Sun Valley sits at the edge of the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests; with the Big Wood River, a fisherman’s dream, running through the Wood River Valley.
Its pristine mountains and pastures, clean air and clean water make Sun Valley a highly desirable place to live, work, play and visit. Development in Sun Valley respects and complements the natural setting and preserves its historic authenticity. Sun Valley hosts a prominent and internationally-recognized, year-round resort, enjoys economic and environmental sustainability, successful regional partnerships, social and cultural richness, and a unique character and quality of life. Sun Valley enjoys a pleasant mountain desert climate. With an average humidity of only 30%, and 15 inches of precipitation per year, the northern latitude creates long days, with 15 hours of sunshine in the summer, giving the resort community its well-deserved name.
Some City of Sun Valley Statistics from the City website include the following information. According to the 2000 United States census the population of Sun Valley was 1,427. Of the 2,339 housing units in Sun Valley, 594, or 25%, were identified as occupied, and the remaining housing units were identified as seasonal/occasional use.
Sun Valley enjoys a pleasant mountain desert climate. With an average humidity of only 30%, and 15 inches of precipitation per year, the northern latitude creates long days, with 15 hours of sunshine in the summer, giving the resort community its well-deserved name. Average summer temperature is 78 degrees and average winter temperature is 23 degrees, with an annual snowfall of 150 inches. Sun Valley’s elevation is 5,750 feet and Mt. Bald, “Baldy”, the ski mountain west of town has an elevation of 9,150 feet. Baldy is considered by serious skiers as the country’s single best ski mountain, with three gorgeous day lodges and an historic restaurant located at mid-mountain offering both casual and 5-star dining winter and summer.
Dollar Mountain, with an elevation of 6,638 feet, is located across the street from Sun Valley City Hall, with 3 lifts to choose from, offers a more leisurely, beginning terrain.. Also located within and/or nearby the City of Sun Valley are thirty miles of paved bike trails, 3 golf courses, two ice-skating rinks, and a skateboard park.
Sun Valley Resort is the City of Sun Valley’s major business and leading employer with approximately 500 year-round employees. The health service needs of the Sun Valley community are served principally by St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, located approximately ¼ mile south of Sun Valley. It is a full-service facility with 24-hour emergency care, and like the Sun Valley Resort, is a major employer in the Wood River Valley.
Public schools serving Sun Valley, although located outside the city are: Wood River Elementary, Middle and High Schools (Hailey), Bellevue Elementary (Bellevue) and Hemingway Elementary (Ketchum). Several private pre-schools and kindergartens, including a Montessori school, are operated in Ketchum and Hailey. The College of Southern Idaho operates a satellite program in Hailey and offers Associate of Arts Degrees and adult education courses. The Community School, a private preparatory school, is located in Sun Valley and enrolls approximately 325 students in grades pre-K through 12. Its facilities include a gymnasium, 220-seat theater and two regulation soccer fields which are available for community use.
Sun Valley has a storied history. After the mining boom of the 1800’s those who remained in the Ketchum area turned to ranching, a more stable means of making a living. Sheep largely replaced ore as the major freight shipped from the Wood River Valley. Even with the advent of automobiles and highways life remained simple. Then, after the Great Depression, W. Averell Harriman, Chief Executive of the Union Pacific Railroad began searching for a way to build rail passenger traffic to the West. Alpine skiing had gained momentum after the Lake Placid Olympic games of 1932, so Harriman commissioned Count Felix Schaffgotsch, to scour the Rocky Mountains for the perfect site for the ultimate ski resort.
In 1936 he happened upon the mining town of Ketchum. To Mr. Harriman he wrote, “It contains more delightful features for a winter sports center than any other place I have seen in the United States, Switzerland or Austria.” In a mere 7 months and at a cost of $1.5 million, a four-story lodge was constructed on the former Brass Ranch, along with ski runs created on nearby Dollar and Proctor Mountains. The present location of the Sun Valley Resort’s primary ski runs on Bald Mountain was not part of the original plan, as it was beyond the ski technology of the 1930s.
Public relations whiz Steve Hannagan, who had transformed a sand dune into Miami Beach, was hired to handle the resort’s marketing efforts. It was he who named the lodge and its facilities “Sun Valley,” and who encouraged movie stars such as Errol Flynn and Clarke Gable to visit. By the second winter, the chalet-style Sun Valley Inn was completed and other celebrities like Ernest Hemingway came to play at the elegant new winter resort.
Mr. Harriman deciding his clientele should be brought up the mountain in greater comfort and style came up with the idea of a “chair lift”. He instructed Uion Pacific engineer James Curran to invent one. Curan had spent time in the tropics designing technology for hoisting bananas onto ships, and with some modification the chair lift was born.
The world’s first child-sized cross-country tracks, and the world’s first ski school, were Sun Valley innovations.
The Village of Sun Valley was incorporated April 13, 1947. The first Sun Valley City Council was composed of Ed Seagle, Lodge Manager Win McCrea, attorney Phez Taylor and Mayor Win Gray, who would serve in that office for 22 years. Idaho House Bill No. 3 of the 39th Session of the State Legislature, which took effect in April of 1967, provided that all villages incorporated under the general laws of the State and operating with a Board of Trustees must commence to operate with a Mayor and Council.
The history of the American Shangri La is aptly described on the official Sun Valley Website. The history of the “American Shangri-La,” as Sun Valley is sometimes referred, is not too different from the magical village of legend. It all began in 1935, when Count Felix Schaffgotsch, under the hire of Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman, set out in search of the perfect spot for a grand American resort.
The count spent months searching the mountains of the west and surveying many areas that would later become famous resorts, but none of them met his strict criteria.
Feeling defeated and ready to abandon the search, the Count was preparing to wire Harriman the bad news when he heard locals talking about Ketchum, an old mining town in central Idaho. The Count postponed his return home and set out for the Ketchum area.
Upon reaching the Ketchum valley, Count Felix Schaffgotsch was overwhelmed by the area and wired his employer, saying: “This combines more delightful features than any place I have ever seen in Switzerland, Austria or the U.S. for a winter resort.”
The Count’s enthusiasm spread to Harriman, who rushed to join the Count, and within days purchased 4,300 acres of what was soon to become Sun Valley.
Harriman was determined to build Sun Valley into a resort worthy of its breathtaking and majestic setting. “It is not enough to build a hotel and then mark with flags and signs the things you propose to do in time to come.” Harriman said. “When you get to Sun Valley, your eyes should pop open. There isn’t a single thing that I could wish for that hasn’t been provided.” Part of what he “wished for” included a timeless lodge complete with glass-enclosed pools, haute cuisine, impeccable service and nightly orchestra performances.
After just seven months of construction, Sun Valley opened to the public in the winter of 1936. The resort was an instant success. Local wildlife was seen sharing the mountain with European nobility and Hollywood royalty. Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Claudette Colbert, Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper were all regulars in the lodge, while world champions including Don and Gretchen Fraser, Gracie Carter Lindley and Andy Hennig used the mountain for Olympic training.
In 1977, Sun Valley joined the Little America family, under the ownership of R. Earl Holding. Since then, Holding has redefined the standard of elegance and excellence subscribed to by Harriman. He has lavishly refurbished the Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn, from the stairs and halls to the guest rooms and made profound improvements to the mountain amenities. But Holding’s greatest accomplishment is Baldy’s “triple crown.”
“Baldy,” says Holding, “is a regal mountain and it is only fitting that she wear a crown radiant with three precious jewels.” Those jewels are Baldy’s three distinctive and award-winning day-lodge facilities: the Warm Springs Lodge, Seattle Ridge Lodge and River Run Lodge.
Unlike the Shangri-La of legend, Sun Valley welcomes visitors back year after year. The tradition of beauty and service, “roughing it in style” as Harriman called it, has become the tradition for families across the globe. So, don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of a world champion as you carve your way down Bald Mountain. And just nod if you hear a familiar voice telling tall tales at the local watering hole. It’s all part of the magic and mystique that has made Sun Valley the American Shangri-La.
The Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce offers a great list of Sun Valley Fun Facts.
Sun Valley was the first ski resort to build a chairlift, which was adapted from a system used to haul bananas onto ships in Panama.
Ernest Hemingway, who lived and died in Ketchum, enjoyed many years of hunting and writing in the Sun Valley area. He wrote several chapters of For Whom The Bell Tolls in suite #206 of the Sun Valley Lodge, and bought a house that resembles the Lodge. Many of Hemingway’s favorite hangouts are still in existence throughout the area.
The first lift ticket price at Sun Valley in 1936 on Proctor and Dollar Mountains was 25 cents. In 1947 tickets were $4.50 per day.
There have been many movies filmed in the Sun Valley area including such classics as: “I Met Him in Paris” (1937) starring Claudett Colbert, “Sun Valley Serenade” (1939) starring Sonja Henie; “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953) starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall; “The Tall Men” (1956) starring Clark Gable and Jane Russell; “Bus Stop” (1956) starring Marilyn Monroe; “Ski Party” (1965) starring Frankie Avalon; “Pale Rider” (1985) starring Clint Eastwood; and Town and Country (2001) starring Warren Beatty.
Sun Valley Serenade still plays nightly at the Sun Valley Opera House throughout the winter and several days a week during the summer.
Sun Valley is the gateway to one of the most stunning and rugged wilderness areas in the West, The Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). The SNRA, home to the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains (also known as “America’s Alps”), is made up of 756,000 acres. The SNRA contains more than 40 peaks over 10,000 feet, 300 high mountain lakes and some of the country’s best whitewater rafting on the Salmon, Snake and Payette Rivers.
Sun Valley has the largest automated snow making system in the world.
The name “Sun Valley” was thought up by a New York PR man who thought the name appropriate for a place that receives 250 days of sunshine a year. This marked the first time a PR agency was guilty of understatement.
Sun Valley Resort’s uphill lift capacity on Bald Mountain is a staggering 21,580 skiers per hour, but averages only 3,500 skiers per day. Result: no lift lines.
The first woman to win a gold medal in the winter Olympics, Gretchen Fraser, hailed from Sun Valley. She is buried near Ernest Hemingway in the Ketchum Cemetery.