December 15, 2020
Union Pacific Railroad’s Averell Harriman had a bold vision to restore rail passenger traffic decimated by the Great Depression: create ski tourism in Idaho’s remote Wood River Valley. A $1.5 million investment opened Sun Valley in December 1936 with a lavish lodge, luxury shopping, Austrian ski instructors and extensive backcountry skiing. Prestigious tournaments featured the world’s best skiers. Chairlifts invented by Union Pacific engineers serviced skiers quickly and comfortably. Ski instructor and filmmaker Otto Lang recalled that seemingly overnight, it became “a magnet for the ‘beautiful people,’ a meeting place for movie stars and moguls, chairmen and captains of industry, Greek shipping tycoons, and peripatetic playboys–and playgirls–of the international social set.” After World War II and Harriman’s departure, Union Pacific’s willingness to pay the $500,000 yearly subsidy waned. Bill Janss purchased it in 1964 and reimagined it as a year-round resort but lacked the capital for growth. Sinclair Oil owners Earl and Carol Holding acquired it in 1977, revitalizing it into a premier resort with international status.
In his new book, Skiing Sun Valley: A History from Union Pacific to the Holdings, award-winning ski historian John W. Lundin celebrates America’s first destination ski resort using unpublished Union Pacific documents, oral histories, contemporaneous accounts and more than 150 historic images.
Books are available for sale at the Library’s Regional History Museum, and at local bookstores and retailers. All proceeds benefit the Library’s Jeanne Rodger Lane Center for Regional History.
The great-grandson of early Wood River Valley pioneers, John W. Lundin is an attorney, historian and author. He has written extensively on the histories of Washington and the Wood River Valley. In 2018, his book Early Skiing on Snoqualmie Pass received an award as outstanding regional ski history book from the International Ski History Association. John is a founder of the Washington State Ski & Snowboard Museum and serves on its board. His website is www.johnwlundin.com.