Preserving the History of the Wood River Valley
The Sun Valley Heritage and Ski Museum (KSVHS) is best walked into when it’s snowing. Of course any season will do, the property is a tree-filled compound of traditional white barns with green trim that is picturesque year-round. But when it’s snowing the museum beckons like a warm fireplace, the hearth by which we can gather and hear stories of Wood River Valley’s rich and colorful history. For reasons that don’t need explaining, this collection honoring skiers and winter soldiers, architects and local celebrities simply kindles brightest when it’s white outside.
First leased by the KSVHS from the National Park Service in 1993, the museum sits quietly on Washington Avenue and 1st Street. The interior, however, was renovated in 1995 and is now contemporary, with exhibits organized spaciously between the separate Heritage and Ski Museum buldings. The first of these are the Jimmy Griffith and the Don and Gretchen Fraser collections, which are housed in the latter. Regional history at its finest. The photo and award displays tell the stories of three Sun Valley residents, each a legend in the sport that has defined this community for more than 75 years.
The ski protion of the museum is a tribute to these heroes and others, an extensive presentation of those who have contributed so much to shaping this resort community. Stroll through the "Ancient Skiers" exhibit and you’ll find rare photos of Andy Hennig, vintage Sun Valley ads from the 1960s and a mountain of classic images depicting life and sport in Ketchum. Equally significant is the fact that the Ancient Skiers Club, a group of individuals who have been skiing since before World War II, recently had a gathering at the museum–living additions to a museum that already features many of the club’s members.
What’s incredible about both the Heritage and Ski Museum is how personal many of the holdings are to people in this Valley. Although 75 years is monumental, the Sun Valley Story, which is also an exhibit, remains a foggy but memorable experience. Yet this won’t be the case for long and the Historical Society is committed to preserving both the recent and bygone eras of Ketchum and Sun Valley. As much as people love to walk the photo-filled hallways of the Sun Valley Lodge, it’s truly a blessing that we can expand our knowledge and appreciation by visiting a substantial museum, who’s only goal is to collect and preserve regional history.
Who knew that Freidl Pfeifer, Sun Valley’s second ski school director, helped to train 10th Mountain Division in the 1940s? Or that Stanley Underwood, the architect behind the historic Sun Valley Lodge, was famous for establishing the now standard aesthetic of National Park Service buildings? Whether you consider these mere pieces of trivia or details that reveal the center-most fabric of our community, the Heritage and Ski Museum is a cultural asset worth exploring.
For instance, there’s the visually diverse, "Warren Miller and the Art of Ski Cinematography." Miller started his illustrious career in the River Run parking lot, where he lived in a trailer and causally filmed with friends. Relics of his path from there to Hollywood dot the walls of this exhibit. There are timeless posters of Miller’s "Beyond the Edge" and "Ski People," there’s a projector running other famous movies and there’s even a large collage of ski cartoons sketched by the iconic director himself. However, it’s temporary, so go examine the artifacts of this great pioneer before it’s too late.
Another highlight, which has permanent status, focuses on another prominent Sun Valley character, Ernest Hemingway. Housed on the property’s third barn, is the hallway of "Hemingway in Idaho." More than just a few classic images, the exhibit is a full and elegant presentation of Ernest Hemingway’s two decades of living, writing and hunting in the Wood River Valley. This collection of photos is just one of many reminders in the Heritage Museum that the story of this place extends beyond skiing, even if winter sports does anchor so much of its history. So if you’re a fan of Hemingway, this unassuming celebration of the author in an area he loved is a must-see!
Yet "Hemingway in Idaho" and "Art of Cinematography" are just the beginning. The Ski and Heritage Museum has eight permanent collections, with three temporary exhibits currently in circulation. They also host weekly events, like February 1st’s 2012 Sun Valley Ski Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, during which a handful of candidates will be chosen and their plaques placed in the Ski Museum, next to the likes of Bobbie Burns and William Janss. Although only one of many dates on the KSVHS calendar, the ceremony symbolizes the museum’s function; it is the community’s time capsule, that fireplace of memories, while also being the window out which we can admire the present. History is made everyday, and it’s wonderful that the museum recognizes the on-going nature of its subject matter by recognizing Sun Valley’s latest icons.
If you have time on snowy (or even a snowless) afternoon, make a stop by the Heritage and Ski Museum. Wander the exhibits, attend one of the many lecture or just let the legacy of the Wood River Valley warm your soul before returning to the harsh storms of the present.
The Ancient Skiers
Gretchen Fraser, Don Fraser and Jim Griffith
Sun Valley Ski Hall of Fame
10th Mountain Division of the United States Army
Warren Miller and the Art of Ski Cinematography (temporary)
The Sun Valley Story: An American Original (temporary)
Mining in the Wood River Valley
Discovery of Elkhorn Springs: Pre Historic Native Americans in the Wood River Valley
Hemingway in Idaho
The Architecture of Gilbert Stanley Underwood and The Sun Valley Lodge
Women’s Work: Women and the Settling of the American West (temporary)