The Sun Valley Story
On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Sun Valley’s founding, respected journalist, distinguished television executive, and renowned raconteur Van Gordon Sauter tells the remarkable story of the transformation of a remote Idaho mountain valley into America’s first luxury ski resort and, eventually, one of the country’s most beloved year-round vacation retreats. His fascinating anecdotal history is constructed around the personal passions and signal contributions of the resort’s three successive owners: New York aristocrat and Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman, Los Angeles land developer and Olympic skier Bill Janss, and self-made Salt Lake City oil man and hotel magnate Earl Holding. Sauter lavishes special attention on recounting how Harriman’s founding vision was, with breathtaking alacrity over eleven months in 1936, translated into the unique, opulent, and acclaimed reality that formed the enduring base for the spectacular resort we know today.
Sun Valley Story by Van Gordon Sauter ria l Foreword By op yr ig ht ed M at e Clint Eastwood C e h T ed ht ig yr op C M at e ria l ria l e h T C op yr ig ht ed M at e Sun Valley Story ed ht ig yr op C M at e ria l ria l M at e e h T ed Sun Valley Story ht by Van Gordon Sauter C op yr ig Foreword by Clint Eastwood Mandala Media, LLC Book Publishing Division www.mandala-media.com ria l All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. ed Published by Mandala Media, LLC 111 First Avenue North, Suite 1M Hailey, Idaho 83333, USA www.mandala-media.com M at e The Sun Valley Story ©Mandala Media, LLC 2011 ht For more information or to purchase copies: www.sunvalleyhistory.com op yr ig Book design by Mandala Media, a group of artists and editors who collaborate on design and printed book projects. Managing Editor: Laurie Sammis Editors: Karen Oswalt and Colleen Daly Contributing Editor: Mike McKenna Archivist: Shannon Besoyan Art Director: Robin Moore Leahy Production Director: Julie Molema Graphic Designer: Cara Shumate Copy Editor: Brooke McKenna Art Department Intern: Clare King Cover: Union Pacific Promotional Poster “Winter Sports Under a Summer Sun” C Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is available on request. Standard Edition: ISBN 978-0-9834470-1-6 Limited Edition: ISBN 978-0-9834470-2-3 First Edition 2011 Printed in China [previous page] The torchlight Parade down the face of Dollar Mountain is an annual event welcomed by locals and guests every Christmas Eve. [right] A 1938 publicity shot of Sun Valley touted the resort as “American’s foremost year-round sports center.” The chairlift on Ruud Mountain can be seen in the background. ria l It was my wife, Kathleen Brown, who advanced the appalling thought that writing this book would be more important than catching more fish. She was, as always, correct. So I am indebted to her for the book â€“ Van Gordon Sauter C op yr ig ht ed M at e and all else that has enhanced my life in the last 31 years. ria l Pioneer Cabin, a popular contents Foreword M at e alpine touring destination, shown in this UP promo shot from 1956. ix Chapter one setting the scene 3 ed Chapter two Ketchum Before Sun Valley The Brass Ranch yr ig ht Chapter three Harriman’s railroad Life Magazine “Opening Season” Underwood and Mrs. Duchin The Union Pacific Railroad Museum C op Chapter four it happened in sun valley Dorice Taylor and The Glory Days Peter Duchin The Movies [ v i ] Contents Chapter five High on the Wild Ernest Hemingway The Tenth Mountain Division The War Years 11 18 23 30 34 38 45 58 64 68 85 92 98 104 Chapter six The Mountain The Olympians Ski Innovators 109 1 14 1 18 Chapter seven Camp Janss Glenn Janss Silver Creek Preserve Disney . . . What If? Wally Huffman 129 138 142 146 148 Chapter eight The Holding Era Sun Valley Ice Show Allen & Company Conference Castle Rock Fire Sun Valley Pavilion 153 160 162 164 168 Chapter nine the next generation 175 acknowledgments BIBLIOGRAPHY index photo credits 185 186 188 193 ria l M at e ed ht ig yr op C S u n Va l l e y H i s t o r y [ v i i ] ed ht ig yr op C M at e ria l ria l M at e Foreword S mariel hemingway, clint eastwood, peter cetera, and scott glenn pose for a picture C op yr ig ht ed during Sun Valley’s 1989 Duchin Cup. un Valley is a very special place to me, and has been for a long time. I have a picture of my parents at the Sun Valley Ski School in the 1940s, standing on the hill looking pretty glamorous. They are wearing those old-time outfits and their pants are tucked into boots strapped onto long skis with the old C-clamps, or whatever they called those bindings back then. I made my first trip to Sun Valley in the 1950s, loved the place and the people, kept coming back, and pretty soon I bought a house. Sun Valley has a magic to it. When you are there you feel as if you’ve escaped to a hidden paradise, an extraordinary place that not very many people know about. There’s always a lot going on, but it never feels too crowded or commercial like a lot of other resorts do. It’s a place where real people live and work. And play. They do know how to play there. The skiing is fantastic, and it’s just beautiful, wherever you look. I’m a golfer. I give up every day in frustration, but still, I’m a golfer. And I love playing Sun Valley. Soon I’ll try out the new White Clouds course, those nine holes on the ridge overlooking the Lodge. From up there you can see the mountains where I shot Pale Rider, which we filmed in the fall. I remember one morning that October—it had been quite cold the night before—I went up to the town we’d built in the Boulder Mountains for the movie and all the aspens had turned gold overnight. There was snow on the ground. So I said, we’ve got to stop what we are doing and go up there and shoot some shots in that beauty. The whole area is beautiful. I’ve always said I like working with actors who don’t have anything to prove. That’s Sun Valley. It’s just right there in front of you. It doesn’t have to work to prove something, to prove anything. The Holding family has done a terrific job of modernizing the resort—all the lodges, the new golf course, the snowmaking and the ski lifts and the gondola and everything they’ve done to attract snowboarders over at Dollar. In some ways it seems like a completely different resort than when I first started going there, but the changes have made it better, more fun. They’ve changed things but they’ve kept the tradition alive. I like that. This book captures the magic and the tradition and a whole lot more. It’s a fitting tribute to Sun Valley’s 75th. – Clint Eastwood Los Angeles, 2011 T h e S u n Va l l e y S t o r y [ i x ] ed ht ig yr op C M at e ria l ed ht ig yr op C c h ap t e r M at e 1 ria l ed ht ig yr op C M at e ria l ria l M at e setting the scene ht A ed An Introduction to Sun Valley C op yr ig t its heart, this is a book about finding and transforming a mountain. It was not a mountain to be selected by some pinstripe executives smoking Cuban cigars and clustered before a large map dominating a mahogany wall in a 1930s Wall Street boardroom. A map could never capture and convey the subtleties of a mountain, particularly any of the magisterial ones that rise chaotically across the American West. Each mountain has its own physical features and personality. Some are graceful, almost welcoming. Others can be severe and harsh, intimidating. This choice of the right mountain defies the contradictions and conflicts of a committee. Instead, it requires a visceral, personal decision. Someone has to take the measure of a mountain, standing on a valley floor and looking up at the rising mass shoving towards the sky. And then that person must walk around the mountain. And up it. Ski it. [previous page] The prototype for the first chairlift, designed Seek its sly secrets. Suffer the by Union Pacific engineer Jim Curran, was tested at UP headquarters in weather that assaults it. Gauge Omaha, Nebraska. Curran is shown here at the wheel taking J.P. Morgan its character and tolerance, its for a test ride. [left] The first chairlift on Baldy was built in the capacity for forgiveness. summer of 1939 and located on the west side of the Big Wood River at the base of River Run. In this case, in the mid- 1930s, the man to select the mountain had to envision it as home for an initiative of astonishing commercial vision and challenge—the creation of an elegant, European-style ski resort to rise in one of the most remote and foreboding areas of the American West. It would be a mountain that, with its manmade adornments and burnished image, would justify days of travel from American cities by visitors capable of appreciating, affording, and embracing such a place. And those patrons—the refined, the arrivistes, the inheritors, the entrepreneurs, the creative, the commercial parvenus—would hopefully find in that resort and its mountain something that matched what their counterparts in Europe had experienced for decades: a sparkling mountain retreat providing a unique physical and social experience that made them feel, well, eminent. In 1935, a young patrician named Averell Harriman, who was the personification of eminence, had inherited phenomenal wealth and responsibilities from his father. One of his charges was to serve as chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad (UP). A man of curiosity and commercial creativity, Harriman thought that creating a ski resort similar to the ones he knew from Europe might bring new ridership to his railroad’s increas- T h e S u n Va l l e y S t o r y [ 3 ] setting the scene ria l resort just east of Ketchum on the old, failing Brass Ranch. The Sun Valley Resort that rose on the ranch property is to this day a lasting symbol of old-fashioned comfort and graciousness, providing a remarkable range of skiing, summer sports, and family recreation just a short distance from an old mining town with superb restaurants and a lively night life. The essence of the Sun Valley Resort today closely mirrors the original concept envisioned in 1936 by a flamboyant, imaginative public-relations man hired by Harriman to infuse the resort with a unique and upscale identity. Harriman and Hannagan were an unlikely couple, but again Harriman had selected an executive who would prove indispensable. Steve Hannagan was best known as the public-relations man who played a critical role in elevating a beach with outsized aspirations near Miami into a sexy, ritzy tourist mecca called Miami Beach. Hannagan had a canny sense of catching the public’s attention and then conveying seductive images of fun and comfort. And they brought in customers. Miami Beach was quickly elevated from the slightly mundane into a glamorous, vivacious place, a place to feel smarter and better looking and more compelling than you actually were. By visiting Miami Beach you could thrill your family with sun and warmth, feel better about your status in life, and win the envy of neighbors back home shoveling two feet of snow from the front walk. It was blunt legerdemain without deceit. For Harriman, the wily PR man took a no-name valley in the shadow of the remote Smoky Mountains and spun forth a story—generally accurate—of fun, elegance, and exclusivity. He even gave the valley a name: Sun Valley, though in later years others unsuccessfully laid claim to that distinction. Hannagan created the magic for the premiere American ski resort. For instance, Hannagan abhorred snow and cold. He correctly presumed that many potential visitors had no real knowledge of skiing, at that time an esoteric winter sporting activity. Given his preference for spending winter afternoons on sunny beaches with a covey of models in two-piece bathing suits, Hannagan knew that there would be significant resistance by guests to trudging through knee-deep snow up a hill only to turn around and slide— if not uncontrollably tumble—back down on two long pieces of insanely polished kindling. So Hannagan told Harriman the resort required a comfortable contraption for lifting people up the hill. Harriman agreed and cogs began to turn. A people conveyance became just another item on the corporate “to do” list. The railroad would, within a year, from scratch, assemble a large, full-service hotel in the middle of nowhere. It delivered to C op yr ig ht ed M at e ingly empty passenger trains. Harriman, who had a stunning circle of friends, decided that an Austrian, Count Felix Schaffgotsch, was the ideal person to find THE mountain. The count was descended from an imposing Austrian family of nobility that traced its history deep into medieval Europe. His immediate family were haughty Viennese bankers, among the most prestigious in Europe. Though not considered a particularly gifted skier, Count Schaffgotsch had seen many ski mountains and knew how to mingle with the blue bloods and scoundrels who flitted For Harriman, the wily PR man took a no- through the privileged ski name valley in the shadow of the remote resorts of Austria and SwitIn keeping with his Smoky Mountains and spun forth a zerland. class he radiated a subtle arrostory—generally accurate—of fun, elegance, gance, though seemingly was comfortable with the people and exclusivity. who make resorts work—ski instructors, snow groomers, laborers, and certainly the hoteliers and their staffs, all of whom he had seen contribute to the genteel ambience of the rarefied European ski resorts. But the mountain Count Schaffgotsch was to select had to meet an additional and limiting standard: it had to be in proximity to the Union Pacific rail line, an endeavor born of robber baron braggadocio and greed and vision, designed to stitch the nation together. The railroad pushed west from Omaha out across the Great Plains into the Rockies, and then, with good fortune and alliances and the financial backing of an ambitious government, rose into the vast Sierra and dropped down on the far slope into the benevolent goldfields of California and on to Sacramento. From there travelers could rush on to the last great American outpost, the terminus of the American West on the Pacific—San Francisco. Railroads in the 1930s had something in common with the railroads 75 years later. Freight trains made money. Passenger trains lost it. Futurists saw the airplanes eventually dominating long-distance travel. Automobiles would dominate the shorter, intercity trips. Besides that, most passenger trains had the reputation of being outmoded and seedy. Archaic. Harriman wasn’t daunted. He would build his resort and upgrade the trains that serviced it. Eventually, with a combination of good luck and intuition and railroad wisdom, the count determined the hills and mountains around the old mining town of Ketchum, Idaho, were ideal. He raved about them to Harriman. Harriman made a rail trip to Ketchum to confirm the count’s enthusiasm, and it was quickly decided to immediately build the [ 4 ] Chapter One ria l M at e ed ht ig yr op C [above] Count Felix Schaffgotsch “discovering” Sun Valley in 1936. The telegram he sent Harriman claimed, “I’ve found it!” further extolling the area as “the ski heaven.” [top right] McFall Hotel and railway station at Shoshone, October 1939. [bottom right] A sun valley circular, detailing information for UP personnel about the route to Sun Valley. T h e S u n Va l l e y S t o r y [ 5 ] setting the scene ria l in 75 years. And all made significant contributions to the resort, the mountain, and the community at its base. The Union Pacific sold the resort in 1964, long after it was obvious that passenger traffic would never be of commercial consequence to the railroads. And by then Harriman himself was no longer involved in the railroad management, having turned to public service, becoming ambassador to the Soviet Union and Great Britain, and later, governor of New York State. Bill Janss, of Janss Corporation, was the scion of a significant real estate development family in Southern California. Equally as important, he had been a consequential competitive skier in his youth. He knew Sun Valley and he knew mountains. Later in life, after significantly improving the mountain, he sold the resort to Earl Holding of Salt Lake City in 1977. As a young man, Holding took a job as a handyman at a rental apartment building in Salt Lake City. He moved from that into managing a truck stop on an east-west interstate. Holding eventually acquired the truck stop and slowly assembled a remarkable conglomerate that includes a major oil firm, Sinclair; hotels in Salt Lake City and San Diego; and, besides Sun Valley, the Snowbasin resort near Ogden, Utah. From the most humble of circumstances he rose to become one of America’s billionaires. Holding transformed a declining, increasingly scruffy resort. He enhanced and modernized the resort amenities while expanding the resources (computerized snowmaking and gondola) on Baldy, the 9,150-foot ski mountain. Most recently, the family created a strikingly modern but comfortable performance amphitheater, the Sun Valley Pavilion. From Garth Brooks to Itzhak Perlman, from the Sun Valley Summer Symphony to the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, the Pavilion is the summer cultural center of Idaho. The three owners were individuals of honor who appreciated the uniqueness of the resort and embraced the principles that have brought it such success and longevity. In their own ways, Janss and Holding have acted as custodians of a trust initiated by Harriman. Holding, never hesitating to modernize the facilities and expand the quality of the Sun Valley experience in a highly competitive resort market, has been wise and generous in his investments. This is a book about the resort, the town where it was founded, and the men and women who imagined it, protected it, and became emblematic of its quality. Sun Valley continues 75 years after its opening as a great American success story. This is the story of that legend. But ultimately, it is a story about a mountain. C op yr ig ht ed M at e the backwoods of Idaho construction equipment, workers and housing, dinner plates and sheets and oranges and cement and steaks and windows and a swimming pool and musical instruments and potato peelers. Everything found in a normal upscale hotel was hauled to Ketchum, Idaho—including a people lifter. At the Omaha headquarters a young engineer recalled that a former employer had developed a device to lift bananas off a Central American wharf and into the hold of a freighter bound for the United States with no damage to the vulnerable cargo. If bananas, why not people? Celebrities were lured to Sun Valley, After the inevitable internal the UP engiaffirming to the popular press its claims machinations, neers focused on the chalof sophistication and convenience. lenge and soon had a chairlift. It was a brilliant innovation that would open the sport to a vast new public. Jim Curran, who later rose to head the railroad’s engineering department, never learned to ski. Within a brief period of time, the Sun Valley Resort was open and viable. There is a saying that the last workman exited the Lodge’s back door as the first guest entered the front door. While there was no snow on opening day, the image machine that created and nurtured the resort’s magic produced entertainment and diversion for the guests. The railroad picked up the room and food charges until the snow fell. And following another Hannagan recommendation, celebrities were lured to Sun Valley, affirming to the popular press its claims of sophistication and convenience. From Gary Cooper to Errol Flynn, from Claudette Colbert to Joan Bennett, from Darryl Zanuck to David O. Selznick, Hollywood provided celebrities for the grand opening. The world of commerce provided names such as Paley and Pabst and Pullman and Taft and Whitney. Newspapers published huge amounts of laudatory material about the resort and the interesting, glamorous people who gathered there. A writer for the New York Herald Tribune brought joy to Harriman and Hannagan by writing that “one can obtain a sun tan twice as quickly sliding up and down the Sawtooths as lying on the sands of Palm Beach. Anyone who tries to keep up with the Park Avenue Joneses knows that a nut-brown tan, comparable to an old saddle bag, is the most envied sign of aristocracy in the East during the off, or out-of-sun, months.” For decades the sun has shined generously upon Sun Valley and those who come to it. Fortunately, Sun Valley Resort has had only three owners [ 6 ] Chapter One ria l M at e ed ht ig yr op C [above] Sun Valley Resort founder Averell Harriman escorts Anne Janss to a Sun Valley Resort party in February 1970. [top right] Earl and Carol Holding outside the Lodge in 1977, the year they bought the resort. [bottom right] Former Olympic team member and second owner of the resort, Bill Janss, on Bald Mountain. T h e S u n Va l l e y S t o r y [ 7 ] ria l M at e ed ht ig yr C op [clockwise, from above] The I Love Lucy show in Sun Valley in 1958. The cast, Bill Frawley, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and Lucille Ball enjoy a break outside the Lodge. The Shah of Iran came to Sun Valley in 1949, reportedly after being captivated by its portrayal in Sun Valley Serenade. Congressman Gerald Ford, later President Ford, visited Sun Valley with his family in 1966. [ 5 6 ] Chapter Four ria l M at e ed ht ig yr op C [above] The great conductor arturo toscanini aims for a high note on his way up a Baldy chairlift. [top right] Four Kennedys, Teddy, Joan, Patrick, and Jacqueline, on a horse-drawn sleigh. [bottom right] Former President Harry Truman with Tuck, a hunting dog. T h e S u n Va l l e y S t o r y [ 5 7 ] ria l M at e ed ht ig yr op C [ 6 2 ] Chapter Four [top and bottom left] Aspiring starlets fish and play golf at the resort course. [above] Actress Ruth Roman, best remembered for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, relaxes at the resort pool in a swimming suit emblazoned with the words, “It Happened in Sun Valley.” ria l M at e ed ht ig yr op C [above] A well turned-out swimsuit model takes in the rays at the resortâ€™s pool. [top right] Actors (and a lucky resort employee, Ned Bell), appearing in a Coca-Cola commercial, take a break on the golf course. [bottom right] Film (Spellbound) and Broadway actress and big band vocalist Rhonda Fleming relaxes poolside at the Inn. T h e S u n Va l l e y S t o r y [ 6 3 ] ria l M at e ed ht ig yr op C [above] Sun Valleyâ€™s rustic Trail Creek Cabin was the nightly scene of informal dinners, folk dancing, and games. [right] The Ski School Meeting Place was a hub of lively activity each morning. [ 74 ] Chapter Four ed ht ig yr op C M at e ria l ed ht ig yr op C M at e ria l ria l M at e ed ht ig yr op C [left] The Sun Valley Rodeo, held in mid-August, began in 1937 to great fanfare, but only ran for six years. [above] View of the rodeo grounds in 1939, which were located at the present site of the Horsemanâ€™s Center. [top right] bronco riding and parades entertained crowds of guests and locals in 1940. [bottom right] Parading through the sun valley rodeo arena in August 1940. T h e S u n Va l l e y S t o r y [ 9 1 ]