Sun Val­ley’s his­tory is al­most as good as its slopes.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY ROBERT UPE

Sun Val­ley’s his­tory is al­most as good as its slopes.

When Averell Har­ri­man, the chair­man of the Union Pa­cific Rail­road, kicked off a search for the per­fect place for a snow re­sort, he couldn’t have known that it would be the start of the Amer­i­can ski­ing dream.

Har­ri­man was keen to es­tab­lish an up­mar­ket des­ti­na­tion re­sort, like Switzer­land’s swanky St Moritz.

In 1935, he em­ployed an Aus­trian Count, Felix Schaf­fgotsch, to comb the coun­try­side for the best lo­ca­tion.

The count set­tled on an area in Idaho’s pretty Wood River Val­ley, near the small min­ing town of Ketchum, be­cause it had good snow­fall, abun­dant sun, low el­e­va­tion and pro­tec­tion from strong winds.

New York pub­li­cist Steve Hannigan, who put Mi­ami Beach on the map as a fash­ion­able des­ti­na­tion, was soon en­listed. He named the re­sort Sun Val­ley, a nod to the 250 days of sun­shine it re­ceives each year.

By the time Amer­ica’s first ski re­sort was ready to open, in De­cem­ber 1936 af­ter a flurry of con­struc­tion, Hannigan had a conga line of Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties ready to visit to give it im­me­di­ate pres­tige.

The star-stud­ded vis­i­tors in­cluded Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, In­grid Bergman, Gre­gory Peck and Lu­cille Ball.

Soon, Sun Val­ley was be­ing seen on the cov­ers of news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, such as Life, with pho­tos of the stars glid­ing down the slopes on seven-foot wooden skis.

The girl-chases-boy movie, Sun Val­ley Ser­e­nade, was filmed there and cre­ated even more hype, fea­tur­ing the fa­mous (at the time) Glenn Miller Orches­tra.

These days, the film plays on a con­tin­u­ous loop at the historic five-star Sun Val­ley Lodge, which has been the cen­tre­piece of re­sort life since 1936.

The lodge un­der­went a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion in 2014/2015.

The facelift de­liv­ered big­ger rooms (to­tal room num­bers went down from 148 to 94), an in­te­rior re­fur­bish­ment and a new fit­ness and spa cen­tre, how­ever, the historic grav­i­tas of the build­ing has been re­tained.

To walk along the celebrity hall­way of the lodge is like strolling on Hol­ly­wood’s Walk of Fame. Ex­cept here, the brass stars em­bed­ded in the foot­path are re­placed by wall-to-wall vin­tage pho­to­graphs of the fa­mous vis­i­tors, among them Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.

There are sev­eral celebrity suites, named af­ter Mon­roe, Clint East­wood, Averell Har­ri­man, Sonja He­nie (the star of

Sun Val­ley Ser­e­nade) and writer Ernest Hem­ing­way.

Hem­ing­way is said to have writ­ten at least part of his novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls, while a guest at the lodge in 1939. He sub­se­quently bought a house in Ketchum, at­tracted by the wilder­ness where he could fish and hunt, and lived there un­til he died by sui­cide in 1961 (some say his death was an ac­ci­dent, the re­sult of a shot­gun go­ing off while he was clean­ing it).

Hem­ing­way re­mains one of Sun Val­ley’s favourite sons, and each Septem­ber the Ketchum com­mu­nity li­brary con­ducts an Ernest Hem­ing­way Fes­ti­val.

If you stay in the Hem­ing­way suite, you’ll be sur­rounded by pho­tos of the great writer, as well as a bronze statue of him typ­ing. The suite is the lap of alpine lux­ury. It has a liv­ing room, a sit­ting room, a study, a gran­ite en­trance area and a bed­room with king bed. There’s also a cosy fire­place.

The ski­ing at Sun Val­ley is spread over two ar­eas, Dol­lar Moun­tain and Bald Moun­tain, eas­ily ac­cessed by a free five-minute shut­tle bus ride. Dol­lar Moun­tain is for be­gin­ners, while Baldy (as it’s af­fec­tion­ately nick­named) has the whole

gamut – from begin­ner to ex­pert – with 100 runs in­clud­ing wide groomers, glades and ad­ven­ture trails for kids.

The first thing you no­tice at Baldy is the con­stant pitch. It’s al­most like you have to ap­ply the brakes to stop any­where, be­cause there are very few, if any, flat spots.

Sun Val­ley, which had the first chair­lift in the world in

1936, has 18 lifts these days. That’s peanuts com­pared with Whistler’s 37 lifts or Vail’s 31, but it all works well and there are hardly any lift queues.

The Baldy slopes of­ten feel empty and it’s not un­usual to find af­ter­noon cor­duroy. Ac­cord­ing to the Sun Val­ley re­sort, the up­hill lift ca­pac­ity on Bald Moun­tain is 21,580 skiers per hour, but it av­er­ages only 3,500 skiers per day.

This means you can let your skis go on clas­sic runs such as Warm Springs, nom­i­nated by Sun Val­ley’s gen­eral man­ager, Tim Silva, as his favourite. Warm Springs has been de­scribed by Amer­ica’s Men’s Jour­nal mag­a­zine as a “two-mile-long top-to-bot­tom screamer that charges straight through a nat­u­ral gully with banked side­walls”.

The prolific and wise­crack­ing ski film­maker, Warren Miller, knows it well. As a ski bum mak­ing his first films, he lived in a carpark in a teardrop trailer at the base of the run.

“Af­ter trav­el­ling the world of ski re­sorts with my cam­era and a ruck­sack for 50 years, I still think Baldy is one of the best places to turn right and left,” Miller once re­marked.

If Miller points his skis down Baldy in 2018/2019, he may be even more im­pressed. Af­ter this win­ter, the re­sort plans to build a new lift that will in­crease ski­able ter­rain from 830 to 985 hectares. The new lift will be a quad de­tach­able to re­place the 46-year-old Cold Springs dou­ble chair­lift, which is the old­est still op­er­at­ing at the re­sort.

A novel way for strong skiers to see Bald Moun­tain in all its morn­ing glory is to sign up for the ‘Ski Pa­trol 101’ pro­gram. Each week­end, just two skiers are se­lected to at­tend the ski pa­trol team meet­ing and then to go out on pa­trol be­fore the moun­tain opens to the pub­lic.

There’s a sim­i­lar pro­gram, called ‘Ride The Beast’, that al­lows a few peo­ple each week to ride the re­sort’s big­gest snow­cat while it’s on night-time snow groom­ing du­ties.

Bald Moun­tain has a hand­ful of grand day lodges where, in the best Amer­i­can alpine tra­di­tion, you can rest weary ski legs

“Hem­ing­way is said to have writ­ten at least part of his novel,

For Whom The Bell Tolls, while a guest at the lodge in 1939.”

in Western log-cabin style next to large open fires with a juicy gourmet burger, wood-fired piz­zas, or bet­ter.

For the start of the day, the River Run Lodge, at the base of the moun­tain, is the ideal place to buckle up your boots over a cof­fee. This tim­ber and stone build­ing is noth­ing less than spec­tac­u­lar. It has soar­ing ceil­ings, floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows and a sunny pa­tio that beck­ons for a lunchtime re­turn. Al­ter­na­tively, the Seat­tle Ridge day lodge up the moun­tain is hard to beat for views.

Across at Dol­lar Moun­tain, there is am­ple begin­ner ter­rain (22 runs) ser­viced by five lifts, in­clud­ing a car­pet lift for first timers. The tree­less moun­tain also has a ter­rain park with 76 rails; a su­per­pipe that the re­sort says is the big­gest in the US, and a day lodge at its base.

Over­all, Sun Val­ley is rated 36 per cent eas­i­est, 42 per cent more dif­fi­cult, 20 per cent most dif­fi­cult and 2 per cent ex­pert.

Kids won’t feel left out at Sun Val­ley. There are sleigh rides (in­clud­ing a din­ner ride to Trail Creek Cabin), snow­shoe ex­cur­sions, cross-coun­try ski­ing, ice skat­ing at an out­door rink in front of Sun Val­ley Lodge, and a retro six-lane bowl­ing al­ley, with ar­cade games, in­side the lodge. Lo­cal ice hockey games also pro­vide good en­ter­tain­ment, or head to the re­sort’s Round­house for cheesy fon­due.

And what­ever hap­pened to Count Schaf­fgotsch, the man who found the per­fect ski re­sort site?

Af­ter en­joy­ing the first few sea­sons at Sun Val­ley and be­ing pho­tographed with the star­lets, he was caught up in the war dur­ing a trip to Europe. The Count ended up fight­ing for the Ger­man Waf­fen-SS on the Rus­sian front, where he was killed in 1942. •

Open­ing im­age: Chas­ing pow­der at Sun Val­ley © Keri Bascetta. Above: Heaven is glade ski­ing © Keri Bascetta.

Clock­wise from be­low: Sleigh ride at sun­set © Kevin Syms; Seat­tle Ridge.

Be­low, from top: Sit­ting around the fire pit at River Run Lodge; the pho­to­genic Red Barn.

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