Sun Valley celebrates 75 years

Published: Wednesday, March 9 2011 6:00 p.m. MST

The Sun Valley Lodge with the familiar icon is located in the heart of the Idaho resort.

Ray Grass, Deseret News

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — It was 75 years ago skiers first enjoyed the comfort and convenience of an uphill chair ride.

Seeing the benefits, more than 400 resorts have since followed Sun Valley with groomed runs and chairlifts and hot lunches here in the United States. The first in line was Alta — 73 years ago.

While Sun Valley was the first to introduce a chair lift, Alta was the second … a single chair fashioned after a system used to unload bananas from a boat.

That was not Sun Valley's only tie with Utah in the beginning.

Resort founder Averell Harriman, who introduced to skiing in Europe, enlisted the help of Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch to find the perfect location for America's first destination ski resort.

Schaffgotsch would search the mountains in all the snow states in the West.

And, since he was less than an accomplished skier, Harriman hired skiing legend Alf Engen, the director of the Alf Engen Ski School at Alta for 40 years, as his guide. Engen passed away in 1997.

Engen would guide the Count through the Wasatch Mountains in 1935 and 1936. Tours included areas in both Big and Little Cottonwood canyons. Schaffgotsch liked the mountains and the snow, but believed the areas were too close to the populated Salt Lake City.

Harriman also sought help of early skiing greats, including Engen, to help design ski runs at Sun Valley. Engen would later become a ski instructor at Sun Valley prior to his tenure at Alta.

It would be years later when Utah and Sun Valley would have their strongest bond. Earl Holding, owner of Little America and Grand America, among other things, bought Sun Valley in 1977. In 1984, Holding bought Snowbasin near Ogden and would later name it Snowbasin - A Sun Valley Resort.

(Holding will be inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame this summer along with Paralympic medalist Muffy Davis, a Sun Valley product. Ceremonies will be held in Sun Valley.)

Being the country's first destination resort and having the first chair lift were not the only firsts for the Idaho resort.

 Sun Valley was the first to introduce large-scale, computerized snowmaking. It currently has one of the most sophisticated snow making systems in the country able to cover 640 acres, using 575 snowguns on Bald Mountain and a new system with sufficient snowguns on Dollar Mountain.

"We consider it a great insurance policy," said Jack Sibbach, director of marketing and public relations for Sun Valley. "It guarantees that we will have a great product. Our motto at Sun Valley is and always has been 100 percent guest satisfaction. We invested in snow making in order to offer a great product no matter what Mother Nature does. It's enabled us to open by Thanksgiving eight out of 10 years and have good quality snow right up to and through the third week in April."

 Sun Valley was the first resort in the Intermountain area to introduce a high-speed chair lift. Solitude and Brighton followed.

 It was the first to supply skiing guests with exemplary customer services, which includes such things as tissues at loading stations for cleaning glass, goggles and noses.

 It was the first resort in the world to introduce a year-round, outdoor ice skating rink. Its ice skating programs have, in fact, drawn the finest skaters in the world.

 And, Sun Valley was the first to have an Austrian-based ski school in the U.S. Austrians, at the time, were the leaders in teaching skiing techniques.

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