Sun Valley has always been a place of firsts. It was the first destination ski resort in America. The first chairlift was built here. Sun Valley is home to the nation’s first cross country ski school and has been home to the first turns of countless Olympic skiers.
The list of ski industry firsts that have taken place in Sun Valley also includes everything from the first tapered graphite ski pole and double-lensed ski goggles to the pages of Powder Magazine and the films of a former local ski bum named Warren Miller.
That’s why Sun Valley has always attracted people looking for more than just the status quo. Ever since Averell Harriman first decided to create a one-of-a-kind resort nestled high in the Northern Rockies, Sun Valley has always attracted people who want more out of life. People in search of something unique, original and innovative. People who don’t just sit around and wait for their dreams to come true, but who chase after them with the passion and enthusiasm of ski bums hitting the slopes on a powder day.
Join us as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first Sun Valley Magazine by saluting some of the innovators and pioneers of Sun Valley. People who made their dreams come true and, in so doing, helped make Sun Valley the magical and first-class community it is.
Saving the Grande Dame of Skiing
The Holding Family
By Van Gordon Sauter
In the late 1970s, an exhausted, run-down and financially depleted Sun Valley Resort desperately needed a marriage. And the Disney Corporation was the ideal White Knight.
Disney wanted into the booming ski industry sweeping the United States. It had dollars and marketing wizards and great skill running resorts. Sun Valley was tradition and class … and a majestic mountain.
Yes, Disney fronted those pesky mice and dwarfs and talking animals whose presence no doubt would unnerve Sun Valley Road and the Duchin Room. The Disney mandarins arrived in town, presumably bearing a hefty ring. But at a festive dinner, Disney brusquely closed the checkbook, barely said thanks for the roast beef and jetted back to LA still single! The Disney people decided not to merge their brand with another.
So Sun Valley suddenly stood mortified and vulnerable in an America West where new, beautiful, lavishly financed ski resorts had arrived to great accolades and good business. The glitterati and ski enthusiasts were replacing Idaho in their Rolodexes with addresses in Utah, Colorado and Canada.
At that crucial moment, Earl and Carol Holding pulled the Sun Valley Resort, and with it the Wood River Valley, back from the cusp of irrelevancy and a future of doubt.
A longtime senior executive of the resort says the Holdings were at their Santa Barbara condo when a national newspaper reported Disney’s rejection of Sun Valley. Carol Holding had been on a morning walk and was taking the paper back to the family condo when she noticed the article.
(Left to right) Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge was opened for the 2005-06 season; Earl and Carol Holding enjoying a day on Baldy, with the Roundhouse in the background.
Her reaction: When Earl sees this he will want to buy Sun Valley. And not long after, it was wheels up for Hailey.
Thus, the Holdings became the third owners of Sun Valley.
The first, of course, was the dashing and visionary Averell Harriman, scion of the Union Pacific Railroad fortune. He thought a ski resort would add revenue and elan to his passenger train traffic.
Unfortunately, Harriman’s stay in Sun Valley was painfully brief. He was soon off to Washington and Europe as a key aide to President Roosevelt. And after the war, it was into diplomacy and politics (governor of New York) and a presidential run. He no longer had a management role in Union Pacific.
The hard-core railroaders assumed oversight of the resort and found it distasteful. They built huge train engines, put down track and moved the commerce of a burgeoning nation. Coddling the rich and famous in a snow resort was, to them, bad and unseeming business. They consigned the resort to benign neglect and it quickly showed.
To the rescue came the second owner, Bill Janss. An Olympic-class skier and son of a wealthy Southern California real state development family, Janss loved Sun Valley. Buying the resort was to him like buying Yosemite National Park. He was a visionary of skiing. He dramatically enhanced the mountain. His customers, employees and the town adored him. While he was great on the mountain, he knew nothing of marketing, renting hotel rooms, pricing dinners, promoting retail.
Ultimately, he couldn’t afford to run and expand the resort. Sun Valley was tipping over. And then, at that auspicious moment, came the Holdings.
Holding graduated from college with an engineering degree and was heading off to Iran for work on a dam project. But old friends offered him a quixotic job: fix a failing, run-down truck stop in the wind-swept Wyoming plains that was hemorrhaging money. Earl and Carol knew nothing of trucks, selling diesel, renting motel rooms, pushing fast food. But they learned. And as was their habit, they soon knew more than virtually anyone else in the business. They bought the business and migrated outwards into the oil business. They became billionaires.
With Janss’ assistance, Earl upgraded the lodge and facilities and initiated a smart pricing mechanism for everything he sold. He ignored locals who were horrified that a Mormon oil baron owned Sun Valley. His new snowmaking equipment defined state of the art. New lodges opened, old ones were buffed up, a new age in Sun Valley had dawned.
And today, back from a near-death experience, the “Grande Dame of American Skiing” is in a Renaissance, expanding its appeal to all age groups and outdoor activities. Harriman and Janss would be pleased.
Tragically, Earl Holding is gone. His widow, a woman of grace and generosity, is engaged but not the face of the future. The role of Sun Valley in the lives of their three children and of the oil company itself is unknown. There is a slight unease in the Valley. These have been good years. Secure years.
The Holdings gave the Valley its modern presence and authority. One can only hope the love and stewardship they invested will be sustained by others well into the future.
The Janss Years
An Influential Time
In 1964, the owners of Sun Valley Company, Averell Harriman’s Union Pacific Railroad, retained the Janss Corporation to determine what should be done with the struggling resort. The corporation was a successful family real estate development force in Southern California.
Bill Janss, a son of the firm’s founder, had been educated at Stanford and was a skilled skier. He had skied Sun Valley for years and was on the 1940 US Olympic Team (those games were canceled because of war). Janss possessed a winning personality, a broad range of cultural interests and a keen sense of product. As a young man back from serving as a pilot in World War II, he developed innovative and profitable cattle and feedlot operations in the Southwest and in Hawaii. He also invested significantly in the new Aspen ski resort and was participating in that community’s emerging cultural and intellectual endeavors. Bill Janss knew the business of mountains and the joys of skiing them.
In 1964, a $3 million deal was reached and Janss became the second owner of Sun Valley. Among the primary goals of the new ownership was dramatically expanding and improving the mountain and making the resort more comfortable and accessible for the rapidly expanding number of middle-class ski enthusiasts.
Unlike the pattern of other resorts, Janss did not sell land to developers. Instead, Sun Valley developed its own land, keeping strict control over the placement and style of development. While Janss was criticized for building condominiums, he was also instrumental in obtaining planning and zoning regulations that prohibited development on hillsides in Sun Valley and limited all development to only 15% of the land.
Janss was also intent on adding a cultural dimension to the community. He and his wife, Anne, asked an old friend from Los Angeles, Glenn C. Cooper, who had recently moved to Sun Valley after the death of her husband, to help create cultural outlets that would transform the Valley into a place rich with cultural awareness and experiences.
The Janss years were good for the resort and the Valley. The Sun Valley customer base was broadened. People soon began to see Sun Valley as a rewarding place to live an engaging lifestyle, not just a place to visit. That evolved into a large second-home community that has become a significant economic and cultural asset to the Valley.
Most important, Janss, the skier, the mountain man, the planner, began to dramatically change the mountain. As one Sun Valley veteran said, “Mr. Janss was, for us skiers, a dream man. He gave us more runs, more lifts.”
Janss lived in Sun Valley for years after he sold the resort to the Holding family in 1977 and was warmly regarded by the community. He passed away in 1996 at the age of 78.
(Excerpted from Van Gordon Sauter’s book “The Sun Valley Story.”)
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Sun Valley: The Magical Years
Ski Media and Innovators
By Jake Moe
Sun Valley has a history so remarkable and rich that it’s easy to understand why it is so compelling. Discovered by a European count. Funded by an international industrialist. Promoted by a PR guru from New York City. Visited by the beautiful people of Hollywood. Sun Valley attracted the top skiers from many nations to become ski instructors and was featured in world-famous films. All of these components created an American icon that inspired legions of subsequent resorts.
But when I am asked what Sun Valley was like in the glory days, my answer is always the same: I love what Sun Valley has become because of all the improvements to the total experience that today’s Valley has to offer. However, Sun Valley from 1965 to 1975 was truly a “magical experience” for some very specific reasons. There are some fundamental differences between Sun Valley of today and Sun Valley of that period.
First and foremost, when the first big blizzard came to the Wood River Valley every fall, the snow stayed until practically spring. Enormous stacks of snow divided each street in half and turned a bustling community of cars into a varietal European walking village. The 12-foot banks of snow created an intimate community of quietness—sucking up any traffic noise and elevated voices that could be heard from a block away. This one aspect made Ketchum a different place from then and now. There was a feeling that this was the end of the road with nothing but snow and mountains with a village tucked in between!
Secondly, the housing that we all endured was as primitive as a backwoods shack in the remote outposts of Alaska—Lefty’s Cabins, Antlers Hotel, Tequila Flats, the Quonset huts for employee housing. The widescreen TVs, king size beds, hot tubs and granite countertops of today were nowhere to be found. Every ski bum that arrived into town was willing to be stacked like cordwood for sleeping—just for a chance to live the dream in world-famous Sun Valley. The overly cramped living conditions in substandard housing forced everyone to find a “living room”—a real place to spread out, lounge and entertain friends. So, we turned to the local establishments such as Louie’s, the Ore House, Boiler Room, Casino Club, bottom of Warm Springs Hut, Slavey’s and, of course, the Pio as our nightly ritual. Go home? Why would anyone go home since “home” was a singlewide bed upon which to crash?
Every night we gathered at the watering holes to chew the fat about life. And, life consisted of pretty much four things – ski equipment, weather, ski conquests and, of course, relationships. Regarding ski equipment, the discussions were endless because of all the ski reps traveling through town distributing the latest and greatest; plus, the local businesses such as Scott, Smith, The Ski and others. Local rumors held that the pile of broken Scott boots was as high as the largest snowbank, Smith goggles were being built by hundreds of ‘expert skiers’ in Tijuana and that The Ski was filled with tumbleweeds to cut down on weight and costs.
Talking about the weather in Sun Valley was a never-ending affair. That was before snowmaking! When is it going to snow? When is it going to stop snowing? And, was it really 28-degrees below zero as we huddled in those frozen lift capes on that slow single chair to the top?
Ski conquests covered everything from: talking about Jean Claude ripping Limelight and navigating a dozen ski school classes like slalom gates; to Ted McCoy sailing off the rock at the bottom of River Run; to John Dondero conquering the Austrian Ski Team at the annual Sun Valley Ski Race; to Pat Bauman and Corky Fowler flipping into Christmas Bowl, and Burns jet-skiing through the moguls. Much of what happened on the slopes on Baldy happened right below the skis of the folks riding up the chair. In fact, many stars were born as they ripped the South Slopes under the chair, or in Christmas Bowl, or down Limelight, Holiday and Exhibition. And love, sex and relationships can be summed up by a visiting New Zealander who exclaimed after an extended visit that what happens in New Zealand in a month, happens in Whistler in a week, and happens in a NIGHT in Sun Valley!
Lastly, this was the era of “free love” and, in keeping with the spirit of “free,” free skiing was offered as an extra benefit. Each morning, a couple dozen spots were available to the “free-loaders.” All they had to do was meet early in the morning at the bottom of the mountain and for several hours these folks pretended to be Tucker Snow Cats by side-slipping slopes too steep for the cats to navigate. In exchange for their sweat labor, lift tickets were issued for the rest of the day. These low-riders would pay their dues and ski like crazy until the last trip to the top. And, if they were lucky, they got the chance to sweep the mountain with the ski patrol after the lifts closed. What a score—skiing at the famous Sun Valley for free and hanging out with the beautiful people at night.
The Wood River Valley was a certified, card-carrying member of the ’60’s generation, with sex, drugs and rock and roll on the menu—with the added component of escaping the city life and experiencing incredible skiing in the mountains as the cherry on the top. It is with this backdrop that a legion of fantastic skiers was created by the challenges of everything Baldy had to throw at them: enormous moguls, vast bowls in the deep powder, jumps with plenty of air time, steeps, ungroomed runs and the occasional downhill race. With super-stiff narrow skis, the skill level had to be very high to challenge the deep-snow winters of that era. In fact, one winter it was so snowy that the bowls only opened a total of nine days.
The locals that ruled Baldy became famous! With the extraordinary talent ripping Sun Valley’s terrain every day, it became a natural for the national ski press and filmmakers to show up to capture that talent on film. Warren Miller had discovered the benefits of filming in the rich Wood River light many years before and was then joined by Dick Barrymore, Joe Jay Jalbert, John Jay and others. The concept of the international ski film sensation (K2’s “Performers Ski Film”) was birthed in Sun Valley and featured the stars from the area. That became the iconic film for skiing just as “Endless Summer” was for surfing. It is also this unmatched product of sun, snow, athletic excellence and unique location that prompted me to choose to start Powder Magazine in Sun Valley! All we had to do was walk out the front door and there was the greatest studio one could ask for in generating phenomenal and first-rate material.
The sport of skiing was revolutionized in 1958 when Sun Valley local Ed Scott invented the first tapered aluminum ski pole, which replaced the customary bamboo or steel poles. Scott’s design of exactly the right weight, strength and diameter created a superior product that swept the ski racing world and launched Scott USA (now Scott Sports), an international company that produces many kinds of sports gear.
“It’s a Smith kind of day!” That was the mantra of skiers in the’70s and it meant that there was fresh powder and you needed your Smith goggles. Born in 1933 in California, Bob Smith began obsessing about better ski goggles while stationed in Germany as an Army dentist. Smith eventually moved to Sun Valley where his name became synonymous with great ski goggles. He passed away at his home in Idaho in 2012.
The first time Chuck Ferries was in Sun Valley it was for a mere three hours. Arriving by train with a one-way ticket, he was a 16-year-old with a dream to ski a big mountain. Just days before, he had lowered his suitcase and ski gear by rope from his bedroom window, running away from home in upper Michigan. He wound up spending that season in Aspen, but a couple decades later, after amassing an amazing skiing career, Ferries finally moved to Sun Valley with a family of his own in 1976.
As the first American to ever win the “Super Bowl of skiing,” Austria’s legendary Hahnenkamm slalom in 1962, Chuck Ferries name will long live in skiing lore. A four-time member of the US Ski Team and a two-time Olympian as a skier, he also coached the US women’s team at the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France. Ferries’ impact, however, was as big for what he did off the slopes as he did on them. Among his many claims to fame, Ferries is credited with creating the first foam-core fiberglass ski for K2 Ski Company and for helping to save Scott USA, when the company was about to close. He was elected to the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1989.
“Sun Valley is the best place in the world to live,” Chuck exuberantly laughs. “How could you possibly have a better life? I consider myself very, very lucky.”
Excerpted from Julie Gallagher’s “Valley Profiles” article in the Winter 2012 issue of Sun Valley Magazine.
Nordic Skiing in Sun Valley
A long and rich history becomes modern
When Rick Kapala sustained an injury during a pick-up football game in college, he was told he could no longer participate in contact sports. The news instantly put an end to the dream he’d long harbored of being an Olympic wrestler.
But having grown up with a love for the outdoors and having learned the discipline and passion for an active lifestyle from wrestling, Kapala began Nordic skiing with some college buddies. Little did he know that the challenge and solitude of the sport would draw him in and provide him with a new future far from the wrestling mat.
In 1987, after coaching in Alaska for a couple of years, Kapala moved to the Valley to take a position as the head coach of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s (SVSEF) cross country program. Kapala has long been considered one of the best Nordic ski coaches in the nation. His impressive resume includes being named US Ski Association Cross Country Coach of the Year three times, winning the SVSEF’s 2010 Jack Simpson Dedicated Coaches Award and having athletes he’s coached, like Morgan Arritola and Simi Hamilton, compete in the Olympic Games.
Excerpted from Hailey Tucker’s “Valley Profiles” article from the 2012 Winter issue of Sun Valley Magazine.
Leif Odmark was a member of the Swedish Nordic and ski-jumping teams before emigrating to America in the 1940s. He traveled to Idaho just to see the resort from the film, “Sun Valley Serenade.” Odmark became a local ski patrolman and then a ski instructor, before coaching the US team at the 1952 Winter Olympics. In 1970, he founded the Sun Valley Nordic Ski School and Touring Center—the nation’s first cross country ski school.
Galena was home to the Valley’s first community during the mining boom of 1879. Various stores occupied the area over the next century until 1994, when the “Help Save Galena” campaign turned the lodge into a publicly-owned base for Nordic skiing and hiking. Tucked into the Boulder Mountains, Galena Lodge offers Nordic ski equipment sales, rentals, lessons and clinics, yurt rentals and a gourmet restaurant.
Before becoming a member of the legendary 10th Mountain Division during World War II, Phil Puchner was a ski jumper and captain of the Dartmouth Ski Team. Puchner moved to Sun Valley in 1947 and helped cut runs on Baldy. He went on to become a World Masters champ in cross country and was in the inaugural class of the Sun Valley Ski Hall of Fame.
After a snowstorm had made roads impassable, Louis Stur skied from Ketchum to Galena to take a woman running the lodge some much-needed medicine. In honor of Louis’ heroic efforts, the Boulder Mountain Tour ski race was founded. The “BMT” will be celebrating its 39th year this winter and now attracts nearly a thousand of the world’s best cross country skiers to “Nordic Town, USA” each January.
Bob Rosso came to Sun Valley in 1971 to ski for one winter. He never left, and there’s no doubt the community is a lot better off because he stayed. Rosso’s list of local accomplishments is as long and distinguished as the course for the Boulder Mountain Tour, which he helped found and serves as the president and chief of course for every winter.
For nearly four decades now, Rosso has been the founder and owner of The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum. He also helped found Sun Valley Mountain Guides and has been on numerous non-profit boards, including 20 years for the Blaine County Recreation District. Despite all these accomplishments, Bob still calls his wife and business partner, Kate, his one true love.
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