Sun Valley Celebrates turning 80!

On December 21, 1936 the dream finally became a reality.

Averell Harriman, the chairman of Union Pacific Railroad, wanted to create a European-style ski resort in America. Not something like the raw and rugged ski hills of the Northeast, but rather a true destination resort like those found in the Alps.

He hired a rather larger-than-life Austrian named Count Schaffgotsch to find the ideal place in America. After traveling all over the West on planes, trains, sleighs, dogsleds and skis, the good Count still couldn’t find the perfect spot.

Luckily for Harriman—and for those of us who love to ski Sun Valley—just as the Count was set to report that his mission had failed, he caught a break. Some folks from Idaho got word of the search and recommended the cozy old mining and sheepherding areas of Ketchum and Hailey.

The Count came and as soon as he got off the train it was love at first site—something many of us can also relate to.

Construction began that March and as the final workers were being shuffled out the back door, the Sun Valley Lodge—the country’s first and still finest of its kind—opened its front doors to guests.

Board Ranch, an old cow pasture nestled amongst the mountains of Idaho, had been transformed into a world-class lodge. It had also been renamed “Sun Valley” by marketing guru Steven Hannagan, to remind folks of the ample sunshine and snow in Idaho’s winter sports playground.

Guests arrived from across the country to christen America’s first destination ski resort.  The opening party was the stuff of legend. A who’s-who of Hollywood’s finest as well as press from coast-to-coast. The world’s first ski lift on Proctor Mountain was also a big hit and just like that the ski industry in U.S. was forever changed for the better.

This Wednesday, December 21st marks the 80th anniversary of the glorious day when the dream of Averell Harriman finally came to life. And what an impressive eight decades it’s been since then.

To celebrate, Sun Valley will be hosting an 80th Birthday Party of “friends, fun and frivolity” at the Duchin Lounge in the Sun Valley Lodge. Events begin at 2:30pm with a free showing of the classic film “Sun Valley Serenade” at the Opera House. Next, head to River Run Day Lodge at 4:00 p.m. for “Swinging Through the Holidays,” a special event featuring students from the Sun Valley Summer Symphony School of Music and Wood River High School Choral Department. Colla Voce, The B-Tones and Beck Vontver Trio will be performing the classic Glenn Miller songs from Sun Valley Serenade, such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “In the Mood” and “It Happened in Sun Valley.” Admission is free and perfect for the whole family. And then the party really picks up from 7 to 10pm on Wednesday night featuring classic cocktails harkening back to heydays of mixed drinks when the resort first opened. The party will also include dancing to music by Brooks Hartell.

Festivities really kick-off the night before, with the 9th Annual Christmas Concert on December 20th at the Sun Valley Opera House. Doors open at 6:30pm with the concert starting at 7pm.

The family-friendly event is full of Christmas cheer and is hosted by Patty Parsons-Tewson. The concert features Sun Valley’s popular après ski troubadour Joe Cannon, as well as Duchin Lounge legend Joe Fos, soprano Carolyn Parson Cutler and flugelhorn player Ken Cutler. There will be singing, storytelling, and visits from special guests.  Please check here for tickets or more information.


With all the recent great snowfall creating some of the best December skiing and snowboarding in years, it’s seem even Mother Nature wants to celebrate Sun Valley’s birthday.

It all started with dream, a dream that came true in Sun Valley eight decades ago this week. Cheers to 80 more!

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