Skiing & Riding
A Clubhouse for a Community
The History and Drama of the Fabled Warm Springs Lodge
By Karen Bossick
Scotty McGrew likens the Warm Springs scene at Sun Valley to Maui’s North Shore.
“It has a lot of character, a strong local presence. And it’s fun to watch everything that happens there,” said McGrew, who grew up ski racing on the Warm Springs side of Bald Mountain. He now oversees hundreds of youngsters who train in that area with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation.
Indeed, the relentless pitch of the Greyhawk race course kicked the butt of America’s best skiers competing in the 2016 and 2018 U.S. Alpine Ski Championships at Sun Valley. And visitors love to enthuse how they’ve skied 3,400 vertical feet without stopping on a top-to-bottom Warm Springs run.
Some skiers lose themselves at Apple’s Bar and Grill, where they watch Holmenkollen Ski Festival amidst ski racing posters and World Cup memorabilia. But the anchor that holds it all together is the Warm Springs Day Lodge, with its old growth timber and river rock.
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when there was no Warm Springs Lodge. Skiers skied Warm Springs only at the end of the day, enlisting a bus to take them back to the River Run side.
“They’d have to cross Warm Springs on a little bridge and it would ice up in the afternoon so my dad, who was a ski instructor, was always pulling people out of the river,” recalled Olympic downhill ski racer Pete Patterson, who grew up in a 1,300-square foot L-shaped home at the bottom of Warm Springs.
In 1967 Sun Valley Resort turned the Patterson home into The North Face warming hut cafeteria. Then in 1992, the resort built the Warm Springs Day Lodge there.
Its elegance turned heads in the ski world and served as a model for ski lodges throughout North America.
Given its proximity to race courses on Greyhawk and Hemingway, it became the hangout for ski racers and a beacon for sun seekers, who came from as far away as Switzerland to revel in sun-splashed après ski concerts on the patio.
Then, just four days after Warm Springs closed for the 2018 winter ski season, the fire alarm sounded just before midnight.
Sixty-three firefighters arrived to find flames shooting 30 feet into the air. A chimney buckled. Shingles evaporated, leaving only 2-by-4s between the sky and the interior of the lodge. Windows blew out and the A-frame roof looked as if it had been ripped off.
“This has long been my home away from home during winter while I teach skiing,” said Jerry Mitchell. “It was such a beautiful lodge. It was so sad to see it burn.”
Sun Valley Resort wasted no time rebuilding. As soon as the two million gallons of water that had been poured on the fire could be mopped up, an army of builders went to work.
And just 233 days after the fire broke out Warm Springs Lodge 2.0 rose from the soggy ashes, noted Sun Valley’s General Manager Tim Silva gratefully. “What was an unfortunate tragedy became an opportunity to improve on an already beautiful venue,” said Jim Snyder, Sun Valley’s food and beverage director.
Architects Ruscitto/Latham/Blanton reconfigured the lodge to add more than a hundred new seats to the dining area, boosting seating capacity from 164 to 282. They made the bar front and center, placing 18 seats in front of a large picture window, offering unparalleled views of skiers and boarders schussing down Warm Springs.
They opened up the food court and installed a state-of-the-art kitchen in which to bake Granny’s Pot Pies and grilled salmon. And they opened a Konditorei Warm Springs nook, serving up Firetrail Mochas and other specialty espressos, along with ham and cheese croissants and chocolate pastries.
Magenta-colored carpeting and yellow and red zigzags lining the booths served as the backdrop for tables festooned with a trademark sun.
Skiers knew the Warm Springs Lodge was back on a mid-December day when the lodge’s general manager rang the big Swiss cowbell hanging from the ceiling, signifying that the first batch of warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies were coming out of the oven (a longstanding tradition that has both children and adults trained to Pavlovian-style salivate at the sound).
“The rope burnt in the fire but we were able to salvage the bell and replace the rope,” said Snyder.
It was the lodge’s doughnuts that were a hit when McGrew was a youth. Now, young ski racers dig into those warm cookies almost as fast as they race through gates.
“It can be cold and dark on the north side of the mountain early in the season so it’s a safe haven for sure until February rolls around and that side of the mountain emerges from hibernation,” said McGrew. “And the new lodge is even better than the old. It’s like a clubhouse—a clubhouse for community.”
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