Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Sun Valley Summers Included Skiing, Golfing and the Baltimore Colts
Sun Valley General Manager Pappy Rogers and Gen. George Marshall square off on a bat.
Sunday, June 30, 2024

EDITOR’S NOTE: Offering golfing and other activities were not the first things Averell Harriman and Union Pacific railroad considered when they built Sun Valley as America’s first destination ski resort in 1936. Now, of course, summer is considered the resort’s busiest season. Learn more about early Sun Valley summers in today’s story by Sun valley historian John W. Lundin, author of the award-winning book “Skiing Sun Valley: A History From Union Pacific to the Holdings.” (This is the second part of the series. See Saturday’s Eye on Sun Valley for the first part.)


PHOTOS COURTESY of Skiing Sun Valley: A History From Union Pacific to the Holdings”

Dick Durrance moved to Sun Valley after he graduated from Dartmouth.  He became editor of the Sun Valley Ski Club Annual - 1939, which he enlarged “to present a more comprehensive report of the races...and other activities of particular interest to skiers.” Articles appeared about preparing Bald Mountain for new lifts and skiing next season, climbing in the nearby mountains, the Sun Valley Ski School by its new director, Friedl Pfeifer, ski touring around Pioneer Cabin, summer ice skating and others.

The legendary Dick Durrance rappels near Sun Valley.

The Valley Sun, Special Summer Edition described Sun Valley’s summer of 1939.  A new 60 x 120-foot outdoor ice-skating rink was opened, overlooked by the dining terrace at the Lodge with a “generous dance floor” which could be used in winter or summer. New tennis courts were built.  Summer rodeos started in August in “the most modern western sports stadium ever created...Rodeo Stadium Finest in the West.”  A children’s playground opened in June.  The resort offered swimming, badminton, paddle tennis, croquet, bicycling, canoeing, horseshoes, archery, golf on a “tricky” new nine-hole course with 18 tees, trail riding, fishing in local streams and at Silver Creek, and pack expeditions into the nearby wilderness area.

During the Idaho Potato Growers conference held at Sun Valley that summer, Kathleen Harriman heard a conventioneer’s wife say, “this is a lovely place.  What do you suppose they do with it in the winter?”

Pat Rogers, Sun Valley’s manager, was a character.  He loved baseball, which was a major form of recreation for employees and guests.  Everybody played.  Pat was the catcher for his team and he couldn’t stand to lose. During baseball season, everything stopped from 2 to 4 p.m. for games ,as everyone was on the ballfield.

Now, Clara Siegle was a wealthy woman from Chicago who spent long periods of time in Sun Valley.  One summer, her son’s team played Pat Roger’s team.  Her son hit a home run that broke the game open, and Siegel and others razzed Rogers. Pat turned around and said, “Clara Spiegel, I’ve had enough of you.  Pick up your paycheck and get out of here.”

Polo used to be part of Sun Valley’s summer activities.

Clara and her family were staying in a six-room suite in the Lodge, a fact Rogers forgot.  That night at a party in the Lodge, Pat’s wife told Clara he was hiding from her: “He fired you and realized later you didn’t work here, you’ve been staying here so much.”  Pat was notorious for not apologizing to anyone.

Don Fraser became Sun Valley’s Director of Sports in 1939, after marrying Gretchen Kunigk.  Harriman praised the Frasers’ contributions to Sun Valley in his oral history: 

Don Fraser played a very important role.  He came to Sun Valley in 1937, the second year of its operation ...He had a great deal to do with the development of everything.  Both the skiing and the summer time.  We owe a great deal to him and his wife, Gretchen...It was the first romance of Sun Valley...I would say that Don Fraser and Pat Rogers were the two men that perhaps did the most.  Don Fraser from the standpoint of the outdoors, and Pat Rogers from the standpoint of the operations of the Lodge and Challenger Inn.

A Spring Sports Meet was held on May 5, 1940, in the glorious days of spring “when we still had wonderful corn on Baldy and sometimes fresh powder up at Galena.”  Most of Sun Valley’s top skiers participated, except for Dick Durrance, as he was in Twin Falls at a dentist’s office getting the teeth fixed he had damaged by “the way he ran the steilhang in the nationals six weeks before.”

Early guests picnic in the Pioneer Mountains.

Friedl Pfeifer set a course from the fire lookout with three open gates. Pfeifer dominated the men, his “fluency, that perfect rhythm that prevents the minute delays of turns, jerked or pulled over so slightly, was the margin of victory.”  He was followed by Sigi Engl and Steve Bradley.  Women competitors included members of the U.S. women’s F.I.S./Olympic team: Nancy Reynolds, Miggs Durrance, Gretchen Fraser, Elli Stiller and others. 

Competitions were also held in the “inferior sports” of golf, tennis and “something you do with a gun,” which was won by Don Fraser.  Sigi Engl won the tennis final.  Pfeifer won the combined followed by Fred Islin and Sigi Engl.  The women’s winners were Nancy Reynolds, Gretchen Fraser and Miggs Durrance.

“Think of it--skiing in the morning and then tennis after lunch.  It makes almost a perfect combination, and where else but Sun Valley could you find it?  So that was the first Sun Valley Spring Sports Meeting.  Let’s hope it becomes a regular annual event,” wrote the Sun Valley Ski Club Annual Season 1940.

In 1940, Sun Valley expanded recreational opportunities for its summer and fall visitors on Silver Creek, 25 miles southeast of Sun Valley near Picabo. The area was prime territory for hunting and fishing in one of the west’s best spring fed creek fishery and nearby farms, which included two miles of stream front.  Don Fraser and Pat Rogers negotiated the purchase of two small ranches: the Gillahan ranch in 1940 for $8,000, which was the downstream half; and the Sullivan ranch on the upper section of the river (where Sullivan Lake was located) in July 1941, for $4,285, creating Sun Valley Ranch.

Early shooting lessons necessitated cowboy hats.

Under Pat Rogers, the major use of Sun Valley Ranch was recreation.  The railroad built two cabins and a dog kennel on the west arm of Sullivan’s Lake to house guides and entertain clients.  Sun Valley guests took the train from Ketchum to the closest rail stop, Hay, near the present Hayspur Fish Hatchery.  They were taken by buckboard or motor vehicle to the Sullivan Lake cabins.  The resort’s horses were pastured at Sun Valley Ranch in the fall.  The site became a popular location for fishing and hunting in the summers and falls for Sun Valley guests.

                                                   SUN VALLEY DURING WWII

During WWII, Sun Valley became a Naval Rehabilitation hospital, with facilities for the hospitalization, rehabilitation and recreation of servicemen. It was one of 14 Naval Convalescent facilities in the country. The mental and physical wounds of 6,578 Navy, Marine and Coast Guard patients were treated there through December 1, 1945.

Isolation was the hospital’s biggest problem, but Sun Valley had many recreational facilities for both winter and summer sports which “mitigated the loneliness of the situation...

The facility maintained two glass-enclosed, heated, year-long swimming pools.  Three of the six ski lifts were kept in operation...and...advantage was taken of the excellent skiing in the very fine powder snow of the area.  Ice skating...was amply provided for, although the artificial rink was discontinued. Fishing, hunting, soft ball diamond, a golf course, tennis, badminton, and archery courts were available...A 500-seat theater with excellent equipment and first-run pictures obtained from Salt Lake City provided entertainment. Bowling alleys...were on hand as were pool tables, ping pong tables, and ample equipment...

                                                    SUN VALLEY AFTER WWII


Averell Harriman became involved in the war effort in 1941, spending the war years in England and Russia.  In 1945, Harriman became President Truman’s Secretary of Commerce and was forced to sever ties with Union Pacific. Harriman said “that broke my relationship with the management of Sun Valley,” and he never again had a major management role with the railroad or the resort.  With Harriman gone, Sun Valley’s relationship with Union Pacific changed.

During World War II, demand for rail traffic overwhelmed railroads, wearing out rolling stock and physical plants.  In 1946, Union Pacific was in worse shape than since E.H. Harriman overhauled it in the early 1900s, according to railroad historian Maury Klein.  New management took over Union Pacific and passenger traffic became less important than freight because of competition from airlines, bus service and automobiles.  Since Sun Valley was built to promote passenger service, its post-war role diminished and the subsidy necessary to keep the resort running became harder to justify.

Union Pacific had to decide whether to reopen Sun Valley after World War II, as it needed substantial work after it was used as Navy Rehabilitation Center. Steve Hannagan said the cost of operating the resort was the price for bringing “attention to the Union Pacific at a cost, cheaper than any other known means.”  If seen as a money-making project, “it would fail miserably.”

Unless Union Pacific was willing to subsidize the resort “as an advertising, good will and business projecting endeavor to the extent of $350,000 to $500,000 annually,” it should be abandoned.  Summer operations had the same value as winter ones.  The rodeo could be eliminated and Sun Valley could be operated as a deluxe dude ranch. “Certain people” could be encouraged to build homes at Sun Valley, leasing the ground to them, which if properly taxed would “provide for sound expansion of community ventures.”  “We will have to hit as hard as when we opened the resort originally.”

Sun Valley reopened in December 1947, but conditions were different. Union Pacific management changed, adding more uncertainty. In February 1946, George Ashby replaced William Jeffers as president.  Arthur Stoddard replaced Ashby in 1949.   Harriman said Stoddard “was never very keen on Sun Valley.  He didn’t understand this, your basically goodwill value throughout the West, particularly Idaho.”

The year 1952 is often seen as the end to Sun Valley’s glory years.  Pat Rogers, Sun Valley’s longtime manager responsible for much of its ambiance, left because of Stoddard’s austerity program designed to cut its $500,000 yearly loss. “Elegance began to go” according to Dorice Taylor, the resort’s publicity director.  Sun Valley was still a major destination resort, but Union Pacific did not invest the money necessary to keep it at the same level that made it famous before the war.  Its facilities declined, it lost much of the atmosphere for which it was known, and its place in the ski world changed as other resorts grew and competed for the ski market.

                                           SUMMER ACTIVITIES AFTER WWII

Averell and his daughter Katherine Harriman returned to Sun Valley in 1947, both in the winter and summer, mixing with celebrities including Senator William Fulbright and Alice Faye. 

In 1947, Averell Harriman asked ski instructor Andy Hennig to write a guide to skiing and alpine touring at Sun Valley.  In 1939, Hennig joined the separate ski-touring part of the Sun Valley Ski School run by Florian Haemmerle.  That spring, they scouted the best skiing in the peaks surrounding Sun Valley.  Hennig wrote Sun Valley Ski Guide that was published by Union Pacific in 1948.  The book described skiing on the lift-served areas (Ruud, Proctor, Dollar, and Bald Mountains), with a section on Spring and Summer Skiing and Ski Touring. 

Backcountry skiing continued to be an important part of Sun Valley’s activities, which Hennig took 32 pages to describe.  Trips were available using Sun Valley Ski instructors or through the Sun Valley Touring Ski School classes.  Sun Valley had two backcountry cabins: Pioneer Cabin and Owl Creek Cabin near Galena.  Backcountry trips were led by Florian Haemmerle and Hennig, both 10th Mountain Veterans, and Victor Gottschalk, who made many first ascents of local mountains.  While April is a time skiing is over for the average skier,

“there is excellent skiing through April, May, June and sometimes into the middle of July.”  Bald Mountain offered spring skiing in its bowls, ridges, ravines and upper part of Broadway through April.  Proctor Mountain had several runs offering skiing until mid-May.

In spring 1947, Andy Hennig discovered an old mining settlement in Boulder Basin north of Ketchum, with good snow into spring and summer.  In summer 1947, Harriman toured Boulder Basin and Harriman directed that spring and summer skiing be promoted there.  Two jeeps were available to transport skiers to the Basin, which was used for slalom races to celebrate the Fourth of July in 1948.

In his Sun Valley Ski Guide, Henning said Boulder Basin was “Sun Valley’s newly discovered spring skiing area” that was “only 18 miles and 45 minutes by Jeep from Sun Valley by a wagon trail used by the abandoned Golden Glow Mine.”  The snow was too deep there during the winter, but spring season started at the end of March.  Snow in the Basin lasted longer than anywhere else around Sun Valley as it was a natural snow-basin surrounded by high peaks and ridges.

During April, ski classes for beginners were held on the gentle slopes of  Baker’s Creek, 15 miles north of Sun Valley, and advanced classes were on “the vast snowfields of Galena.”  When snow in the lower areas recede, “ski-classes move up to Boulder Basin, where skiing is good until July.” There were ski slopes for novices and intermediate skiers and five huge bowls for experts.

 Expert ski-mountaineers with ski guides from the Ski School could climb the 10,966-foot Boulder Peak.  Boulder Basin placed Sun Valley in the “unique position of being able to offer the skiing enthusiast an opportunity to pursue his favorite sport not only throughout the spring but into summer, as well.  Just imagine skiing in the morning, and in the afternoon, playing tennis or golf or going swimming or horseback riding.”

A mountain lake in Boulder Basin was used for summer sports, and the area became popular for picnics, hiking and rock climbing.  Expansion of skiing into other areas around Sun Valley was planned “so that even wider fields of activities will be open to skiers in the years to come,” said The Valley Sun in 1947.

Over the July 4th holiday in 1947, the Idaho State Trapshoot Tournament took place at Sun Valley where participants competed for the George F. Ashby Trophy donated by Union Pacific’s president.  Many of the best shooters in the United States competed for seven trophies and a $3,000 purse.   

  Sun Valley opened a climbing school directed by Walter Prager who taught Army Mountain troops climbing and skiing during WWII.   Students spent their first day climbing rocks “about three or four men high” where elementary skills were learned.  The second day was spent learning to rappel down steep rocks using ropes.  Using pitons came next.  Finally, students were taken on a two-day trip into the high country around Sun Valley.

Sun Valley’s three tennis courts were resurfaced and plans made to hold several tournaments.  Sigi Engl was the resort’s tennis pro.

Sun Valley’s “Drive-Yourself Service” offered station wagons that could be rented for trips or hired with a driver. A recommended one-day trip went over Galena Summit and included Alturas, Pettit, Redfish and Stanley Lakes, and the towns of Stanley and Challis. Carl Bradsher, the Shooting Instructor, taught pistol, rifle and shotgun skills, but his special ty was “skeet,” derived from the Scandinavian word for “shoot.” 

Skiing at Boulder Basin was promoted by Sun Valley in 1947, where seven feet of snow ensured the season would remain well into summer.  Guests could leave Sun Valley after breakfast, ski and lunch at Boulder and be back in time for tennis or golf.

“At Boulder, the skier may drive right up to the area and literally step out onto a ski run...Boulder Basin provides the sportsman with some of the grandest scenic beauty in all the West.”

President Harry Truman visited Sun Valley in July 1948, bringing his wife Bess,  daughter Margaret and an entourage of top officials.  The Trumans stayed at Harriman Cottage. Truman went fly-fishing in the lake, shot skeet, saw the resort’s hunting dogs go through their paces and inspected the stables. Sun Valley publicists wanted Truman to ride the Baldy lift but his Secret Service detail vetoed the idea.  He rode the Dollar chair instead, and photographers laid on their backs so one could not tell he was on Dollar instead of Baldy. Margaret rode the Baldy lift to the top of the mountain, expressing delight.

Gen. George Marshall, Secretary of State and architect of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after WWII, came with the President.  His picture was taken on the baseball diamond batting at home plate with Pat Rogers behind him in a catcher’s outfit.

The Baltimore Colts professional football team trained at Sun Valley for a month in summer 1948, following the lead of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team who trained there the prior summer.  They worked out daily at the Rodeo grounds.  The Colts played an intersquad game as  part of a gala Sunday affair that included rides up Bald Mountain on the ski lift in the morning, an ice carnival in the evening and a parade featuring the Idaho Falls High School Band.

Sun Valley’s summer activities were cut back in the 1950s, as Union Pacific cut its subsidy to the resort.  The rodeo was no longer held, and the grandstand no longer used.  The resort continued to attract summer visitors, however, to enjoy the recreation opportunities there and in the surrounding mountains. 

More information can be found in Lundin’s books,  Skiing Sun Valley: A History From Union Pacific To The Holdings, and Sun Valley, Ketchum and The Wood River Valley.


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