”, a full service golf course club house built in the style of the resort’s mountain day lodges, replacing a much smaller and older facility.

2008 also saw the opening of the “Sun Valley Pavilion”, built in partnership with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony as a permanent home for the orchestra’s annual three-and-a-half week series of free concerts. The Pavilion is a one-of-a-kind state-of-the-art performing arts facility that has already hosted several well-known musical artists and more slated to perform in the near future.

In 2009, the resort installed the “Roundhouse Express Gondola” on Bald mountain, which runs from the mountain’s River Run Base to the Roundhouse Restaurant (located midway up the mountain, at 7700 feet (2350 m)). The Exhibition triple chairlift, originally as a single chair in 1939, was removed with the addition of the new 8-passenger lift. The new gondola carries both skiers and non-skiers to the restaurant for lunch and eventually dinner year-round. The Roundhouse Restaurant was built in 1939 and was finished being remodeled to accommodate its new year round role in 2010.

Ski racing
In the years before the World Cup circuit, the Harriman Cup at Sun Valley was one of the major ski races held in North America, along with the “Snow Cup” at Alta, the “Roch Cup” at Aspen Mountain, and the “Silver Belt” races at Sugar Bowl, north of Lake Tahoe. Originally known as the “Sun Valley International Open,” the Harriman Cup races were the first major international ski competitions held in North America, beginning in 1937. The first three competitions of 1937–39 were held in the Boulder Mountains north of Sun Valley. Beginning in 1940, the Harriman Cup was held on the Warm Springs side of Bald Mountain, decades before chairlifts were installed on that north face of the mountain. American Dick Durrance won three of the first four Harriman Cups, stunning the overconfident Europeans.

In March 1975 and 1977, Sun Valley hosted World Cup ski races, with slalom and giant slalom events for both men and women, run on the Warm Springs side of the mountain.

The 1975 slalom was won by Gustavo Thoeni, the dominant World Cup skier of the early 1970s (which turned out to be his last win in the slalom discipline). A young Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, perhaps the greatest technical ski racer ever, took the giant slalom title both years. Phil Mahre of White Pass, Washington, age 19, won the 1977 slalom race over Stenmark, with twin brother Steve placing third. It was Phil’s second win (he had won a GS in France in December), but his first victory in the slalom and first in the U.S., and being from the Northwest, very close to home.

The present ownership has declined to host any World Cup races since, as it involves closing off runs for a significant time. But during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake (about 300 miles (480 km) to the southeast), Sun Valley was used as a training site for many nations’ alpine and Nordic ski teams. The alpine speed events for the Olympics were held at a sister resort, Snowbasin, outside of Ogden, Utah.
Olympic medalists from Sun Valley include Gretchen Fraser, Christin Cooper, Picabo Street, and disabled skier Muffy Davis. Muffy Davis is also a founding and honorary board member of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports. All four have runs named after them on Bald Mountain: three are on Seattle Ridge (Gretchen’s Gold, Christin’s Silver (ex-Silver Fox), and Muffy’s Medals (ex-Southern Comfort)), and Picabo’s Street (ex-Plaza) on Warm Springs. US TV’s legendary sports commentator Tim Ryan (CBS/NBC) also lives in Sun Valley as well as Ski Racing Magazine’s proud owner, Gary Black Jr.

Sun Valley has a lively arts community offering a variety of opportunities through over thirty presenting organizations. Local, regional and nationally known artists are represented through gallery exhibitions, concerts, theater productions, dance productions, film festivals, lectures, opera and symphonic performances.
“At an elevation of 5945 feet, the air in Sun Valley is rarefied- and so is the clientele of the area’s top-flight art galleries. Serving the valley’s plethora of well-heeled and well-educated art collections are art galleries that could hold their own in Manhattan, Berlin, London or Los Angeles.” – Art Ltd Magazine
The non-profit Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities was founded in 1971 by Glenn and Bill Janss. The original 5-acre (20,000 m2) campus was located off Dollar Road in Sun Valley. Studios and workshops were open to the public and focused on Ceramics, founded by James Romberg; Photography, founded by Sheri Heiser and Peter deLory; and Fine Arts, founded by David W. Wharton. The SVC offered year-round workshops, lectures, and exhibitions by nationally recognized artists and craft persons to both residents and tourists to Blaine County. Today the Sun Valley Center for the Arts has its main building in nearby Ketchum as well as a historic house and classroom in Hailey, and continues to present an impressive list of guest artists in the visual and performing arts.

Adaptive Sports for the Disabled
The Sun Valley region boasts a wide variety of year round adaptive sports programs for the disabled including the local DSUSA Chapter; Sun Valley Adaptive Sports, Wood River Ability Program, Sage Brush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped and Camp Rainbow Gold, a youth cancer program.