Sun Valley-USA

Sun Valley: Idaho’s Favorite and the best in the World

Situated on the western side of the United States, the Sun Valley is not just any another skiing resort – it is instead classified as a resort city. Within the state of Idaho, centrally located is the Blaine County and it is here that the world-renowned Sun Valley is sited.

The resort is positioned quite uniquely because on one side is the city of Ketchum and otherwise encompassing the entire region is the greater Wood River Valley. The Valle, particularly the lodge itself is at an elevation of 5,920 feet or 1,805 meters above the sea level. Also, there is the Friedman Memorial Airport in Halley (just about 15 miles or 25 kilometers away in the southern direction) which serves the entire area which occupies a population of fewer than 1,500 individuals.

While you are en route to the Sun Valley you will also realize that it is relatively closer to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It is in-fact over the Galena Summit which can be reached through the highway number 75. The connecting passage is popularly known as the Sawtooth Scenic Byway.

Now, if you get into technicalities, the Sun Valley falls under the broad category of the Alpine Ski Area. Additionally, this area also consists of the Bald Mountain which is the main mountain is meant for skiing. Furthermore, the other mountains adjacent to the Sun Valley are – Ketchum and Dollar Mountain. Here skiers of all skill levels can practice or show off.

The Bald Mountain or Baldy as it is colloquially called – its summit is at an elevation of 9,150 feet or 2,790 meters. From this point above the sea level, the vertical drop generated is about 3,400 feet or 1,035 meters. The terrain of this area particularly remains constant in addition to varying levels of difficulty. Further, the substantial vertical drop and almost absence of wind create near perfect skiing conditions throughout the season. You definitely would have read about Baldy in news pieces or in ski magazines, it is often popularly categorized among the better skiing mountains in the world. Among the others, there is also the Dollar which is treeless and has an elevation of 6,638 feet or 2,023 meters. It generates a vertical drop of 628 feet or 191 meters.

Locals generally end up referring to the entire region as the Sun Valley – including the area which surrounds the city, the neighbouring city of Ketchum and also the Wood River Valley which is way down south to Halley. One can find the affluent folks, the rich, the famous and the glamorous flocking to the resort during each season. Interestingly, the popularity of Sun Valley is dedicated to Ernest Hemingway who back in the 1930s documented and wrote about the region.

How to get here and exploring around

Sun Valley Statistics

Base Elevation: 5750 feet

Summit Elevation: 9150 feet

Vertical Drop: 3400 feet

Holidays or vacations can become sensitive matters you know. Everybody gets excited and with all the elation in sight, you would not want your friends and families to get disappointed by any means. Once you are done with all the research and after all the long, endless narrative reading sessions – you come down to Sun Valley. Well, so here you are on the way to the resort, anxious and excited – both at the same time. Ok, so here is a tip, just sit tight and relax for you sure are in for numerous surprises.

In fact, you are in medias res, already in the middle of the adventure, so to say. Once you are there at the resort everything is just a few minutes away. Therefore people prefer to travel around on foot instead of taking a car or any other mode of transportation. However, if you still prefer something then there is the Mountain Rides bus service which the resort provides to its customers complimentarily. This bus service will take you throughout the Wood River Valley. There are round trips available so it works well in any case. You can also take the bus and reach both – Dollar and Bald Mountain along with the neighbouring towns of Ketchum and Elkhorn Springs.

On the other hand, there is air transportation available as well. Be it if you are travelling from San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles or Salt Lake City. The closest airport to the resort, the Friedman Memorial Airport in Halley is just 15 miles away. All the customers of Sun Valley travelling between the resort and the airport are eligible for a complimentary shuttle based transport. If you want more details then contact Bell Services.

There is Alaska Air which has a boarding pass exchange program. Now, in this regard, all those who are travelling through Alaska Air – between Seattle, Portland or Los Angeles (daily non-stop flights) – they can exchange their boarding passes for any of the listed below options:

Lift ticket: The passengers travelling particularly between Seattle and Portland can use their boarding passes on the same day of arrival in the form of lift tickets at Sun Valley.

  • Sports Package Rental: Passengers should specifically get geared up for the day after they arrive with a free sports package rental from Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports. This is one ticket which you do not want to miss so get your hands on them without fail.
  • 50% off Adult Group Lesson: Folks can now are eligible for a 50% off on adult group lessons. This secret is valid on the day after they arrive.
  • Free Nordic Day Pass: This is another offer for those travelling between Seattle and Portland. They, beginning from the moment of their arrival can hit the trails and begin exploring the alpine terrain.

Among the other airlines that offer daily non-stop flights on this route are Delta Airlines and United Airlines. Further, if you want to know more, pose enquiries or simply brainstorm various ideas and derive the best of your time and money, just give them a call or send them an email.

Furthermore, if you happen to be travelling from the city of Boise, in that case, there is a shuttle service that operates twice in a day between both these locations.

Now, when it comes to exploring the Sun Valley area, there are various ways through which that can be done. The easiest and the probably the most convenient if not the cheapest is by renting a car. For this purpose, the Valley houses 3 of the best car rental service providers: Avis, Hertz and Enterprise. You can call them up prior to your arrival as well and book a ride to the resort.

Travelling on the mountain is managed and operated by the Mountain Rides Transportation Authority. So if you have any enquiries, bookings, complaints or suggestions then they are the folks whom you will have to contact. However, getting around is not going to be an issue at all. As said earlier it’s a small enough settlement and conveniently exportable on foot.

To summaries, take a look below to understand better:

  • Bus services operate on a daily basis and are basically complimentary so free of charge for the customers of Sun Valley. They travel between Sun Valley, Warm Springs, River Run Plaza, Dollar Mountain, Downtown Ketchum, and Elkhorn Springs. Lastly, these busses operate at an interval of every 15 minutes, so there is no need to get hassled unnecessarily.
  • The Valley Route serves the following routes: Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum, and Sun Valley. It currently runs every 30 minutes during the peak commute time, hourly midday, and limited late evening trips Monday through Friday 5:45am to 10:05pm. However, on Weekends and Holidays, the Valley bus runs every 2-3 hours from 6:30am to 8:00pm
  • The Hailey Circulator Route serves the following destination points: downtown Hailey, Community Campus, St. Luke’s Hailey Clinic and Friedman Airport and Woodside plus deviations to the Senior Connection. It currently runs hourly from 8 am to 5 pm, five days a week. That is between Mondays and Fridays only. There is no holiday or weekend service available in this respect.


When the question of winter sporting tradition in the United States is brought up folks and more so historians as well, both begin their stories from the 1932 Winter Olympics which took place in Lake Placid, New York. The sheer scale of the event proved to be enough to not only motivate the American pride but also spearhead and inculcate a kind of sporting vigour in that particular generation.

Back in the day there lived a certain W. Averell Harriman. He is someone who achieved fame by writing about winter resorts in the U.S. On the other hand, Harriman was quite a multifaceted personality. From being the chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad to being a popular writer and a professional skier, a sport which he indulged with throughout his life. Some of his favorite ski resorts were located in the Swiss Alps (St. Mortiz and Davos were among them) made him envision a similar picture which he wanted to materialise in the United States.

In the winters of 1935 and 1936, Harriman came in the association of an Austrian count – Felix Schaffgotsch. Now, Harriman required him to firstly travel extensively across the western United States and secondly, locate the perfect spot for a winter resort. Keeping all the requirements posed in his mind, the count went ahead and began his journey, he mapped. Among the various destinations that he covered included – Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Yosemite, the San Bernardino Mountains, Zion, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Wasatch Mountains, Pocatello, Jackson Hole, and Grand Targhee areas.

There were no stones that were left unturned and also a number of resources – be it the time or money or patience, everything seemed to be getting exhausted or reaching a tipping point. All the plans and schedules were running way behind time and the project was on the verge of being shut down before it reached fruition. With all the struggles creating choking scenarios, the count decided to backtrack the region of central Idaho, particularly that around Ketchup. The idea behind this was in-fact revealed much later to have been a U.P. railway employee. This individual had pointed out in purely a casual manner that the railway company actually lost a great deal of money in its operations in and around Ketchum because of snow removal. Based on this opinion the Count left almost immediately to explore.

After all the enquiries complied with the initially stated requirements, the Count, Schaffgotsch turned into a happy man. The Bald Mountain and its surrounding region proved to be the perfect spot. There was snow not just in adequate quantity but of the ideal quality as well and to top it all there was the sunshine in abundance with moderate elevations and absence of wind. The only obstacle in the finalization of the site was the finalizing consent of Harriman. He visited the site a few weeks later and concurred almost immediately.

There once used to be the Brass Ranch in place of the resort which you find today. When the Count and Harriman reached arrived here it was a massive 3,888-acre land and with everything, in order, they made their offer and purchased it. Brass Ranch was sold to them at a rate of $4 per acre and along the several months into construction and development that followed as much as over $1.5 million was spent.

Harriman was a professional and understood the business of destination resorts really well. Keeping all his expert knowledge in mind he hired the famous Steve Hannigan who had previously helped promote Miami Beach in Florida. He was a pioneering figure in his field. It is Hannigan who came up with the name, Sun Valley. In the December of 1936 Sun Valleys centrepiece, the Sun Valley Lodge was opened. Mind you constructing the Lodge was no ordinary feat of engineering. Its exterior was x-shaped and housed 220 rooms. The Sun Valley Lodge was constructed using concrete which was directly poured inside of the rough-sawn forms. As a result of which the wood grain was impressed upon the concrete finish. Finally, it was browned using acid which imitated the appearance of wood.

Another such residential arrangement was the Challenger Inn which was later re-named as the Sun Valley Inn. Its designs were purely Swiss inspired and were part of the resort when it opened in 1937. Hannigan’s original plan also included swimming pools at the resort therefore both the lodges included heated circular swimming pools. The design of the pool and the lodges were unique to its time and intended to thus attract a great deal of attention and publicity. And, it did work, it was widely photographed and appreciated equally by one and all.

The Chairlifts –History

First of the world’s chairlifts were installed on the resort’s Proctor and Dollar Mountains back in the fall of 1936. As far as the inspiration behind the chairlifts is concerned, it is rather comical. It is said to have been the brainchild of an engineer who was working on a loading conveyor which was meant for recalling bananas and other tropical fruits. Thus the world’s first single-seat chairlift came into existence at the headquarters of U.P. in Omaha in the summer of 1936. The very year the traditional rope tow was outdated and replaced with the all new chairlift. You can today find the mention of the original Proctor Mountain Ski Lift in the National Register of Historical Places.


Upon completing ‘For Whom the Bells Tolls’, Ernest Hemingway came to Sun Valley and stayed in the suite number 206 of the Lodge in the fall of 1939. This was a part of Harriman’s plan who had invited Hemingway and other celebrities to say at his resort for promotional purposes. Otherwise, the celebrities who frequently visited Sun Valley included Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and members of the Kennedy family. Hemingway for the next 20 off years became almost like a semi-permanent resident at the resort. Later on in his life, Hemingway chose to relocate t Ketchum. About a mile in the northeast of the Lodge, you will find the Hemingway Memorial. It is just off the Trail Creek Road.

There was also a film that featured the resort in 1941 and it was titled as the Sun Valley Serenade. The star cast of the film included Sonja Henie, John Payne, Milton Berle, and bandleader Glenn Miller. This list can go endlessly, Jim Irwin, the Apollo 15 astronaut who walked on the moon was also an avid skier here along with the famous Barbara Kent and Ann Southern. Others who frequented here are: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mark Zuckerberg, Mats Wilander, Warren Buffett, Walter Annenberg, Adam West, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Miller, Demi Moore, Peter Cetera, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher, Richard Dreyfuss, Jamie Lee Curtis, Steve Wynn, Justin Timberlake, Mohamed al-Fayed, Barbara Kent, Bill Gates, and Tony Robbins.

The post-World War II saw the Union Pacific and Harriman shifting their focus away from Sun Valley. Eventually, the resort went to Bill Janss, a real estate developer from Southern California. While he was the owner of the resort numerous additions were made here. Among them were a Warm Spring area, a Seattle Ridge, a home and a condominium were constructed. Many new chairlifts were also added and the number of trails almost doubled from 33 to 62. In the fall of 1976 snowmaking was introduced at the resort because the season saw poor levels of snowfall. Janss also oversaw the development of the Elkhorn area in the south-east of Dollar Mountain. This site also saw quite a bit of attention because while digging some ancient tools dating back almost 7000 years were discovered here. Further, in 1975 the Elkhorn golf course was opened nearby.

A year later Janss who was running short of funds went into negotiations with the Walt Disney Company. However, Disney opted out and in came a Utah-based businessman Earl Holding. He had a company, Sinclair Oil which operated the Little America Hotels and Resorts. In the due course, the ownership rights went to Holding. The next decade saw a considerable amount of developmental projects and substantial improvements. Furthermore, the 1990s saw the addition of high-speed quads which were introduced to replace the older chairlifts. The increased capacity of the resort reached 23,000 skiers per hour. There was another lodge, the Dollar Mountain Lodge which was opened up in November 2004. This facility also served as the location for the Sun Valley Ski School. The Sun Valley Lodge, the star child of the resort could not have been left behind. So, it went on to be remodelled as many as 2 times. Also, the Sun Valley Golf Course underwent many improvements in the summer of 2008.

Life in the Sun Valley

Though Sun Valley does not house a much larger population, all those who live here a liveliness and bent towards the arts. The community all in all has quite a strong bond and this is evident largely through the over 20 presenting organizations that are present here. You can find artists of local, national and international fame being represented here through exhibitions, theatre, dance productions, film screenings, lectures, operas, concerts, and symphony performances. All these facilities receive immense degrees of support from the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities. It was initiated by Mrs. Glenn Cooper and Bill Janss back in the year 1969 as a non-profit. Through the origination was founded originally in 1971, it has been working towards developments of various kinds for a much longer time. One can find an extensive feature about this origination in the FOCUS Mountain Media’s 2014 issue.


Climatic conditions of Sun Valley are mixed in nature. Comprising of humid continental, semi-arid and subarctic climates, the broad leaning is towards the continental variety. Now, because of the altitude and aridity of the climate variations are quite high in the diurnal temperatures.


So much of indulgence is bound to work up an appetite. Sun Valley provides you with the traditional and the best of the restaurants in the business. To name a few:

  • Poolside Café: Bright and exquisite. You can enjoy delicious meals while relaxing by the poolside and a magnificent panoramic view.
  • The Ram: It is the resort’s iconic steakhouse.
  • The Chocolate Foundry: For the sweet tooth only.
  • Short Line Deli: Quick bites and neat portions. You must try their sandwiches and combo items.
  • Averell’s: It is a restaurant with a view and Averell’s believes in flaunting it to the fullest. Probably the best dining experience at the resort.

Sun Valley is unique because it generates an old world feel and of-course the gravitas of its heritage is incomparable with others of its kind. It always carries a special place in the hearts of every skier and a definite place on their bucket lists. The Valley keeps on attracting celebrities and arts folks equally. Its long and rich history has made it adopt the visage of a heritage site. Residents of the valley have stood by the spirit of skiing as a sport and also have represented it in various sporting events, Olympics just being one of them. If you do not find people skiing then they sure must be exploring the Nordic trails or the downhill runs. There is just so much to do and explore that one season just isn’t enough. Precisely because of this reason that people keep coming here year after year.

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