The Far West Ski Association Turns 90 - 66

A Short
History
of the
Sun Valley
Ski Resort
by John W. Lundin
Lawyer, Historian and Author
Austrian Count Schaffgotsch, who found the
location for Union Pacific's ski resort in the
remote mountains of Central Idaho, and Union
Pacific Board Chairman Averell Harriman,
whose idea it was to build a destination ski
resort to restore train passenger service during
the Depression, stand in front of the new Sun
Valley lodge, 1937
Dartmouth's Dick
Durrance, winner
of three Harriman
Cup tournaments,
demonstrates his
distinctive skiing
style on Bald
Mountain, 1940.
photos courtesy of
Center for Regional
History Community
Library, Ketchum, ID
RIGHT: Some of the world's best
skiers taught for the Sun Valley
Ski School. Here, US Olympian
Jack Reddish, Norwegian Olympian
Stein Eriksen, Ski School
director Sigi Engl, and Austrian
Olympian Christian Pravda ski
on Baldy, circa 1953. " Nobody skied better on ice than Stein Eriksen " and Christian Pravda could
" go down a hill of extreme bumps and make it look as smooth as a floor. " Stein said Sun Valley was
" one of the most desirable resorts in the country, " with a beautiful mountain and a " certain romance. "
photos provided by Center for Regional History Community Library, Ketchum, ID
In December 1936, Sun Valley opened in the remote mountains of Idaho, built for $1.5 million by
Union Pacific Railroad. It was the pet project of U.P. Board Chairman, Averell Harriman, designed to
stimulate passenger service decimated by the Great Depression and to generate publicity to add luster to
rail travel in the winter. Sun Valley was the country's first destination ski resort, with an ultra-modern
lodge and big city amenities, a ski school with Austrian instructors that made skiing sexy, and chair lifts
invented by U.P. engineers based on a system to load bananas onto boats, so skiers could ride up mountains
quickly and in comfort. Chairs were installed on Proctor and Dollar Mountains, but not on Bald Mountain
until 1940, because Baldy was seen as too challenging for most skiers at the time.
Skiing in this country was in its infancy when Sun Valley opened. There were few lifts so one had
to be physically fit enough to hike, herringbone, or use skins to climb up hills before skiing down. Equipment
was rudimentary, there were few formal ski lessons, and the sport involved more back-country mountaineering
than downhill skiing, limiting the sport's appeal.
Called the " St. Moritz of America " , Sun Valley began modern skiing in this country. It attracted the
carriage trade, Wall Street barons, the Chicago social set, Hollywood stars and producers, and serious
skiers from all over the world. Ski racer, Dick Durrance, said it was " the most important influence in the development
of American skiing...Its concentrated and highly successful glamorization of the sport got people to want to ski in the
first place. " It had a monopoly on skiing grandeur for several decades and influenced ski areas that developed
later.
Steve Hannagan, Sun Valley's brilliant publicist, said the key to establishing a " chic image " was to use
celebrities, attractive women, Olympic stars and monied families. Hannagan convinced Life magazine to
publish an eight page spread on Sun Valley in March, 1937, giving the resort millions of dollars of free
publicity. Articles about the resort appeared throughout the country in many different magazines and
newspapers, making it a cultural icon embodying fun and affluence while the country struggled with the
effects of the Depression..
Sun Valley was never intended to make a profit, and required a significant yearly subsidy from Union
U.S. Olympic teams for the 1948 and 1952
Games were selected at Sun Valley, and
trained there afterwards. Best known is
Gretchen Fraser, who in 1948, won a gold and
silver medal at St. Moritz, the first American
to win an Olympic medal in skiing.
Pacific, ranging from a quarter million to three quarter million dollars. Harriman said Sun Valley operated
with a deficit, but " we didn't run it to make money; we ran it to be a perfect place...and the publicity I thought was worth
very much more than the deficit " .
Harriman used ski racing to make his new resort an international destination and the country's
center of skiing. Sun Valley offered young, talented skiers room and board, jobs and coaching, and hosted
major ski tournaments. Harriman Cup Tournaments were the country's most prestigious and competitive
events, attracting the best skiers in the world. The American Ski Annual 1943 said, " just as it is the dream
66 FWSA 90th Anniversary Booklet / 1930 - 2020

The Far West Ski Association Turns 90

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Far West Ski Association Turns 90

Index
The Far West Ski Association Turns 90 - Cover1
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The Far West Ski Association Turns 90 - 1
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