Half a Sun Valley Club "Club Sandwich" and a cup of soup for $8? It's what makes slack worthwhile!
Slack: characterized by slowness, sluggishness, or lack of energy <a slack pace>
As a longtime local, I have to admit that spring slack is my absolute favorite season. It’s not that I can’t embrace the electric vibe of excitement winter brings with it, or that I don’t adore the infectious energy of summer, it’s just that slack is when the locals get their town back.
In the months of April and May, you will see those fabled “gone fishin’ till summer” signs in Wood River Valley shop windows, and dogs do actually lie undisturbed on Main Street. But one of the best aspects of this monumental slowdown are the locals’ specials. Restaurants all over town (well, at least the ones that stay open) offer amazing deals as a way of saying thank you to their most loyal clientele – and to get some bums on those seats before they get too dusty.
Of course the resort gets in on the action too, ramping up some of its regular year-round specials, as well as bringing out some choice ones just for the “shoulder season.” Here’s a quick roundup of some of my favorite spring specials in Sun Valley.
While the high-powered-career woman is not a type often found in Ketchum, hard-working small-business woman is. If you‘re one of those, why not treat yourself to that lunch out with girlfriends you’ve been promising yourself all winter but just couldn’t find the time for? The time is now, round up the ladies, head to Gretchens and enjoy half-price entrees and, most importantly, half-price wine, any Tuesday or Thursday in May.
Pacific Ahi Tuna grilled medium rare, served with pineapple chutney, lime aioli and organic greens on a brioche bun is the perfect accompaniment to lunch with the ladies.
For the families who need something to do with the little ones now that Dollar Mountain has said farewell for the season, pop in on Bald Mountain Pizza for some cheap, nutritious entertainment. Let the tykes build their own unlimited-topping pizza for just $5 (daily 5-9 p.m., now through June 6). Plus, get free tickets to a movie at Sun Valley Opera House following the carb overload.
Pile your pie high with Bald Mountain Pizza's unlimited toppings for $5 deal.
Whether you’re a golf enthusiast, golf widow/er, or just enjoy a spectacular view, make sure to stop by Sun Valley Club, arguably the resort’s hottest lunch spot, and chow down on the spring dining special of a cup of soup and 1/2 a sandwich for a just eight bucks. (runs from Monday through June 9, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.).
Skiers, when the mountain closes this Sunday, channel the resort’s famed Austrian ski instructors and drown your sorrows at the newly remodeled Konditeroi. This Austrian gathering place has gone back to its Eastern European roots and is offering German beer and a house-made brat for $12.99 through June 7, a bargain for such a scrumptious taste of Sun Valley history.
Catch up on more delectable offerings from the resort’s 17 restaurants here, and follow Sun Valley Resort Dining on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss out this season.
Golfing and skiing are as different as two sports could be, not in the least because one requires snow and the other lots of sun. Well, we have both here in Sun Valley, and while golfers are dusting off their sticks, don’t expect to see snowboards and skis heading into storage just yet. Thanks to the vagaries of Mother Nature, right now you can ski on Baldy in the morning and crack out the clubs in the afternoon.
Today, April 5, is the official opening of Sun Valley Resort’s driving range and practice greens, and with skiing on Baldy continuing through April 14 there’s a fantastic fortnight to be had for enthusiasts of both sports here at Sun Valley.
Trail Creek’s trademark holes: Hole #14, "Bullwinkle," is one of the course's top 3 trademark holes, it got its name from the shape of the large sand traps on the player's left hand side. Joining it are #10, a scenic par 3 over a pond looking right at Bald Mountain, and #3, a long, tough par 4 that is the most challenging hole on the course,
This is the earliest opening of the golfing facilities in recent memory, according to Jeff Petersen, director of golf. “It certainly is very, very early, by far the earliest opening in my nine years here,” he said. “Generally an early opening for us is towards the end of April, so we’re a couple weeks ahead of where we normally are, even for an early opening.”
There’s still a week or two to wait to tread the greens on Sun Valley’s three world class golf courses, Trail Creek, White Clouds and Elkhorn, but Petersen anticipates it will be sooner than last year, which was April 24. “Most likely the middle of the month,” he said. “But it’s up to Mother Nature, as always.”
So while the limited snowfall late in the season may have disappointed the skiers, it has certainly given golfers plenty of reason to rejoice. “It’s the changing of the guard now,” said Petersen. “It’s certainly a little bit shorter and a little bit abrupter than we’re used to but that’s the beauty of being in the mountains.”
Petersen arrived in those mountains in 2005 and took over management of the courses in 2008. During his tenure, golf at Sun Valley has undergone an impressive transformation. “When I first arrived we were in our old golf shop, which was very tiny and outdated. In the summer of 2008 we opened up a beautiful clubhouse, added an additional 9 holes and improved the practice facilities greatly.”
Today, Petersen believes Sun Valley offers everything golfers could want from a golf resort. “There’s a wide mix of different golf holes throughout, from the 18 hole Robert Trent Jones-designed Trail Creek course, redesigned in late 70s/early 80s, which offers a wonderful traditional design and layout, to the new 9 hole White Clouds (opened in August 2008), which offers a more open course, more akin to the mountain-lifestyle, a lot of undulation, lots of up and down. It’s a great contrast to what we have down below on the Trail Creek course.”
Jeff Petersen in Sun Valley's Director of Golf. His favorite time of year to play at Sun Valley is the fall. "Mornings are always preferred, it's so quiet and scenic. Sneaking in a late 9 holes in the evening is a great way to do it too," he said.
The new facilities have also helped broaden the appeal of the sport, a 58,000 sq ft clubhouse provides the perfect spot for a family to relax and hang out while dad or mom gets in a round, plus the Sawtooth Putting Course is a great place to introduce the young ones to the sport, or encourage a newcomer.
I asked Petersen what he thinks makes golfing at Sun Valley so special. “The look,” he said. “You never have the same shot or the same view twice.” Turn one way and you’re staring right into Bald Mountain, turn the other and there are the Pioneers peaking out at you. “It’s just very scenic and very traditional and true to what the surroundings are here.”
The wildlife viewing also lends to the appeal. “We have a deer family that tends to nest down here in the early spring time,” Petersen said. “We’ll have a couple fawns born in early spring.” As long as they keep their distance, wildlife and golfers exist in perfect harmony, barring the odd hot-dog stealing fox.
Despite the serenity and beauty of the surroundings, this is far from a walk in the park. “The course is very challenging,” Petersen said. “From your very good, low handicap players to the recreational higher handicap players, we have a set of tees for all, it can stretch out to be just shy of 7,000 yds in length, or down to 5500 yards, good golfers and bad golfers all alike can find something that will challenge them.”
A new challenge to look forward to once the season gets going is a completely redesigned #1 hole. The large pond on the left was shrunk and the green expanded, resulting in a better designed hole. “Late last fall we started redesign work of our opening hole on Trail Creek,” Petersen said. “Most of the preparatio for rolling out turf has been done already, and sod and new grass will go down this spring and we hope to be playing it come July 1.”
But, thanks to the infuriatingly indecisive Mother Nature, there are still plenty of rounds to be got in before then, and a few more runs down Baldy, if you’re quick!
Go Play! The Pro Shop and Practice Facilities are open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (208.622.2251), the Clubhouse Bar and Restaurant are open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (208.622.2919). The $124 per person “Come Early. Play Late” golf package is available through June 9th and includes one night’s lodging and 18 holes of golf on one of Sun Valley’s courses and cart. (888-383-2522). For more information visit www.sunvalley.com/golf
This week the second annual Sun Valley Film Festival comes to town. In honor of the event and the enduring bond between Hollywood and Sun Valley it represents, The Valley Sun blog is running a series of movie history posts by guest blogger Jennifer Tuohy. For more on the festival, which ends tomorrow, March 17, visit sunvalleyfilmfestival.org.
“Sorry to hear you are still set on ‘Sun Valley.’ I am not sure whether Irene wired you her latest suggestion – ‘Ski Haven.’” David O. Selznick to Averell Harriman, November 4, 1936
David O. Selznick was a unique figure in the golden Hollywood studio era. Producer of arguably some of the greatest movies ever made – from Hitchcock’s Hollywood debut, Rebecca, to the enduring classic, Gone With the Wind - Selznick was a force to be reckoned with. A close friend of Sun Valley’s founder Averell Harriman, Selznick responded with his usual gusto when his buddy asked him to help sprinkle a little star dust on the opening of his grand palace in the snow.
As reams of telegrams and letters between the two friends attest, Selznick set to work immediately, “producing” the arrival of a trainload of celebrities at the resort for New Year’s Eve. Varied reports from the time indicate that the “Sun Valley Special” carried with it an assembly of Hollywood’s shiniest stars. The celebrity choo choo was an inspired idea, agreed Harriman. “This expedition should have good publicity value and help to keep the place full for the rest of the season.”
Arguably the origin of the type-A-Hollywood-producer stereotype, Selznick was anxious to control tightly the publicity generated by his scheme, and consequently drove Harriman’s publicity guru Steve Hannagan slightly mad with his customary pages of memos, including this one sent in early December 1936:
Dear Steve,For the love of Pete please don’t let anyone send out anything about Sun Valley Special without my first seeing and initialling it for if wrong thing goes out I will have to leave town. Am confident wide publicity can be obtained indirectly counting on your good taste to see to it this isn’t handled like a Billy Rose special to the Dallas Exposition but rather as casual photographs of stars en route and at American St. Moritz etc. Not trying to tell you how to run your business but am trying arrange this as favor to Averell and I must be careful it doesn’t boomerang at me or Sun Valley.
Selznick had good reason to be careful about his image, as he was in the early stages of producing what was to be the defining motion picture of his career, a little movie named Gone With The Wind. Just a few months earlier he had picked up the rights to the sumptuous Southern novel set in the midst of the civil war, and it’s hard not to deduce that Selznick’s little trip had some business motivation behind it. In fact, many of the Hollywood power players he rounded up for the 26 hour train ride to central Idaho had key parts to play in his plan for Wind: Samuel Goldwyn, who “owned” Gary Cooper, the star strongly rumored to be Selznick’s first choice for the role of Rhett Butler; George Cukor, Selznick’s first director for the film; and Errol Flynn, also on the list to play the roguish Charlestonian Butler. In the end Goldwyn point blank refused to loan out Cooper, and Warner Brothers terms for the use of Flynn were unappetizing to Selznick. Perhaps to throw a bone to his disappointed pal however, Goldwyn sent the recently widowed Norma Shearer a request to come join them all at Sun Valley shortly after arriving. Shearer was one of many actresses considered for the role of the film’s heroine Scarlett O’Hara. Shearer eventually declined, joking, “Scarlett is a thankless role. The one I’d really like to play is Rhett Butler!” Shearer’s visit to Sun Valley was not fruitless however. She fell in love with the area and returned year after year, eventually marrying one of the resort’s ski instructors, Martin Arrouge.
In 1940, shortly after Wind was released featuring Clark Gable (another star to frequent Sun Valley) and Vivien Leigh in the lead roles, Selznick pulled hard on some strings to arrange to screen the movie at Sun Valley. “At my request,” he wrote to Harriman in February 1940, “[we will] work something out for Sun Valley on ‘Wind’ even though it is a complete violation of our policy.” Sun Valley was considered rather too small and too short an engagement to waste a print of what was fast becoming the biggest movie in Hollywood’s history.
Selznick and his party arrived in Sun Valley on December 31st, 1936, himself and his closest friends occupying rooms 206, 207, 306 and 307 for just four days. According to the account of Felix Schaffgotsch to his boss Harriman (who was unable to attend the opening of his pet project due to the “coming out” of his eldest daughter Mary), the “Hollywood crowd” were “crazy about the place.” They spent their evenings dancing to the orchestra, being entertained by the Austrian ski instructors, playing ping pong, and frolicking in the pool. “Madeleine Carroll and party went swimming last night at six below,” reported Schaffgotsch.
“The warm water swimming pool is obviously a sensational success and quite a novelty,” wrote Selznick to Harriman in a lengthy letter following his stay. He did complain however, about “how easily pneumonia was obtained after hopping out of the pool and running indoors.” “It is pretty cold in Ketchum, believe it or not,” he wrote, “all your advertisement to the contrary notwithstanding, I believe we hit zero a couple of times.”
The much-publicized lack of snow at Sun Valley’s opening has long been proclaimed as a disaster, however for parties unaccustomed to the thrills of winter sports, it was barely an annoyance. With his accustomed foresight, Hannagan, who despised the cold, had arranged for a slew of entertainment and activities to be on hand, and these kept the celebrities and other guests happy. The ice-skating rink was a particular hit. Selznick actually lamented the fact there was any snow at all, “There wasn’t supposed to be enough snow but there was enough for me to make a monkey of myself on skis and skates, and enough for the rest of the party to go wild about winter sports and spend a fortune at the Saks shop…” he said in his letter to Harriman.
The only major blip in the Hollywood crowd’s Sun Valley vacation, where otherwise they had had “a perfectly magnificent time,” and were “simply heartbroken that we had to leave,” was at the big New Year’s Eve bash. Before Selznick left Hollywood for Ketchum, he had received a wire from screenwriter Sidney Howard, who was working on the script of Wind. Howard had wanted Selznick to meet a friend of his named Morgan during his stay at the resort. He duly accepted the introduction, and while Selznick would live to regret the meeting and its tarnishing of his precious image, for Sun Valley it led to the best publicity the resort could have hoped for.
Morgan insinuated himself into the Hollywood party, following them everywhere, stealing dances with the ladies and securing a spot at their table for the New Year’s Eve dinner. During the evening he brought over a banker from Chicago, Charles F. Glore. Presumably somewhat inebriated, Glore approached the table, pushing Selznick out of the way, and plopping himself down next to Lili Damita. When the producer protested, Glore stormed off, sweeping Selznick’s wife, Irene, out of the way, and swiping Selznick on the arm. Selznick, infuriated, demanded an explanation from Morgan as to his friend’s behaviour. Morgan, unruffled by the incident, ignored Selznick’s fury and calmly turned to Claudette Colbert requesting a dance. Selzinck, not known for his calm and restrained personality, screamed at Morgan that he “did not care to know him” and ordered him from the table. Morgan obliged, joining Glore at the adjoining table where the two started stage-whispering about Selznick, with heavy emphasis on the word Jewish. Enraged, Selznick abandoned all pretense at civility, walked over to the gentlemens’ table and planted a punch on the unsuspecting banker, leaving him with a split nose and two black eyes.
Lloyd Castagnetto, a bridge and building supervisor for the Union Pacific Railroad, later recalled “[there] was blood all over everything that night.” According to his account, the first person to throw a punch was Errol Flynn. Regardless of the facts, the story of Hollywood celebrities spilling blood in Sun Valley was too sensational to ignore. When an employee called Steve Hannagan lamenting the turn of events, he shouted back down the line, “What do you mean your party’s ruined? Not an editor in the country can resist this story!” Then he sat down and penned what became the memorable party headline for the ages: “Sun Valley Opens With a Bang.”
Arguably the most famous movie star to shoot a film in Sun Valley, Marilyn Monroe is pictured here at the North Fork store just north of Sun Valley, where she filmed scenes for Bus Stop.
From standing in as the mountains of Europe to being celebrated as a character in its own right, Sun Valley’s role as a favorite Hollywood shooting location often had as much to do with the stars’ and producers’ wish to ski there as it did its suitability for filming. Following the opening in December 1936, a total of 32 Hollywood movies have been shot in and around Sun Valley. Over 300 have been shot across the great state of Idaho (for that list click here), but for the sake of my sanity I focused the following chronological list solely on Hollywood movies shot in Sun Valley and its surrounding mountains. I also chose to excluded TV specials (such as Lucy Goes to Sun Valley and Raquel Welch’s variety show), promotional videos, documentaries, and independent movies shot in the southern Wood River Valley. I also left out the unique genre of Ski Films, which is a whole blog in itself – for another day perhaps. The resulting list reflects the birth, intense early passion, slow burn phase, and eventual break up of Sun Valley’s relationship with Hollywood location scouts (Shredder? Really?). Hey Hollywood, maybe it’s time to make up and give it another shot? Jennifer Tuohy
1937 I Met Him in Paris Claudette Colbert, Robert Young, Melvyn Douglas. Dir: Wesley Ruggles The first Hollywood flick to be shot in the newly-christened Sun Valley-area was filmed at Baker Creek in the Smoky Mountains, where a Swiss village, complete with its own grand lodge, was created. Filming began as soon as Sun Valley Lodge opened, with the stars staying in Sun Valley and the crew finding lesser accommodations in the town of Ketchum. (For more on I Met Him In Paris’ Sun Valley connection click here.)
1939 Stanley and Livingston Spencer Tracey, Walter Brennan, Nancy Kelly, Richard Greene Dir: Henry King, Otto Brower The head of Twentieth Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck (also responsible for Sun Valley Serenade), was a frequent guest at Sun Valley. He arranged for the opening sequences of this movie to be shot in the Boulder Mountains just north of town.
1938 Everything Happens at Night Sonja Henie, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings Dir: Irving Cummings Scenic shots of the area were used in this Swiss-set comedy/drama. Ice-skating star Sonja Henie wasn’t to come to Sun Valley until her next Hollywood movie in 1941.
1940 The Mortal Storm Margaret Sullivan, James Stewart, Robert Yong Dir: Frank Borzage Sun Valley’s mountains stood in for those of Austria in this WWII film.
This clip featuring the signature song of the movie, “It Happened in Sun Valley,” and showcases Sun Valley Lodge in all its 1940s glory. (Video not displaying? Click here.) While the principle sets for the movie were filmed in Hollywood, the skiing and scenery was all Sun Valley, earning this crowd-pleasing flick almost daily showings at the Sun Valley Opera House, straight through to today.
1941 A Woman’s Face Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas Dir: George Cukor Sun Valley just provided the snow for this melodrama.
1942 Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood No. 3 Hedda Hopper, Anna Boettiger, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Martha Gelhorn, Ernest Hemingway Dir: Herbert Moulton
“Newsreel-style accounts of the Hollywood Dog Training School where Carl Spitz trains stars’ pets and dogs for films; a hunting party in Idaho with Ernest Hemingway hosting Gary Cooper, Anna Boettiger, poet Christopher LaFarge, and others.”
1942 Northern Pursuit Errol Flynn, Julie Bishop, Helmut Dantine Dir: Raoul Walsh
“A Canadian Mountie of German descent feigns disaffection with his homeland in hopes of infiltrating and thwarting a Nazi sabotage plot.” The landscape around Sun Valley stands in for the Arctic. Watch the trailer here.
This trailer for Duchess showcases Sun Valley Lodge and a snippet of Connie Haines singing the praises of Idaho. (Video not playing? Click here.)
1949 Mrs. Mike Dick Powell, Evelyn Keyes, J.M. Kerrigan Dir: Louis King A Canadian Mountie marries a Boston-bred heiress, uniquely unprepared for the hardships of life in the Great White North. Mrs. Mike nonetheless perseveres through minor inconveniences and major tragedies. Based on a true story and a bestselling book. Sun Valley pretends to be the “Great White North” in this biopic.
1948 That Wonderful Urge Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Reginald Gardiner Dir: Robert B. Sinclair
“When an heiress finds out that the friendly young man she’s met at Sun Valley is really an investigative reporter, she ruins his career by falsely claiming they’re married.” Another Darryl F. Zanuck movie, shot in his favorite ski locale.
1952 The Wild North Stewart Granger, Wendell Corey, Cyd Charisse Dir: Andrew Marton Filmed in the Boulder Mountains, along Trail Creek and on Galena Summit.
1952 The Big Sky Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt Dir: Howard Hawks
Rock Hudson, Marcia Henderson, Steve Cochran Dir: Joseph Pevney
“In a small village in the icy wilderness of Alaska Captain Peter Keith has to defend himself against two especially mean villains, who are after his wife Dolores and a boatload of precious hides.” Background shooting took place in the mountains around Sun Valley.
1955 The Tall Men Clark Gable, Jane Russell, Robert Ryan Dir: Raoul Walsh Once again, Sun Valley provided the scenic snow shots for this flick.
1955 Storm Fear Jean Wallace, Cornel Wilde, Dan Duryea Dir: Cornel Wilde The movie was shot on location in Sun Valley.
1956 The Miracle of Todd-AO “A short film demonstrating the new 70mm widescreen Todd-AO system. After a prologue that shows all that the eye can see through the Todd-AO wide angle lens, we take a ride in a roller-coaster, fly over the canyons of the Grand Teton Mountains, ski in Sun Valley, and follow a motorcycle chase through the San Francisco.” Catch scenic shots of the Sawtooths and the Wood River Valley in this clip.
1956 Bus Stop Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O’Connell Dir: Joshua Logan “A naive but stubborn cowboy falls in love with a saloon singer and tries to take her away against her will to get married and live on his ranch in Montana.” The scenes of the couple stranded at a bus stop in a blizzard were shot at the North Fork store, north of Sun Valley, which still stands. Watch the trailer here.
1957 Ten North Frederick Gary Cooper, Diane Varsi, Suzy Parker Dir: Philip Dunne Location shots only for Sun Valley in this Cooper vehicle.
1965 Ski Party Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Deborah Walley Dir: Alan Rafkin
Great shots of Baldy and Dollar mountains to be found in the trailer for this raucous ski flick. (Click here for the video.)
1977 The Deadly Triangle (TV movie) Dale Robinette, Taylor Lacher, Geoffrey Lewis Dir: Charles S. Dubin
“A former Olympic ski champion, now the sheriff of a ski-resort town, investigates the murder of the member of a skiing team that came to the resort to train.” Filmed entirely in Sun Valley.
1978 Crisis in Sun Valley (TV movie) Dale Robinette, Taylor Lacher, Bo Hopkins Dir: Paul Stanley
“Semi-follow up to “The Deadly Triangle” dealing with a sheriff and his deputy in a sleepy ski town involved with a group of urbanites planning a dangerous mountain climb as well as investigating sabotage in a condominium development.” Filmed entirely in Sun Valley
1980 Swan Song (TV movie) David Soul, Bo Brundin, Jill Eikenberry Dir: Jerry London
“A champion skier who pulled out of the Olympic games because of a mysterious illness decides to make a comeback.”
1980 Powder Heads David Ferry, Catherine Mary Stewart, William Samples Dir: John Anderson, Michael French
Filmed in Sun Valley, Edmonton and Jasper.
1985 Pale Rider Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress Dir: Clint Eastwood
Pale Rider revived the both classic Western and Hollywood’s romance with the majestic mountains surrounding Sun Valley. The film crew constructed an entire mining village in the Boulder Mountains, and the opening credits capture the drama of the Sawtooth Mountains. (Video not displaying? Click here)
2001 Hemingway, The Hunter of Death Albert Finney, Paul Guilfoyle, Fele Martinez Dir: Sergio Dow
“During the Kenyan struggle for independence from the British in the late 1950′s, a scientific safari led by Ernest Hemingway undertakes the ascent of Mount Kenya.” Filmed on location in Sun Valley and Kenya.
2001 Town & Country Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Nastassja Kinski Dir: Peter Chelsom The last big budget movie to be made in Sun Valley provides plenty of glimpses of town and slopes. Unfortunately, when the crews arrived there was no snow on the ground and several scenes were filmed with manmade snow. As luck would have it, a foot of the real white stuff arrived the next day, so some of the scenes were re-shot using the “natural” background. But the movie was cursed with bad luck from the get-go and went on to be one of the biggest box office disasters of all time.
2003 Shredder Scott Weinger, Lindsey McKeon, Juleach Weikel Dir: Greg Hudson The Tamarack Lodge on Sun Valley Road in Ketchum provides some interior scenes in this ski horror flick set in Kellog, Idaho.
Read the first post in the Sun Valley Movie History series “The Hollywood Connection” here. Coming next, a look at Sun Valley’s Hollywood Godfather, David O. Selznick.
This week the second annual Sun Valley Film Festival comes to town. In honor of the event and the enduring bond between Hollywood and Sun Valley it represents, The Valley Sun blog is running a series of movie history posts by guest blogger Jennifer Tuohy. For more on the festival, which runs March 14 through March 17, visit sunvalleyfilmfestival.org.
Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert chat on the slopes of Sun Valley in the early '50s. The two were among the celebrities to visit Sun Valley in its opening season and, like many of their contemporaries, returned year after year to their favorite ski resort.
At 11 o’clock on a chilly Wednesday morning, a slender figure clad in a long camel hair coat dashed across the platform of Los Angeles’s Central Station and slipped onto the waiting train. Hidden beneath a ski cap, the irresistible eyes of Hollywood’s most famous leading lady, Greta Garbo, smiled mockingly back at the waiting photographers and newsmen, whom she had manage to evade.
It was December 30th, 1936, and the train was filled to overflowing with Hollywood’s elite on their way to ring in the New Year at a glamorous new winter wonderland nestled in the heart of Central Idaho. Once inside the special Union Pacific train, Ms. Garbo took her seat alongside the assembly of glittering stars and powerful men, including film noir femme fatale Joan Bennett, swashbuckler Errol Flynn, America’s sweetheart Claudette Colbert, Hitchcock heroine Madeleine Carroll, Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick and celebrated director George Cukor. As the “Sun Valley Special” pulled out of LA, beginning its 20-plus hour trek to the tiny town of Shoshone, Idaho, the passengers’ eventual destination was placed firmly on the map, and the special relationship between Hollywood and Sun Valley, America’s first destination ski resort, was born.
Of course, it was not by happy accident that this galaxy of stars had aligned itself to travel in style for a taste of America’s newest passion, skiing. It was the result of months of schmoozing and networking by three men, Averell Harriman, chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad company and founder of Sun Valley; Steve Hannagan, the larger-than-life publicity guru who sweetened the deal by promising stars they could write off their snowy vacation on their taxes if they posed for his photographers; and Count Felix Schaffgotsch, the charming Austrian nobleman who had found for Harriman a “St. Moritz in the Rockies.”
Although Sun Valley was originally envisioned by Harriman as a modest ski lodge for him and his wealthy East Coast buddies, the savvy Hannagan already had a handle on the power of celebrity. Having introduced the idea of the bathing beauty to the world with his enormously successful promotion of Miami Beach, America’s other destination vacation spot, Hannagan knew how important pretty pictures of celebrities cavorting on the slopes would be to the success of Sun Valley. So he convinced Harriman to tap his somewhat limited Hollywood connections to drum up interest in Sun Valley along the glamour-filled West Coast. Harriman sent his golden boy, Count Felix, off to California with specific instructions to gather as many celebrity bookings as possible.
“I am hopeful that we can get a big crowd from Hollywood,” Harriman said to Schaffgotsch on October 29, “and the kind that we want, if you are able to contact them and tell them the story in the vivid and enthusiastic way that you do.” Just a few days earlier he had dispatched letters to his connections, including Selznick, actor Gary Cooper and Hollywood heavy-hitters Samuel Goldwyn, Merian Cooper (King Kong producer), and Lewis Milestone (Oscar-winning director of All Quiet on the Western Front), in which he introduced the “Austrian boy who discovered Sun Valley,” and asked if they would “put him in touch with a few people who might be interested in hearing about [SunValley].”
Count Felix Schaffgotsch escorts actress Madeleine Carroll into the lodge in January 1937. At Harriman's request, the Count spent a week in Hollywood before the resort's opening charming stars and directors into booking rooms at Sun Valley.
Arriving in Los Angeles on a Friday night in November, the handsome Count proceeded to charm the pants off Hollywood society, securing large reservations from Selznick, Goldwyn and Cooper, as well as Paramount star Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin, among others. However, it was a chance conversation that planted the seeds for another, now deep-rooted connection between Sun Valley and the world of filmmaking.
On November 20th, 1936, after a long week of schmoozing starlets and chatting-up producers, Schaffgotsch sat down at the desk of his Beverly Wilshire hotel room to relay his successes to Harriman. Alongside the list of celebrity bookings, he described a conversation from that day with some Paramount executives. “They want to shoot a picture under the name of St. Moritz,” he wrote. “It was supposed to be taken in Lake Placid. But as it stands now, I have the feeling they will do it in Ketchum … It certainly would be excellent publicity if the first American snow picture will be done there, the title of St. Moritz is not definite yet, and it would be a good breack[sic], if they would change it to Sun Valley.”
While a name change was in the picture’s future it was not in Sun Valley’s favor and Idaho’s mountains merely stood in for their Swiss counterparts. Indeed, the movie’s eventual name, I Met Him in Paris, so detracted from its shooting locale that many erroneously believe Sun Valley Serenade to be the area’s first claim to movie-making fame. While Serenade, shot in 1941, certainly put the resort on the map, its star, Norwegian figure skater Sonja Heine, never actually shot a scene there, due to something familiar to many Sun Valliants – un-cooperative skies.
I Met Him in Paris was a moderately successful, lighthearted romantic comedy directed by Wesley Ruggles; today its biggest claim to fame is ironically its shooting location. As soon as the Paramount scouts arrived in Ketchum one a sunny December day, they fell in love with the place. “Paramount location men I talked to in Hollywood have arrived with others yesterday,” Schaffgotsch reported to Harriman on December 8, 1936. “They are crazy about the place. Producer Ruggles coming today; it is very likely picture will be turned here during January.”
The picture’s star, Claudette Colbert, was duly dispatched to the grand opening of Sun Valley Lodge on December 21, and, when she returned a few weeks later to “turn” the film, the friends she subsequently made cemented a long-lasting relationship between the actress and Sun Valley. I Met Him In Paris was actually filmed seven miles up the road from the lodge on land owned by a local silver prospector, 28 year-old Gus Anderson (Anderson appears in the movie as a skating waiter who serves Colbert a drink). The production crew built an entire Tyrolean village set on his Baker Creek property, complete with a Swiss-style lodge with overhanging eaves and carved balustrades, a little church and a skating rink with an ice-bar. After filming was complete the Andersons moved into the lodge, which today stands on the west side of the southern end of Ketchum’s Main Street.
A postcard of The Challenger Inn, modeled on the sets built for the first movie to be shot in Sun Valley, Caludette Colbert's I Met Him In Paris.
The other legacy the movie left behind however, is far grander. During the filming Harriman was contemplating the building of a second hotel at Sun Valley. He instructed Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the architects of Sun Valley Lodge, to draw up some sketches but was disappointed with the results (it looked exactly like the hotel he already had). As soon as he saw the elaborate Swiss village at Baker Creek he knew he’d found his new hotel. He asked the movie’s art director, Ernst Fegte, to come up with a design for a hotel. He complied, producing a series of sketches depicting an idyllic Tyrolean village perfectly evoking the Austrian ski towns Sun Valley was modeled on. Harriman was delighted and demanded the sketches come to life. This proved to be slightly tricky however, as Fegte was far from a trained architect. But with some tweaking the Challenger Inn was born. Now called the Sun Valley Inn, the hotel boasts a variety of different facades, giving the illusion of a classic Austrian village street when inside it is all one building – lending a touch of Hollywood magic to the heart of Sun Valley.
The Sun Valley reindeer forage for food by Trail Creek in 1937.
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen … but do you recall? Streamer, Liner, Clipper, Saint and Nick? Probably not. Their’s was a short and unhappy life in Sun Valley, as the resort’s first and only reindeer herd.
It was 1937, and in anticipation of Sun Valley’s second ever Christmas, marketing genius Steve Hannagan, the man who gave Sun Valley its name, convinced resort owner Averell Harriman that a herd of reindeer was an essential ingredient for a picture perfect Sun Valley Christmas. Hannagan tasked Andres Bango, a Laplandar whose father had brought the first reindeer from Siberia to Alaska in 1898, to round up 13 of the beasts from the tundras of Teller, Alaska and escort them by boat, plane and train to the heart of Idaho. Newspaper reports from the day indicate that Harriman and Hannagan had hopes this group may be the nucleus of a permanent stand of reindeer in the Sawtooths.
Once arrived in Sun Valley, the beasts were fitted with special harnesses and sleighs for ferrying guests from the railroad to the resort and, most importantly, to pull Santa’s sleigh. However, while every comfort was afforded the reindeer – including a special barn built just for them – Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Streamer, Liner, Clipper, Saint and Nick had a difficult transition to life in Idaho. Reindeer are the only domesticated deer in the world (in the wild they are known as caribou), and in general they are easy to domesticate, being naturally docile with a trusting disposition. But the 13 reindeer that ended up in Sun Valley were not so cooperative. They did not take kindly to being required to abandon their usual diet of tundra moss in favor of the more readily available alfalfa and by all accounts arrived from Alaska on the verge of starvation. A train load of moss was quickly dispatched from their homeland, but before it arrived the creatures had made the switch to alfalfa, refusing to return to their native diet.
By this point, the baker’s dozen were a nervous and ill-tempered bunch and when Bango hitched them up to a sleigh he couldn’t control them. To keep them running away or attacking passengers he had to hold their antlers until the sleigh was loaded and then release them and leap into the driver’s seat. According to his biographer Rudy Abramson, Harriman witnessed the creatures’ cantankerous nature first hand during the 1937 lighting of the Christmas tree. Santa Claus was delivered to the Lodge on his sleigh, but as soon as he stepped down, the reindeer charged at the jolly red man. The sight of a terrified Santa being pursued by angry reindeer in front of all his high-profile guests was enough for Harriman, and the reindeer were banished from Sun Valley.
Sun Valley's reindeer herd was replaced by this less aggressive breed.
But what became of the Sun Valley reindeer? While there is no record of exactly what happened to them, today caribou do exist in Idaho, although they are one of the most critically endangered mammals in the country. The last herd of Woodland Caribou in America lives in Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho, eastern Washington and southern British Columbia and numbers just 34. It’s nice to think that maybe, just maybe, Streamer, Liner, Clipper, Saint and Nick led their brethren to the cooler, wetter climes of northern Idaho, where they lived out their lives as wild caribou. Perhaps, 75 years on, their descendants are still roaming that land.
Torches will glide down Dollar Mountain this Christmas Eve during Sun Valley's Torchlight Parade
Monday night members of the Sun Valley Snowsports School will gather with lighted torches to ski in unison down Dollar Mountain in the Torchlight Parade. This spellbinding trail of fire has snaked down the mountainside almost every Christmas Eve for the last 75 years, providing a unique spectacle for the crowds assembled below.
To get the scoop on this centerpiece of Sun Valley’s Christmas celebrations, I spoke with Nelson Bennett, 98, an early director of the Sun Valley Ski Patrol. Bennett arrived at the resort in 1940 and is one of the last people with memories from the resort’s infancy. ”Friedl Pfeiffer was instrumental in starting the parade,” Bennett recalls. “I believe it was in his second winter season. It was something he brought from Austria. It occurred each Christmas on Dollar Mountain.”
A famed Austrian ski racer, Pfeiffer joined the Sun Valley Ski School in 1938, taking over from Hans Hauser as director later that winter. Pfeiffer left the resort in 1941 following the outbreak of WWII. While his Austrian origins initially aroused the suspicion of the FBI, he voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. army and fought with the 10th Mountain Division, along with Bennett and others from Sun Valley. After the war, Purple Heart in hand, he headed straight for Colorado to found Aspen ski resort.
Friedl Pfeifer, director of the Sun Valley Ski School from 1939 to 1941, brought the Torchlight Parade to Sun Valley from his home of St. Anton, Austria.
“It was sort of interesting to be watching [the parade] from the valley or the village,” Bennett continued. “Because every so often a torch would get out of line and you’d come to find out that the torch had an intoxicated skier on it,” he said with a chuckle.
After a few years as a spectator, Bennett came to participate in the tradition himself. “Yes, I skied in it eventually,” he said. “Led the damn thing down the hill in later years.”
This year the parade is dedicated to the memory of Andy and Alice Schernthanner, two local residents who passed away this year following a collective century involved in Sun Valley and skiing. It will be the first time the parade has been a dedicated event.
The torchlight parade and holiday fireworks begin at approximately 5:30 p.m., December 24, following the free performance of Nutcracker on Ice at the Sun Valley outdoor ice rink, which begins at 5 p.m. Free hot chocolate, cookies, carol singing and visits from Santa round out the festivities along with free ice skating after the show.
From Mountain Babies to Beach Babies: Mrs. Sun and the Sun family are moving on...
The summer of 2012 was one of the most fun and fulfilling I’ve spent in Sun Valley during my nine years living in this great state of Idaho. And if you don’t believe me just look back over the 40 or so posts I wrote on this blog in the last three months! But sadly, it was to be my last Sun Valley summer. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Sun family are moving on. Family and careers are taking us to another great state, South Carolina, where we will be making our home in the equally historic city of Charleston.
While this is the end of the Sun Valley story for myself and my young family, I will continue to drop in on The Valley Sun blog from time to time, posting on my favorite topic: the history of Sun Valley Resort. (Do please let me know in the comments below if there’s any particular slice of Sun Valley history you’d like to know more about).
Meanwhile, I am putting the reins of The Valley Sun in the more-than-capable hands of Robin Sias. An excellent journalist and local freelance writer, Robin is a mother of three and a Sun Valley resident for close to three decades. I’m sure her family will enjoy showing you the ins and outs, ups and downs and general joys of being in Sun Valley as much as mine have done these past few months.
Many thanks for spending the summer with me and my family, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. And personally, I’m excited to see what Robin and her brood get up to this winter, so be sure to stay tuned… .
Gun Club manager J.C. Dovey had his work cut out for him teaching Mrs. Sun how to shoot a shotgun.
As the welcome chill of fall enters the air, Sun Valley Resort looks to its third season. For some, notably the area’s most famous resident Ernest Hemingway, fall is their favorite time of year in the Wood River Valley.
The opportunity to participate in one of Hemingway’s favorite fall activities is one not to be missed. And you don’t even have to kill anything. While Hemingway was an avid hunter, the Sun Valley Gun Club offers the chance for everyone from the most experienced to the novice to get their hands on a shotgun.
I headed to the historic club to see what it felt like to have a shotgun in my city-bred hands. Manager J.C. Dovey took me under his wing, but not before giving me the grand tour of the facilities.
Almost as old as the resort itself, the Gun Club was once one of the most popular non-winter activities here. Pictures along the wall of the club show hundred of shooters lined up at the original club in the shadow of Bald Mounatin during one of the many “shoots” the resort hosted over the years, stretching all the way back to 1936.
The club’s structure is still the original building that once stood across Sun Valley Lake along what is now Fairway Road. “It is actually made from the old Proctor and Ruud sandwich shacks [or day lodges as they were more grandly called],” Dovey said.
After undergoing a few re-locations (the first fifty or so years ago to what is now the White Clouds Golf Course, and then to its current home, a mile east of the Lodge down Trail Creek Road, in 2006), and the installation of marble bathrooms (“I rent them out as baptismal fonts,” joked Dovey), the Gun Club and has re-captured its former glory. This summer the shooting range was a veritable hot bed of activity. While I was waiting for my lesson the phone rang off the hook with would-be shooters. But Dovey assures me fall is the time to be here, it’s a little quieter and is when the locals move in. “About 25 percent of our guests here are locals and regulars, seasoned shooters who own their own guns,” Dovey said.
The lion’s share of the other 75 percent are once-a-year shooters or beginners like myself who have never held a shotgun before. Dovey tells me this is unique in the world of gun clubs. “We get so many people here who have never shot, but we have extensive teaching staff,” he said with obvious pride. “The only other similar club is Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, but we actually do more lessons than they do.”
Sun Valley’s Gun Club is very much a teaching facility with the price of a lesson included in the rental of equipment. “It’s rare for a gun club, we have 5 or 6 instructors,” Dovey said.
Dovey and his team pride themselves on not letting a novice leave without hitting one of those orange clay thingys. So, when I decided to join a long line of resort guests, including many Hollywood celebrities such as Anne Southern, and make the Sun Valley Gun Club my first experience with that icon of the Wild West the shotgun, Dovey had his work cut out for him.
Rudy Etchen - son of Gun Club manager Fred Etchen who was Sun Valley's first Olympic gold medal winner (winning gold for team trapshooting in the 1924 Olympics) - was considered the greatest shotgun shot that ever lived. Pictured here in 1958 with actress Anne Southern, Rudy was one of the instructors at the resort. Today J.C. Dovey and his team continue the Sun Valley tradition of excellent instructors.
Standing at the far end of the shooting range, escaping the hooting and hollering emanating from the group of Idaho Milk Processors’ indulging in something called an “Annie Oakley,” I picked up my first shotgun with trepidation. Orange earplugs firmly shoved in my ears and my shooting stance adopted, Dovey talked me through how I would shoot my first shot. Not suprisingly I missed by a mile. His words were, “I’d shoot it sooner. Try for this county, not Camas.”
I could tell there was some pride at stake here, but Dovey maintained his calm, encouraging tone and before we were through the entire box of shells I had actually hit one. The sound of my hooting and hollering even shut the milk processors up for a few minutes.
While it was a lot of fun, I had to conclude that I’m just not a gun-toting type. But I highly recommend giving it a shot, it’s something of a rite of passage for anyone that wants to call themselves an Idahoan.
The Sun Valley Gun Club offers Trap, Double Trap, Wobble Trap, Skeet, Duck Tower, 5-Stand and Sporting Clays. Open 7 days a week 10 a.m.–4 p.m. through October. For rates and more details click here. On Sept. 22 the club is hosting a “Sporting Clay Fun Shoot!” 100 targets for $50, including lunch. Prizes on offer for 1st and 2nd place shooters. Call 208.622.2111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A special $149 Fun-Shoot room package is available, call 1.800.786.8259.
A 20-draft-mule jerkline powers this Big Hitch, a collection of historic ore mining wagons. This unique sight is the traditional finale of the Wagon Days parade.
One of the common sayings around town is that you come to Sun Valley for the winters, but you stay for the summers. As Averell Harriman discovered after he opened the doors to his extravagant palace in the snow, the Wood River Valley is an ideal summer playground. Harriman quickly decided to keep those doors open and take advantage of the spectacular Sun Valley summers. Today, 76 years later, we are still enjoying the whirlwind two months between July 4th and Labor Day, when summer wraps its arms around the communities of the Wood River Valley. It may be brief, but it is a whole lot of fun; summer in Sun Valley is something not to be missed.
This year The Sun Family was offered the chance of riding in one of the antique wagons. Having been a spectator for seven of the last nine years, being able to participate in this historic parade was too good an opportunity to miss (even if 2 hours in a horse-drawn buggy had the potential to make Baby Sun a squirmy mess).
Fueling up with Mrs Fisher Cat at Papoose Club's annual Pancake breakfast
To get prepped for our Wagon Days opus, we chowed down with our parade companion, Mrs. Fisher Cat (in town visiting The Toy Store), at Papoose Club’s annual pancake breakfast (another wonderful tradition, read about it here.). Local historian Ivan Swaner was more than happy to keep Kitty company and fill her in on the story of Wagon Days.
Little Sun and Mrs Fisher Cat of the Calico Critter Family
Next we headed to the Sun Valley Horseman Center to meet our wagon and gaze in awe at the assembled parade entrants. From Ralphie the Camel to the beautiful Eh Capa bareback riders, there was a lot to take in. Little Sun and Baby Sun were thrilled to be able to get up close and personal with the wide-array of entrants, it was better than a trip to the zoo!
Little Sun and Baby Sun survey the Wagon Days Parade participants from inside a Black Surrey pulled by spotted draft horses
Next it was time to saddle up and hop on our ride for the afternoon, two beautiful spotted draft horses pulling a Black Surrey (with a fringe on top!). While there were a few white knuckle moments as horses crossed paths and wagons rolled, overall riding in the parade was one of the best experiences I’ve had during my time living in Idaho. Waving at the crowds and seeing the smiling, happy people waving back at us we felt – for a few brief moments – like Ketchum Royalty. Baby Sun was in her element (there is a stage somewhere in her future…), waving energetically the entire time (until she fell asleep mid-wave somewhere along Main Street).
The Sun family hitched a ride in Mrs. Fisher Cat's rig, proudly sponsored by Carol Knight of The Toy Store
We owe the wonderful Carol Knight a big dose of gratitude for letting us ride along with Mrs. Fisher Cat in The Toy Store sponsored Black Surrey. It was lovely to be associated with a fixture of the Ketchum shopping scene for over 30 years, all along the route pockets of Ketchum “old-timers” cheered with extra enthusiasm when they saw Carol’s distinctive logo on the side of the wagon.
The view from the Wagon: Sun Valley Road as seen from the Wagon Days Parade
Viewing Wagon Days from inside the parade gave me a lovely perspective on my hometown for close to a decade. It was especially poignant as next month The Sun Family is moving on. After a wonderful nine years living and working in the Wood River Valley we are heading East to join my family in Charleston, South Carolina. We will dearly miss this valley. It is where Brian and I began our lives together, where we welcomed our children, Owen and Rose, and where we have made many dear friends.
In particular I will miss Sun Valley Resort. It is all too easy for locals to take for granted the special place they have on their doorsteps. I for one, only really understood the value of what Averell Harriman brought to this remote corner of Idaho when I started digging into the history of the resort, which is a rich tapestry of fascinating stories and entertaining insights into how these towns became what they are today. I challenge all locals and visitors to take a few minutes of their time to walk through the grand doors of the Sun Valley Lodge into the lobby, pause for a moment and just look around. Eighty years ago, the spot where you are standing was just a barren field of sagebrush, surrounded by nothing but a struggling mining town and untamed mountains. Today a grand resort stands there, an integral part of the thriving, complicated and extraordinary community that surrounds it. Averell would be proud.
For me, riding in the Wagon Days parade was the perfect way to say goodbye to Ketchum.