Happy 75th Birthday to Sun Valley!

Carving turns down memory lane

By Mike McKenna

On the unseasonably warm and fateful day of December 21, 1936, Sun Valley officially opened to skiing. To mark the 75th birthday of America’s original destination ski resort, we’ll take a run down memory lane–not to be confused with Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports–and highlight some of the unique and interesting happenings from each of the last eight decades on (and off) the slopes of Sun Valley.*

1930s: Legend has it that just as the last workmen were putting the finishing touches on the Sun Valley Lodge and sneaking out the back door, celebrities like Clark Gable were walking in the front. Every detail of the grand opening was said to be perfect (except for the snow, which showed up a few days late) and after throwing a star-studded opening night dinner at the Lodge, a new star was born on the world’s ski scene–Sun Valley, Idaho! (The Gilbert Stanley Underwood exhibit at the Ketchum Sun Valley Historical Society-Heritage & Ski Museum is "must see" for any history or architecture fans.)

Leif Odmark, the original "Hot Dog Skier."

 1940s: Skiing, ice skating and enjoying life in the dreamy environs of Central Idaho grabs the nation’s attention with the release of the iconic film, "Sun Valley Serenade," which still shows daily at the Sun Valley Opera House. Even more positive attention shines upon Sun Valley when local skier Gretchen Fraser becomes the first American to win an Olympic gold medal for skiing.

1950s: Ernest Hemingway, who first started visiting Sun Valley in 1939, buys a home overlooking the Big Wood River, forever linking the literary giant to the Valley where he worked on some of his classics like "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which he wrote in Suite 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge.

1960s: Hot Dog skiing (now referred to as Freestyle) is born in Sun Valley. Led by the high-flying likes of local skiers Leif Odmark, Bobbie Burns and Penelope Street the sport takes off and by 1973 Sun Valley plays host to the first U.S Freestyle Championships.

Bobbie Burns graces the cover of Powder.

 1970s: Powder Magazine launches its first publication from an old cabin in Ketchum. Aimed at chronicling "the other ski experience," Powder finds its niche with a unique voice, stunning photography and by bringing "Powder to the People!" Powder celebrates its 40th birthday in December 2011 by throwing a legendary "Powder Prom" at Sun Valley’s Limelight Room.

1980s: After purchasing the resort in 1977, Earl and Carol Holding spend the next decade plus refurbishing America’s oldest ski resort. State-of-the-art snowmaking and ski lifts are installed. These two additions are still considered hallmarks and highlights of the Sun Valley ski experience–consistently offering some of the best snowmaking in the world, as well as the shortest lift lines at any major ski resort in the country.

1990s: Sun Valley’s day lodges at the base of River Run and Warm Springs are rebuilt and the Seattle Ridge Lodge is opened, redefining the standard of elegance and excellence that made Sun Valley "America’s Shangri-La." The award-winning day lodges are considered, as Earl Holding put it, the "crowning jewels" of the resort.

2000s: Sun Valley adds a 1,800 passenger per hour gondola. Running from River Run Lodge to the newly re-opened Roundhouse Restaurant and Averell’s Bar, the Sun Valley gondola (the largest Doppelmayr project in North America at the time) covers 2,000-feet in a mere eight minutes. A truly magical experience offering arguably the best views the Valley has to offer, dinner trips up to the Roundhouse have become popular year-round.

2010s: After a stunning remodel to Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge in 2004, Dollar kicks off the next decade and chapter in Sun Valley’s remarkable history by opening one the of best snow terrain parks in the nation (designed by the experts at Snow Park Technologies). This season, a half pipe will be built on Dollar as well.

*[All these stories–and much more, including hundreds of classic Sun Valley photographs–are part of Van Gordon Sauter’s new book in honor of the Resorts’ 75th anniversary, "The Sun Valley Story." Pick up a copy at any Sun Valley Resort shop.  If you’d like to look before you buy, visit www.sunvalleyhistory.com to take a peek inside the book.]