History of Sun Valley

First Dwellers

Over 10,000 years ago, the Native American people from the Shoshone, Bannock & Lemhi tribes ventured from the Stanley Basin and the Snake River Plains to the Wood River Valley. Some would seasonally migrate to the area to sustainably hunt and gather on the land while others were long-term habitants of the Elkhorn region of Sun Valley.

Mining & Ketchum

Not until the 1870s, when gold was discovered in the West, did the European settlers and prospectors begin to populate the Valley in search of fortune. Ultimately, this influx of newcomers resulted in the tribes retreating out of the area.

By the early 1880s, Ketchum was not only a booming mining town, but it also was famous for its healing hot springs. The Guyer Hot Springs Resort, located on Warm Springs Road, was popular with people from around the country for its mineral waters, croquet, tennis, and fun. By the end of 1884, Ketchum boasted 13 saloons, four restaurants, two hotels, and all types of businesses necessary for a thriving town.

Sun Valley Resort

When Count Felix Schaffgosch arrived in the Valley on January 16, 1936, the once prosperous mining town of Ketchum had transformed into a sleepy little town with a year-round population of only 100 people. The mining boom had come to an end and Ketchum’s population had moved on, leaving only a few behind. The Count had been hired by Union Pacific Chairman Averell Harriman to scout the West for the finest spot on which to build a destination ski resort. Within three days of arriving in Ketchum, the Count wired Harriman: "Among the many attractive spots I have visited, this combines the more delightful features of any place I have seen in the United States, Switzerland, or Austria for a winter ski resort." In less than a year, the luxurious Sun Valley Resort was completed and the doors were open to international publicity. The Sun Valley /Ketchum area was on the map.

With the grand opening of Sun Valley, "America’s First Destination Ski Resort," celebrities flocked to the area to see America’s new grand dame of ski resorts. Ernest Hemingway fell in love with Sun Valley and eventually made it his home; he finished For Whom the Bell Tolls in Suite 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge. Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman...they all came to play at the glamorous, new winter wonderland.

Evidence of Sun Valley’s star-studded history can be viewed at the Sun Valley Lodge; black and white photos of smiling stars with a Sun Valley backdrop line the walls. Other historical information about the Valley can be found at the Wood River Museum of History and Culture.

Acknowledging the Indigenous People

What we call the Sun Valley area today is located within the unceded territory of the Shoshone, Bannock & Lemhi tribes. We honor and dedicate this land to these people who were the original caretakers of the land, water, and natural resources that we are so fortunate to enjoy to this day.