The addition of the bowling alley to the Sun Valley Resort in 1949 coincided with one of the many celebrity visits to the world-renowned winter sports mecca. In December of that year, His Imperial Majesty Reza Shah Pahlavi, Shahinshan of Iran, came to Sun Valley for the first time. An avid sportsman, he was eager to try his hand at the American sport of bowling, also for the first time. Sun Valley’s manager Pat Rogers advised sports director Joe Burgy, “Let him beat you.”
“Here I am rolling like mad and this guy, a complete beginner, is beating me every frame,” related Burgy. The Shah rolled a 173 on his first game. He enjoyed bowling so much, he ordered a bowling alley sent to Iran. “On his way out of the game room, he stopped to shoot a game of pool with one of the pin boys,” related Dorice Taylor in her book, “Sun Valley.”
Bowling has been enjoyed by Sun Valley visitors from royalty to commoners. Infused with a soulful 1950s vibe and a rich history stretching back decades, the bowling alley at Sun Valley Lodge is one of the oldest in the Northwest United States. When the bowling alley was originally built, the lodge also included a billiards room, formal dining room, bar, beauty parlor, and bachelors’ lounge, along with a Saks Fifth Avenue ski wear store and a surgery department.
Overseeing the construction of all these amenities was Sun Valley Resort founder, Averell Harriman, who also served as chairman of the board for the Union Pacific Railroad Company from 1932-1946. Harriman invited his wealthy friends to visit the resort—via the recently constructed railway to Sun Valley, of course—where they enjoyed skiing and the use of the bowling alley. But at this time Sun Valley was also a mecca for gambling, with slot machines available in many establishments. Union Pacific representatives scratched their heads when Sun Valley reported $41,000 a month in recreation, wondering how the resort made so much money off its bowling alley and pool tables.
After going many years without upgrades, the bowling alley received a major renovation in 2018 that included six regulation Brunswick lanes, pool tables, foosball, video games and a new bar and food service area. bowling alley manager Ed Summe says, “It’s the perfect place to come when it’s too cold, too hot, raining, or dark. It’s fun to have dinner and drinks and bowl all in a very social atmosphere. The work atmosphere at the bowling center is light-hearted and fun and guests seem to feel that too.”
Summe has a personal connection to the bowling center. “I grew up in Edmonds, Washington. When my younger brother trained and competed in ice dance in Sun Valley in the early 1990s, it became a favorite family vacation spot. As a kid, I used to love to play the arcade games when we visited the Bowling Center.” Summe became the manager of the bowling alley in spring 2018. “I was the manager of the Opera House at the time and was asked if I could also take on the bowling alley. I may be biased, but I oversee two of the best activities in the Village!”
The bowling alley has a couple of unique features to make the best use of the intimate space. The center uses full-sized balls and pins on lane lengths that are shorter than standard lanes. It features string pinsetters rather than a traditional rack system, which provides an authentic bowling experience while requiring fewer parts and providing easier operation.
Summe admitted, “I still bowl there now, but not as much as I should. When I do take the time to come and bowl with friends and family, I’m always reminded of how much fun it is. Older guests also comment that they had forgotten how much fun it is to bowl. They remember bowling when they were young when there were many more bowling centers around. They rediscover the joy and share it with their kids and grandkids.”Whenever you choose to visit, the timeless sport of bowling is always in season.