Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features >  Awayfinder destinations

Sun Valley shines with 75th anniversary activities

Idaho's Sun Valley, known in the past for being the first chairlift, and today for elegant surroundings and world-class skiing, turns 75 this season.  (Jean Arthur / Awayfinder Correspondent)
Idaho's Sun Valley, known in the past for being the first chairlift, and today for elegant surroundings and world-class skiing, turns 75 this season. (Jean Arthur / Awayfinder Correspondent)

Idaho location has big plans for upcoming season

Sun Valley has long been known as the grande dame of American alpine ski resorts, and still lives up to the title 75 years later.

The mountain’s 3,300 vertical feet and two separate mountains, plus cross-country touring routes, ice skating, shopping and spas allow families to ski and relax together.

Things began in 1935, when Count Felix Schaffgotsch, hired by Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman, searched mountains of the West to create a grand American resort. Upon reaching Ketchum, Idaho, Schaffgotsch wired his employer: “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 worked. Harriman joined the Count, and bought 4,300 acres—Sun Valley was born. A flurry of construction over seven months allowed Sun Valley to open in winter 1936.

The resort was an instant success. European nobility and Hollywood stars strode off Union Pacific Railroad trains: Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Claudette Colbert, Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper were all regulars. Ski champions Don and Gretchen Fraser, Gracie Carter Lindley and Andy Hennig trained for the Olympics—Gretchen Fraser won the gold in alpine ski racing.

Much has changed since the original one-seater lift hauled skiers up Dollar Mountain, which is now the beginner hill and terrain park area. Nearby is Baldy Mountain, intermediate to expert terrain, crowned with three jewels: the award-winning day-lodges Warm Springs Lodge, Seattle Ridge Lodge and River Run Lodge.

Skiers find the well-groomed 90 ski trails and 14 lifts on Bald Mountain. Often, new snow cloaks the groomers and bowls, providing superb powder tracks. Some trails are left ungroomed, providing bouncy moguls for young-at-heart knees.

In celebration of Sun Valley’s 75th year, the resort offers special events, beginning with the all new 75th Season Rail Exhibition Friday, Dec. 17.

Marking 75 seasons after the opening of the world’s first chairlift is a good reason to celebrate 24 new rails and jibs in Dollar’s three new terrain parks—Old Bowl, Half Dollar and Poverty Flats. The event is expected to draw star athletes. The next night, Dec. 18, Sun Valley will stage an elaborate and traditional Tree Lighting Ceremony celebrating the arrival of the Sun Valley Carolers.

A special 75th Ice Show on Tuesday, Dec. 21, commemorates Sun Valley’s opening night on Dec. 21, 1936. The world-famous outdoor Ice Rink will host 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist Evan Lysacek. Norwegian Sonja Henie, Milton Berle and the Glenn Miller Orchestra starred in the 1942 film, “Sun Valley Serenade,” a must-see for visitors.

Additional celebrations include the Thursday, Dec. 23, Classical Christmas Concert. On Dec. 24, Sun Valley’s traditional Christmas Eve Festival on the Sun Valley Lodge Terrace includes a Torchlight Parade, the arrival of Santa Claus and the Nutcracker On Ice.

In addition to this celebratory week, anniversary events through the end of the ski season include Ski Heritage Week March 26, and finally the Ski Hall of Fame Induction April 2, 2011.

History aside, it’s the skiing that draws people from everywhere to Sun Valley. On the beginner area, Dollar Mountain, has five lifts and 200 ski instructors to help make the first ski days memorable and fun. This winter Dollar Mountain’s terrain park, new last year, offers big jumps and lots of rails, and instructors to show students tricks.

The big peak, Bald Mountain, has 13 lifts and 65 runs plus the Bowls, and over 2,054 acres. Kids love the half-pipe located on Lower Warm Springs, where the u-shaped terrain features are about 425 feet long and 40 feet wide, with 18 feet high walls.

New last winter was the Round House Gondola, which travels from River Run Plaza to the Roundhouse Restaurant area. The state-of-the-art Doppelmayr CTEC Detachable-Grip Gondola has 56 eight-passenger cars and travels 2,000 vertical feet in eight minutes.

For some downhill speed lovers, the xc trails may seem an adjunct to the elegant alpine resort. Yet the Nordic trails have their own glitz, from trailing past homes of the rich and famous, to attracting past, present and future Olympians—and of course, very fit xc ski partner dogs!

Just north of the towns of Sun Valley and Ketchum is Galena Lodge and ski tracks, where kick and gliders can tour several different warm-up two-kilometer loops: North Wood River, Horse Creek Loop and Senate Meadows Loop. Among the 16 Galena-area trails, skiers find a variety of distances, terrain challenges and spectacular mountain views, like the 11,153-foot Galena Peak to the east, the 10,243-foot Gladiator Peak to the north and the rugged and awe-inspiring Sawtooth Mountain Range northwest.

Galena also offers 30 km of snowshoe trails—maps for both winter activities are available in the lodge and at most Ketchum ski and sports shops.

Yet another set of cross-country ski trails graces the area’s 35k of classic tracks and skate lanes. Here, skiers can take xc ski lessons at the Sun Valley Nordic Center. Children love the Kids’ Adventure Park, designed for the 4 to 8 year olds to climb on, over and into snow structures and colorful hoops. For the youngest of the family, Sun Valley offers Kindercare daycare in the center of Sun Valley, reservations necessary, (208) 622-2288.

One gentle route begins at the Sun Valley Nordic Center and travels along precision grooming of Leif’s Loop, connecting to Trail Creek Loop with a swing back along the Hemingway Trail, a nod to Ernest Hemingway, who wrote a portion of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” here among what he called, “the loveliest mountains that I know.” When Hemingway arrived in Sun Valley in 1939, the resort hosted his visit with a small room in the newly constructed Sun Valley Lodge.

Today, that same lodge lures visitors worldwide for the luxury, the skiing and the 250 days of sunshine a year. Each lodge room resonates with European charm yet includes up-to-date amenities like flat-screen TVs and Internet access. And Sun Valley Resort offers a special $129 per night per person (double occupancy) rate during the winter season’s Stay and Ski Free Package, good between December 21, 2010, and March 27, 2011. Reservations can be reached at (800) 786-8259. The resort lists other ski and stay deals at

Other lodging facilities around Ketchum and Sun Valley offer packages too. The Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce at lists lodging facilities as well as web specials and events, and shows which properties allow pets.

For more details visit