Community December 6, 2011

75 Years of Sun Valley

In honor of Sun Valley’s 75th birthday on December 21, 2011, Sun Valley Magazine’s book publishing division (Mandala Media) teamed up with Van Gordon Sauter to celebrate in style—with a stunning coffee table book, “The Sun Valley Story.” The following pages feature a few highlights from the book to mark the diamond anniversary of the opening of America’s original ski resort.



The Union Pacific’s engineering department in Omaha transformed American skiing forever by responding to PR man Steve Hannagan’s insistence for a device to “lift” skiers to the top of the runs. Their inspiration: the hoist used to load stalks of bananas aboard fruit boats. Only for Sun Valley they imagined suspended chairs that would transport skiers, instead of bananas, along a moving cable. Chairlift inventor and UP engineer Jim Curran (driving) takes J.P. Morgan for a test drive at UP headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.




Gretchen Fraser (far left) begins a long line of locals launching successful Olympic careers by becoming the first American to win an Olympic gold medal for skiing at the 1948 Games in St. Moritz. Pictured here with fellow Olympians (from left) Andrea Mead Lawrence, Paula Kahn and Brynhild Grusmoen.



It was in Sun Valley in 1958 that Ed Scott (pictured at left), a talented engineer and ski racer, pioneered the first tapered aluminum ski pole, which replaced the use of bamboo and steel customary in the sport at the time—thus starting the foundation of what would become the Ketchum-based SCOTT USA company.




The Snowball Special (often mistakingly referred to as the “Snowball Express,” which was a Disney movie) provided occasional service from Los Angeles’ Union Station to Sun Valley—with some trains even featuring a dance floor (a converted mail car) with bar cars on both sides. There were also two dining cars. The partying didn’t stop on the 1,100-mile, 26-hour trip to Sun Valley in what was once called “the world’s biggest sanctioned wingding.”




Long before “hot dogging” or freestyle became popular, there was Leif Odmark. Inspired by the film, “Sun Valley Serenade,” Odmark made his way from his native Sweden to Idaho. A champion ski jumper in his homeland, Odmark would go on to become an instructor for the Sun Valley Ski School, a U.S. Ski Team coach and the face of Sun Valley for this famous 1956 Union Pacific publicity picture of him catching air while wearing a top hat and tails.



In the late ’60s, freestyle skiing—or “hot dogging” as it was then called—was pioneered by Sun Valley’s own Bobbie Burns and Jim Stelling on Baldy’s Exhibition, Limelight and Lower Holiday runs. Initially considered too dangerous to be condoned as a legitimate sport, freestyle was put on the map in 1973 when Sun Valley hosted the first U.S. Freestyle Championships.



In 1972 two brothers, Jake and Dave Moe (aka “Captain Powder”), launched the first issue of Powder magazine from an old cabin in Ketchum, after having become disenchanted with the traditional ski media . . . The brothers were living a different kind of ski lifestyle, one they felt was more authentic and community-based.  With Powder, they aspired to create a “portfolio” of the other ski ‘experience’ that included powder hounds, ski bums, and hot doggers.



During a period when the wizards were declaring the Western “dead,” Clint Eastwood brought forth a remarkable film, “Pale Rider,” which was rewarding to audiences and financially successful . . . the set, built north of Sun Valley in the Boulder Mountains, was spare but evocative . . . this film radiates the power and majesty of the Boulders. Part-time Sun Valley resident Clint Eastwood resurrected a genre (pictured above with Mariel Hemingway, Peter Cetera and Scott Glenn).


Herbert Allen is not one to indulge idle blandishments or persuasions. But this was Sun Valley enthusiast Ray Stark, the legendary Hollywood producer and all-purpose mogul. ‘Visit Sun Valley,’ Stark urged. Allen came for the skiing and relished the community . . . So in the early ’80s Allen gathered in Sun Valley a small group of highly successful friends and their families to play golf, fish, entertain their families and talk about mutual interests. The annual Allen and Company conference has grown steadily since then in size, content and reputation.



The Holdings (Earl and Carol) are a stunning American success story. And part of that story is the enhancement of the Sun Valley Resort and its evolution into a smart, profitable business that has revitalized and re-imagined Sun Valley. Besides refurbishing the Lodge and the Inn, the Holding ownership has: built new lodges at Dollar, River Run and Warm Springs, and out Trail Creek; brought state-of-the-art snowmaking and ski lifts to the mountains; added a high-speed gondola.



Dollar Mountain: 6,638’ Sum mit Elevation / 628’ Vertical
Bald Mountain: 9,150’ Summit Elevation / 3,400’ Vertical
Original Opening Day: December 21, 1936
19 Lifts Total
29,717 Lift Capacity Per Hour
3,000 Average Skiers Per Day
80 Ski Runs
535 Snow Guns
810 Groomable Acres
120 Days of Sunshine Per  Ski Season



One of the ways Sun Valley is broadening its appeal to younger generations and boosting its attraction as a year-round resort is by carving out a strong niche in the mountain bike world. As new trails and biking events keep getting blazed all over the Valley, the resort hosted the Mountain Bike National Championships last summer for the first time in over 20 years. The championships saw record crowds and Sun Valley will once again proudly host the biggest event in mountain biking this July.


There was a time when major summer concerts in Sun Valley were held in a large white tent on the soccer field with pitiable acoustics and seats that resembled those in a makeshift grandstand for a demolition derby . . . on August 3, 2008, the Sun Valley Pavilion, a remarkable architectural and structural achievement, opened on the Sun Valley Esplanade . . . It is a contemporary, cultural landmark at home in its extraordinary setting.


To order your copy now, go to

This article appears in the Winter 2014 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.