Among skiers, the term "Sun Valley" refers to the alpine ski area, which consists of Bald Mountain, the main ski mountain, and Dollar Mountain, which is geared toward novice and lower intermediate skiers. Bald Mountain, or "Baldy," has a summit of 9150 feet (2789 m) and a vertical drop of 3400 feet (1036 m). With its abundance of constant-pitch terrain, at varying degrees of difficulty, coupled with its substantial vertical drop and absence of wind, Baldy has often been referred to as the best single ski mountain in the world. The treeless "Dollar" at 6638 feet (2023 m) has a moderate vertical drop of 628 feet (191 m).
The term "Sun Valley" is used more generally to speak of the region surrounding the city, including the neighboring city of Ketchum and the valley area winding south to Hailey. The region has been home to the rich, famous, and powerful, including Mats Wilander, Walter Annenberg, Adam West, Ernest Hemingway, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Tom Hanks, Steve Miller, Demi Moore, Brent Hope, Peter Cetera, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher, Steve Wynn, Mohamed al-Fayed, John Lewis, John Kerry, Tony Robbins and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schaffgotsch was impressed by the combination of Bald Mountain and its surrounding mountains, adequate snowfall, abundant sunshine, moderate elevation, and absence of wind, and selected it as the site. Harriman visited several weeks later and agreed. The Brass Ranch was purchased for about $4 per acre and construction commenced that spring; it was built in seven months for $1.5 million.
Pioneering publicist Steve Hannigan, who had successfully promoted Miami Beach, was hired and named the resort "Sun Valley." (Count Schaffgotsch returned to Austria and was killed on the Eastern Front during World War II.)
The centerpiece of the new resort was the Sun Valley Lodge, which opened in December 1936. The 220-room, X-shaped lodge's exterior was constructed of concrete, poured inside rough-sawn forms. The wood grain was impressed on the concrete finish, which was acid-stained brown to imitate wood. The Swiss-style Challenger Inn (now Sun Valley Inn) and village were also part of the initial resort, opening in 1937. Hannigan wanted swimming pools at the resort, "so people won't think skiing is too cold." Both the Lodge and the Inn had heated outdoor swimming pools, circular in shape. Hannigan had the pools designed this way, unique at the time, in the hope they would be widely photographed, providing free publicity. It worked.
For Sun Valley's fourth season, three chairlifts (in series) were installed on Bald Mountain during the summer of 1939, in the River Run area, the northeast face of the mountain overlooking Ketchum and Sun Valley. Ski runs had been cut out of the forest during the summers of 1938-39. Friedl Pfeiffer, the new head of the ski school from St. Anton, Austria, wanted the lifts to go to the very top of the mountain, something that had yet to be done anywhere, even in Europe.
The loading point of the lowest chairlift (River) was on the Ketchum side of the Big Wood River, at an elevation of 5750 feet (1752 m). The single chairs loaded near the parking lot, then horizontally crossed the river (about eight feet above the water) before ascending the mountain, gaining 600 vertical feet (183 m). The middle lift (Canyon) gained over 1300 vertical feet and unloaded at the Roundhouse (a day lodge at 7700' (2347 m), built in 1939). The upper lift (Ridge) also climbed over 1,300 vertical feet (396 m), unloading at just above 9000 feet (2743 m) AMSL. Its lift capacity was a mere 426 skiers per hour (7 per minute). The three chairlifts that are in approximately the same lines today (2006) are: River Run (quad), Exhibition (triple), and Christmas (quad). The original lower single chairlift was replaced in the 1960s and the loading base was moved across the river; a footbridge provides walking access from the parking lot to the River Run base area.
Sun Valley was featured (and promoted) in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade, starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, Milton Berle, and bandleader Glenn Miller. Scenes were shot at the resort in March 1941. Sun Valley transfer local and future gold medalist Gretchen Fraser was the skiing stand-in for Henie. The film is shown continuously on television in the resort's guest rooms.
After the war, the clinic for the resort operated on the third floor of the northern wing of the Lodge (wing closest to the Trail Creek Rd.) until the Sun Valley Community Hospital was built in 1961. That facility was named after Dr. John Moritz when he retired in 1973; the Nebraska-born surgeon had served as the resort's year-round physician for 33 years. The Moritz Hospital was closed shortly after the new St. Luke's branch hospital opened (south of Ketchum) in November 2000 and the Moritz building now serves as employee housing.
Miller has since traveled and filmed all over the world, but until recent years he continued to return to Sun Valley virtually every year. He has featured Sun Valley in dozens of his annual films, which has helped publicize the Sun Valley region worldwide. In the 1950s and 1960s he was credited with drawing some of California's rich and famous to the area.His movies still play around the country today. His son is a major part in them today because of Millers age. It is widely surmised that Miller's work over the years has played a significant role in Sun Valley's economic boom.
Under Holding's ownership there have been substantial improvements on the mountain: extensive snowmaking and grooming, high-capacity chairlifts, and the construction of three impressive day lodges, and the renovation of the classic Roundhouse restaurant.
During the late 1980s, significant snowmaking was introduced on Bald Mountain. Three high-speed quad chairlifts were installed during the summer of 1988 (Christmas, Challenger & Greyhawk). An impressive day lodge, constructed of logs, river rock, and glass, opened at the base of Warm Springs in the fall of 1992, replacing the mid-1960s "Northface Hut" cafeteria. Similar day lodges were later opened at the Seattle Ridge summit (1993), and the River Run base (1995).
An older cafeteria, the modest one-floor "Lookout Restaurant," is below the summit at 9030 ft (2752 m), at the top of three chairlifts. Built in 1973, it is the ground floor of a multi-story building that was never completed, resulting in its "basement-like" atmosphere. Nevertheless, the mountain views from this near-summit lodge are quite impressive.
Four additional high-speed quads were installed in the 1990s. Two of these replaced older chairlifts on River Run (1992) and Seattle Ridge (1993), and two cut brand new paths: Lookout Express (1993) and Frenchman's (1994). Baldy's 13 chairlifts have a capacity of over 23,000 skiers per hour. With an average of 3500 skiers per day (& less than 6000 skiers per day during peak periods), Sun Valley has kept the lift lines to a minimum, a rarity among major resorts.
The Dollar Mountain Lodge opened in November 2004. This day lodge replaces the Dollar Cabin, and also serves as the headquarters for the Sun Valley Ski School. It is similar in construction to the newer day lodges at the big mountain.
The interior of the original Sun Valley Lodge has been remodeled twice during Holding's ownership, in 1985 for the golden anniversary and again in 2004. The Sun Valley Inn has been remodeled and the golf course has been improved as well.
In 2006, Forbes magazine estimated that Sun Valley was worth in the range of $300 million.
The 1975 slalom was won by Gustavo Thoeni, the dominant World Cup skier of the early 1970s (which turned out to be his last win in the slalom discipline). A young Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, perhaps the greatest technical ski racer ever, took the giant slalom title both years. Phil Mahre of White Pass, Washington, age 19, won the 1977 slalom race over Stenmark, with twin brother Steve placing third. It was Phil's second win (he had won a GS in France in December), but his first victory in the slalom and first in the U.S., and being from the Northwest, very close to home.
The present ownership has declined to host any World Cup races since, as it involves closing off runs for a significant time. But during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake (300 miles to the southeast), Sun Valley was used as a training site for many nations' alpine and Nordic ski teams. The alpine speed events for the Olympics were held at a sister resort, Snowbasin, outside of Ogden, Utah.
Olympic medalists from Sun Valley include Gretchen Fraser, Christin Cooper, Picabo Street, and disabled skier Muffy Davis. Muffy Davis is also a Founding and Honorary Board Member of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports. All four have runs named after them on Bald Mountain.
The Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities is a non-profit arts organization founded in 1971 by Glenn and Bill Janss. The original five-acre campus was located off Dollar Road in Sun Valley. Studios and workshops were open to the public and focused on Ceramics, founded by James Romberg; Photography, founded by Sheri Heiser and Peter deLory; and Fine Arts, founded by David W. Wharton. The SVC offered year-round workshops, lectures, and exhibitions by nationally recognized artists and craft persons to both residents and tourists to Blaine County. The Sun Valley Art Center, as it is commonly known today, is located in nearby Ketchum, Idaho and continues to present an impressive list of venues in the visual and performing arts.
The southern area, called Elkhorn, has its own shopping/hotel/condo complex and 18-hole golf course (now private), and is in many ways quite distinct and separate (including a drier "sagebrush" appearance). This area, near Dollar Mountain, was initially developed during the late 1960s and 1970s.
Adjacent to Sun Valley is the older city of Ketchum, which is just a mile downstream of the Sun Valley Lodge (along Trail Creek). Ketchum is primarily comprised of the 19th century town center (with its limited grid system) and lands adjacent to Bald Mountain: along the Big Wood River and Warm Springs Creek.
On September 11, 2005, the Dalai Lama visited Wood River High School in Hailey, Idaho to give a speech on understanding and friendship in remembrance of the September 11, 2001 Attacks and offered condolences to the many thousands affected by the recent Hurricane Katrina.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.9 square miles (25.6 km²), of which 9.9 square miles (25.6 km²) of it is land and 0.10% is water.
There were 594 households out of which 16.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.5% were married couples living together, 4.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.1% were non-families. 34.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.97 and the average family size was 2.50.
In the city the population was spread out with 11.9% under the age of 18, 12.2% from 18 to 24, 21.9% from 25 to 44, 36.7% from 45 to 64, and 17.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 48 years. For every 100 females there were 104.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 105.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $71,000, and the median income for a family was $85,000. Males had a median income of $31,979 versus $27,143 for females. The per capita income for the city was $50,563. About 2.7% of families and 14.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.7% of those under age 18 and 2.4% of those age 65 or over.