Sun Valley Resort & Lodge

Sun Valley, Idaho | C.1936

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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Surrounded by the grand snow-capped mountains of Idaho, you may find yourself in a peculiar situation. Technically, driving through the basin, the encompassing region is referred to as Sun Valley. However, located within this idyllic area are a number of small towns – including Sun Valley. Yes a region and a town by the same name and home to the oldest destination ski resort in the United States, this Idahoan version of the “New York, New York” conundrum is full of surprises that will make you fail to recall which Sun Valley you’re in. 

Thanks to the success of the first U.S. Winter Olympics in 1932, skiing was becoming an extremely popular activity for the American public – but places to partake weren’t easily accessible, nor did they offer anywhere to sleep. Seeing an opportunity, Union Pacific rail magnate W. Averell Harriman sent an Austrian count on a unique mission: to find the best spot for a ski resort in the United States. It had to be close to one of Harriman’s railroad stations of course, but that was quite a lot of ground to cover—a 7,000-mile trip. Searching the various nooks and crannies of the Western US, the Count had almost given up on finding the perfect spot when he happened across Sun Valley and the Ketchum area. The resort site was soon chosen. 

Constructed over 7 months in 1936, the Sun Valley Lodge was born. The Swiss-chalet style, X-shaped lodge would soon become a hub of tourism and winter sport innovation. While providing a picturesque backdrop, the mountains had no infrastructure to bring avid skiers up the slopes. The solution to the problem? Bananas. Jim Curran, an engineer for Union Pacific, came up with the idea of the ski chair lift by modifying a contraption designed to bear the weight and carry banana bunches via a pulley system for the railroad. 

Wishing to provide an added allure to his new resort, Averell Harriman arranged for celebrities like Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Marylin Monroe, and Clark Gable to all stay at the lodge for free, promoting Sun Valley as the place to spot the stars on holiday. Even novelist Ernest Hemingway frequented the lodge where he wrote many chapters of For Whom the Bell Tolls in room 206. A region whose biggest economic driver was once silver and sheep was on the map as the ultimate vacation spot. 

Sun Valley and its lodge have grown immensely from its railroad beginnings. Whether trying an authentic meal at the original restaurant, The Ram, or playing through the abundance of lifts that now populate the area’s mountains, Harriman’s dream of a ski resort lives on in the thousands of visitors that visit the area each year. While also being more developed than its 1936 self, the valley has been named a Dark Sky Reserve, the third largest in the world. It’s no wonder this area leaves one with a “sunny” disposition.

:memo: Written by: Seamus McMahon

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