Arts & Culture

Sun Valley vs. Ketchum… What is the difference?

If you are just beginning your research about the area or maybe you’ve even visited a few times you might be wondering, “What is the difference between Sun Valley and Ketchum?” The short answer to that question is not a whole lot, but there is way more to the story and history of how these two came to be.

Community Library: Eugene Antz


Lets start with Ketchum since it came first in history. Trappers were the first to venture here in 1824. But it wasn’t until the 1870s when prospectors begin to populate the valley in search of fortune. 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. Originally named Leadville the town was renamed after David Ketchum, a trapper, guide, and one of the first permeant residents to set up near what is now modern day Giacobbi Square. The area became one of the richest districts in the Northwest until the silver market collapsed in 1890 when most of Ketchum’s residents left the boomtown. 

Following the silver market collapse, sheep became the area’s leading industry.  In 1890 there were approximately 614,000 sheep in the valley, but by 1918 the sheep population reached 2.65 million. During that time, thousands of lambs were shipped by rail to markets around the West, and Ketchum was second only to Sydney, Australia in sheep exports. Although it saw a huge growth in the sheep industry, Ketchum had transformed into a sleepy little town with a year-round population of only 100 people centered on that spur line from the main Oregon-Shortline railroad.

Sun Valley

That spur line of the Union Pacific Railroad network would become paramount to the future of the valley. Count Felix Schaffgosch arrived in the Valley on January 16, 1936. The Count had been hired by Union Pacific Chairman Averell Harriman to scout the Western United States 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.”

The other major benefit of the location was not only a Union Pacific rail line to promote traffic on, but also large expanses of cheap land and a low population for a secluded resort. Harriman purchased the large 3,888 acre Brass Ranch adjacent to Trail Creek for $4 per acre.

In less than a year, the luxurious Sun Valley Lodge was completed upon this ranch and the doors were open to international publicity. Conveniently surrounding the ranch were rolling hills that made for easy ski touring and lessons and would be home to the the first 3 chairlifts in the world invented by Union Pacific engineers. The old adage of “if you build it they will come” came true and oh boy did they! The City of Sun Valley was incorporated in 1947.

So what is the difference?

It essentially comes down to city limits. Ketchum and Sun Valley share quiet a-bit of their city limits with each other. Ketchum encompasses the historic old mining town grid and primary town for the area. Ketchum also stretches out to include the Warm Springs Canyon and base area as well as the River Run base area for Bald mountain.

Sun Valley on the other hand encompasses the original resort village, golf courses, and various residential neighborhoods, such as Elkhorn, as well as Dollar Mountain base area. The Sun Valley name is also often used to refer to the entire valley including the southern towns of Hailey and Bellevue that you will likely fly into or drive through on your way.

If you are looking for more history and want to learn more about this wonderful place check out the resources the Community Library has. When it comes down to it if you are looking at visiting Sun Valley and Ketchum just remember you are visiting both of them. Cause they go together like a schooner and fries or a bomba and burrito.

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