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Sun Valley, Idaho - Bald Mountain - View from Sun Valley Lake
Sun Valley is an affluent resort city in Blaine Countymarker in the central part of the U.S. state of Idahomarker, adjacent to the city of Ketchummarker. Tourists from around the world enjoy its skiing, hiking, ice skating, trail riding, tennis, and cycling. The population was 1,427 at the 2000 census. Few of its residents stay year-round, and most come from major cities like Seattlemarker, Los Angelesmarker, San Franciscomarker, and more distantly Chicagomarker and New York Citymarker. The elevation of Sun Valley (at the Lodge) is 5920 feet (1804 m) above sea level. The area is served by Friedman Memorial Airportmarker in Haileymarker, approximately 15 miles (24 km) south. Visitors to Sun Valley are relatively close to the Sawtooth National Recreation Areamarker, accessed over Galena Summitmarker on Highway 75, the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.

Among skiers, the term "Sun Valley" refers to the alpine ski area, which consists of Bald Mountainmarker, the main ski mountain, and Dollar Mountain, which is geared toward novice and lower intermediate skiers. Bald Mountain, or "Baldy," has a summit of 9150 feet (2789 m) and a vertical drop of 3400 feet (1036 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 the best single ski mountain in the world. The treeless "Dollar" at 6638 feet (2023 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 Ketchummarker and the valley area winding south to Haileymarker. The region has been a seasonal home to the rich, famous, and powerful, including Mats Wilander, Walter Annenberg, Adam West, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Hanks, Steve Miller, Demi Moore, Peter Cetera, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Wynn, Mohamed al-Fayed, John Lewis, and Tony Robbins.


Union Pacific Railroad (1936-64)

The first destination winter resort in the United States was developed by W. Averell Harriman, the chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, primarily to increase ridership on passenger trains. The success of the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New Yorkmarker, 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 in the European Alps, such as St. Moritzmarker. During the winter of 1935-36, Harriman enlisted the services of an Austrianmarker count, Felix Schaffgotsch, to travel across the western U.S. to locate an ideal site for a winter resort. The Count toured Mount Rainiermarker, Mount Hoodmarker, Yosemite, the San Bernardino Mountainsmarker, Zion National Parkmarker, Rocky Mountain National Parkmarker, the Wasatch Mountains, Pocatellomarker, Jackson Holemarker, and Grand Targheemarker areas. Late in his trip and on the verge of abandoning his search, he was steered to the Ketchummarker area in central Idahomarker. A U.P. employee had mentioned that the rail line to Ketchum had cost the company more money for snow removal than any other branch line.

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 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 Beachmarker, was hired and named the resort "Sun Valley." (Count Schaffgotsch returned to Austriamarker 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.
Challenger Inn (Sun Valley Inn), c.
The Swiss-style Challenger Inn (now Sun Valley 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 had 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. 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 chairlift design was adapted from banana loading equipment used on fruit ships in the tropics. The single-seat chairlifts were developed at the Union Pacific headquarters in Omahamarker in the summer of 1936. The chairlift went on to replace the primitive rope tow and other technologies used 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 Mountainmarker 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 Austrianmarker 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 Austriamarker just before it had come under control of the Nazis in 1938 (Anschluss).
Historic Ski School Sign

For Sun Valley's fourth season, three chairlifts (in series) were installed on Bald Mountain during the summer of 1939, in the River Run area, the northeast face of the mountain overlooking Ketchum and Sun Valley. Ski runs had been cut out of the forest during the summers of 1938-39. Friedl Pfeiffer, the new head of the ski school from St. Anton, Austriamarker, wanted the lifts to go to the very top of the mountain, something that had yet to be done anywhere, even in Europe.

The loading point of the lowest chairlift (River) was on the Ketchum side of the Big Wood River, at an elevation of 5750 feet (1752 m). The single chairs loaded near the parking lot, then horizontally crossed the river (about eight feet above the water) before ascending the mountain, gaining 600 vertical feet (183 m). The middle lift (Canyon) gained over 1300 vertical feet and unloaded at the Roundhouse (a day lodge at 7700' (2347 m), built in 1939). The upper lift (Ridge) also climbed over 1,300 vertical feet (396 m), unloading at just above 9000 feet (2743 m) AMSL. Its lift capacity was a mere 426 skiers per hour (7 per minute). The three chairlifts that are in approximately the same lines today (2006) are: River Run (quad), Exhibition (triple), and Christmas (quad). The original lower single chairlift was replaced in the 1960s and the loading base was moved across the river; a footbridge provides walking access from the parking lot to the River Run base area.


Ernest Hemingway completed For Whom the Bell Tolls (which many consider his greatest novel) while staying in suite 206 of the Lodge in the fall of 1939. Averell Harriman had invited Hemingway and other celebrities, primarily from Hollywoodmarker, 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 Ketchummarker ("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.

World War II

During World War II, the resort was closed and converted to a convalescent hospital for the U.S. Navy (Pacific Theater). It re-opened to the public in December 1946.

After the war, the clinic for the resort operated on the third floor of the northern wing of the Lodge (wing closest to the Trail Creek Rd.) until the Sun Valley Community Hospital was built in 1961. That facility was named after Dr. John Moritz when he retired in 1973; the Nebraskamarker-born surgeon had served as the resort's year-round physician for 33 years. The Moritz Hospital was closed shortly after the new St. Luke's branch hospital opened (south of Ketchum) in November 2000 and the Moritz building now serves as employee housing.

Warren Miller

Noted ski film producer Warren Miller, while in his early 20's, 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. His son is a major part in them today because of Millers age.

Bill Janss (1964-77)

After World War II, Harriman focused on his career in government service and the Union Pacific gradually lost interest in the resort. Rail service was discontinued to Ketchum in 1964 and that November the resort was sold to the Janss Investment Company, a major Southern California real estate developer headed by a former Olympic ski team member, Bill Janss, founder of Snowmassmarker. (Janss was selected to the 1940 team, but the games were cancelled due to the war). Janss gained full control of Sun Valley in 1968. During this Janss era of ownership, the north-facing Warm Springs area was developed, as well as Seattle Ridge, and condominium and home construction increased significantly. Seven chairlifts were added, and the number of trails increased from 33 to 62. The original Seattle Ridge double chairlift was installed in 1976, but due to a very poor snow year in 1976-77 it was not operated until December 20, 1977, christened by local legend Gretchen Fraser. Janss also has a ski run named after him, called "Janss Pass", formerly known as "Silver Fox", to the right of the Frenchman's chairlift.

Earl Holding (1977-Present)

In 1977 Janss was running low on funds and had entered into negotiations to sell the resort to the Walt Disney Company. While the negotiations were strung out by Disney, Earl Holding, a Utahmarker businessman, learned of the situation through a small article in The Wall Street Journal and contacted Janss and arranged for a meeting. For about $12 million, Holding purchased Sun Valley through his company, Sinclair Oil, which operates the Little America Hotels & Resorts. Holding was initially distrusted by many locals: "Earl is a Four Letter Word" was a popular bumper sticker in the late 1970s in Blaine County. But time proved that Holding did not buy the resort for property speculation; like his other assets he meant to operate and improve for the long-term.

Under Holding's ownership there have been substantial improvements on the mountain: extensive snowmaking and grooming, high-capacity chairlifts, and the construction of three impressive day lodges, and the renovation of the classic Roundhouse restaurant.

During the late 1980s and early 90s, significant snowmaking was introducedon Bald Mountain. Three high-speed quad chairlifts were installed during the summer of 1988 (Christmas, Challenger & Greyhawk). An impressive day lodge, constructed of logs, river rock, and glass, opened at the base of Warm Springs in the fall of 1992, replacing the mid-1960s "Northface Hut" cafeteria. Similar day lodges were later opened at the Seattle Ridge summit (1993), and the River Run base (1995).

An older cafeteria, the modest one-floor "Lookout Restaurant," is below the summit at 9030 ft (2752 m), at the top of three chairlifts. Built in 1973, it is the ground floor of a multi-story building that was never completed, resulting in its "basement-like" atmosphere. Nevertheless, the mountain views from this near-summit lodge are quite impressive. However, the resort's recently approved master plan has the facility slated for eventual replacement.

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 two 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). The former Exhibition ski lift was removed to make room for the new lift. The lift carries both skiers and non-skiers alike to the restaurant for lunch and eventually dinner year round. The Roundhouse Restaurant was built in 1939 and is scheduled to be remodeled to accommodate its new year round role in 2010.

In 2006, Forbes magazine estimated that Sun Valley was worth in the range of $300 million.

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 Altamarker, the "Roach Cup" at Aspen Mountainmarker, and the "Silver Belt" races at Sugar Bowl, north of Lake Tahoemarker. 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 over-confident 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 Swedenmarker, perhaps the greatest technical ski racer ever, took the giant slalom title both years. Phil Mahre of White Passmarker, Washingtonmarker, 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 Francemarker 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 Lakemarker (300 miles 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, Snowbasinmarker, outside of Ogdenmarker, Utahmarker.

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.


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 5,945 feet, the air in sun Valley is rarified - 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 of art galleries that could hold their own in Manhattan, Berlin, London or Los Angeles." - Art Ltd Magazine

The Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities is a non-profit arts organization founded in 1971 by Glenn and Bill Janss. The original 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 Countymarker.The Sun Valley Art Center, as it is commonly known today, is located in nearby Ketchummarker and continues to present an impressive list of venues in the visual and performing arts.

Two sections

A small mountain saddle splits the city of Sun Valley into two sections. The northern section is centered around the famous Sun Valley Lodge, Inn, and the "village" complex of shops, condominiums, and original 18-hole golf course (27 holes by 2008), which winds its way up the Trail Creek valley to the northeast. This area is referred to as simply "Sun Valley."

The southern area, called Elkhorn, has its own shopping/hotel/condo complex and 18-hole golf course (now private), and is in many ways quite distinct and separate (including a drier "sagebrush" appearance). This area, near Dollar Mountain, was initially developed during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Adjacent to Sun Valley is the older city of Ketchum, which is just a mile downstream of the Sun Valley Lodge (along Trail Creek). Ketchum comprises primarily the 19th century town center (with its limited grid system) and lands adjacent to Bald Mountain: along the Big Wood River and Warm Springs Creek.

The Sun Valley/Ketchum CVB offers area wide information on events, vacation planning information and area resources.

On September 11, 2005, the Dalai Lama visited Wood River High School in Hailey, Idaho to give a speech on understanding and friendship in remembrance of the September 11, 2001 Attacks and offered condolences to the many thousands affected by the recent Hurricane Katrina.


Sun Valley is located at (43.680491, -114.342711) .

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.9 square miles (25.6 km²), of which 9.9 square miles (25.6 km²) of it is land and 0.10% is water.


As of the census of 2000, there were 1,427 people, 594 households, and 343 families residing in the city. The population density was 144.6 people per square mile (55.8/km²). There were 2,339 housing units at an average density of 237.1/sq mi (91.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.43% White, 0.35% African American, 0.42% Native American, 0.77% Asian, 4.20% from other races, and 1.82% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.15% of the population.

There were 594 households out of which 16.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.5% were married couples living together, 4.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.1% were non-families. 34.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.97 and the average family size was 2.50.

In the city the population was spread out with 11.9% under the age of 18, 12.2% from 18 to 24, 21.9% from 25 to 44, 36.7% from 45 to 64, and 17.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 48 years. For every 100 females there were 104.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 105.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $71,000, and the median income for a family was $85,000. Males had a median income of $31,979 versus $27,143 for females. The per capita income for the city was $50,563. About 2.7% of families and 14.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.7% of those under age 18 and 2.4% of those age 65 or over.


  • Plum TV, Ch. 13
  • RSN, Ch. 14


Further reading

  • "Idaho for the Curious", by Cort Conley, ©1982, ISBN 0-9603566-3-0, p.348-355
  • "Ski & Snow Country, The Golden Years of Skiing in the West 1930s-1950s", photos by Ray Atkeson, text by Warren Miller, ©2000, ISBN 1-55868-538-3
  • "Idaho", photos by John Marshall, text by Cort Conley, ©1985, ISBN 0-912856-93-9,
  • SKI Magazine "Sun Valley Refrain," by Stu Campbell, October 2000, p.128-134
  • SKI Magazine, "The Sun Rises Again," by Jamie Marshall, December 1996, p.108-112
  • The Idaho Statesman, 21-Dec-1977

External links

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