25 Reasons We Live in Sun Valley
But if it weren’t for Baldy, few of us would be here today. To the outside world, Bald Mountain is Sun Valley. And for those who live here, it’s far more than just a ski hill. Baldy is the source of our livelihoods, our recreation epicenter and a fixture both imposing and comforting.
In summer, the mountain bustles with hikers and mountain bikers. Year-round, it is a scenic launching pad for soaring paragliders and an impromptu social scene for playful grownups.
Baldy also hosts plenty of local lunacies. Among the more painful, autumn’s Hill Climb turns the hill upside-down as the fit and determined scramble to the top. Near the end of each ski season, the Sun Valley Suns hockey team holds an annual party, complete with a tray race down Roundhouse slope. Two years ago, Paul Cox, a rare Sun who didn’t know how to ski, rode his lunch tray down Exhibition and straight to the bottom.
This past winter, on the season’s last day, spectators gathered at the Warm Springs base and watched an adrenaline-filled ritual—a harrowing race down Scorpion, an out-of-bounds slope. On customized skis cut off just behind the bindings, a dozen intrepid skiers charged daredevil-style over a narrow strip of snow punctuated with clumps of sagebrush and rock.
The Count would have been pleased.
—Greg Moore, 1976*
During the Fourth of July holiday, cashmere-clad tourists mingle with buckle-and-boots types during the Hailey Days of the Old West Rodeo. But the more adventurous visitor might take a pack team (or the family station wagon) over Trail Creek Pass for the Mackay Rodeo, billed as Idaho’s wildest.
Some events bring Western culture, or at least some dramatic recreation thereof, to the north valley. The pinnacle is Labor Day weekend’s Wagon Days Parade. The West’s largest non-motorized parade features more than a hundred museum-quality wagons displacing the usual Porsches and Volvos as they pull down Ketchum’s Main Street.
The more the West changes, the more some things stubbornly stay the same. Cowboys might not want to sip fancy cocktails. And tourists may shy from the grit and sweat of a real ranch. But Ketchum, where the cultures occasionally overlap, is richer for it.
—Dana DuGan, 1993
Trickling from a spring in the Smoky Mountains some 20 miles north of Ketchum, this story’s headwaters meander ribbon-like from the towering crags of Boulder and Pioneer ranges and are fed by dozens of tributaries along the way.
The Big Wood’s waters are the lifeblood of this valley. They feed lawns, quench thirst and offer respite from the hot summer sun. And for thousands of anglers, the river is one of the West’s blue-ribbon trout-fishing streams.
"The Big Wood is the thread that stitches the fabric of our community together," said Kathryn Goldman, of the Wood River Land Trust. "It created the valley, and all the people, wildlife, plants and fish are dependent on it in one way or another."
Farther north, in the Sawtooth Valley, the opening lines of another famed story begin. The Salmon River, dubbed the River of No Return by early settlers, descends from the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains and flows north through fertile valley fields. Endangered Chinook and sockeye once returned here from the Pacific by the tens of thousands. Today, whitewater rapids are the main attraction.
"We are all connected by the rivers we know," Goldman said. And we are all part of their stories.
As Norman McLean wrote, "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." The Big Wood and Salmon rivers run through the heart of a rugged and inspiring landscape. They link us to the heritage of the American West. Their stories are still being told.
—Greg Stahl, 1998
—Colleen Daly, 1978
Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Haggard, dirt-hauling trucks throwing off miasmic clouds of pollution. Three jovial workers crammed in a miniature pickup truck, surreptitiously sharing a bottle of Corona. A precisely coiffed matron behind the wheel of a monstrous SUV, phone tucked somewhere between neck and shoulder, steering with one hand and conducting the Brompton Oratory Choir with the other.
In spirit, it was evening rush on the Hollywood Freeway, plunked down in the 4.6 miles of Highway 75 between a late-afternoon pinot gris at Cristina’s and the Gimlet turnoff.
It is the worst, the absolute nadir, of the Wood River Valley.
Finally, the turn, and down the hill and around the curves to the bridge, and the sense it is cooler there—certainly not in the hipster sense—but in the way of stepping down from the friction and relentless purpose of the highway.
And there, emerging from the trees just south of the bridge, they were: a string of elk, of all sizes and conditions, crossing the river, precise in their single file, untroubled by the current, moving southwest. You see no houses from that perspective, so the 12 of them looked as if they were in the Copper Basin instead of a four-minute walk from Highway 75.
They are our link to what used to be. They and the wolves above Sun Valley, the cinnamon bear that wants to flail about in our hot tub, the astoundingly plump fox from down the road, the skulky coyotes growing ever more familiar. They are the valley. And if they can make do with what we’ve done to it, perhaps we can too.
—Van Gordon Sauter, 1989
Take the ongoing battle over how to protect the half-million-acre stretch of wildlands covering the Boulder and White Cloud mountains. One solution is the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act. CIEDRA is backed by many locals, the Idaho Conservation League and Idaho’s two-member U.S. House of Representatives delegation. But this cobbled coalition is at odds with competing legislation supported by Salmon River Valley resident Carole King, along with other local wildlands advocates.
The federal wilderness bills presented by the two groups would preserve some of the largest expanses of roadless national forest lands in the lower 48. The bills illustrate that while local wildlands advocates share a desire to protect these lands, they don’t agree on how best to accomplish this task. The difference between the bills is nearly 200,000 additional acres that King’s legislation would establish as wilderness.
So, how much is enough? That will ultimately be determined thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C., although vocal Sun Valley residents will certainly make their voices heard. For now, Rep. Mike Simpson’s CIEDRA legislation looks to have the upper hand. By year’s end, it may have altered the landscape just beyond Sun Valley’s backyard. One of the three wilderness areas proposed—the 110,438-acre Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness—would preserve much of the southern Boulder Mountains high country and be the first wilderness area to cover lands within the Wood River Valley.
Closer to home, nonprofit organizations battle to preserve the best remaining undeveloped private lands. Here, it comes down to a choice between our wild neighbors—such as elk and moose—or another subdivision.
Down at city hall, elected officials, citizens and developers may skirmish over an undeveloped canyon in the morning and share a mountain bike ride in the afternoon. Our disputes over open spaces it seems, boil down to this: While we disagree over how much open space is enough, some lands will always be wild.
—Jason D.B. Kauffman, 2005
But, as Blaine County native Polly Evett sees it, there’s one county determined to go against the flow. Evett dreamt up this loud-and-proud bumper sticker to give the blue brigade its own calling card in a cacophony of Bush/McCain/Palin propaganda.
A tiny Democratic oasis in a sea of raging Republicans, Blaine County is the only county to consistently vote blue in a state that gave Republicans more than 60 percent in the last three presidential elections. And while Latah and Teton joined us to support Barack Obama, Blaine still boasts the heartiest Democratic chops. In 2008, we once again gave the donkeys their best showing in the Gem State.
—Jennifer Tuohy, 2003
The best time to gaze and mingle is during Gallery Walk. Nine times a year, this Ketchum culture must-do uncorks copious wine bottles, welcomes dressed-up crowds and swings open its doors till late. Visiting artists always seem happy to escape the urban grind, and when you chat them up, the art talk often meanders to simpler subjects, like a favorite local hike or picnic spot.
Valley gallery owners know where they live and are delightfully low-key. Indeed, whether you are a serious collector or just in it for the wine, you can browse with ease and respect. As they say, art is the other reason to come to Sun Valley.
—Dana DuGan, 1993
Because Charley can kick my butt
At age 82, Charley French makes one thing clear: He can kick my butt in any athletic endeavor. Of course he would never admit that; Charley’s athletic prowess is rivaled only by his modesty.
But it’s true. All it takes is a long look at his achievements (far too many for a quick glance). Highlights include five Triathlon World Champion titles, Nordic skiing world titles, setting a course record for his age at the prestigious Kona Ironman in 1986, another course record at the U.S. Cycling Time Trials and a staggering string of victories in the local Boulder Mountain Tour.
Charley is not only competing at the highest level in multiple disciplines, but he routinely finishes well ahead of competitors half his age. And while he travels the world to take on his next challenge, he is indicative of the athletes who take to the roads, trails and rivers of the Wood River Valley every day.
When I first moved to Ketchum three years ago, I watched in a mixture of amazement and frustration as people passed me on my mountain bike as if I had two flat tires. At that point, I chalked up my relatively poor performance to the thin mountain air. I can’t use that excuse anymore, and am still frequently left in the dust by riders twice my age.
My humiliation has a brilliant silver lining: In this valley, there is no growing old, just another year to try and catch Charley.
—Jon Duval, 2006
Because we are one big happy family, most of the time
The Wood River Valley is a rarefied place of vaulted mansion ceilings below endless blue skies, of deep-powder skiing on wilderness peaks, of Italian opera sung under a full moon competing with a wolf pack’s chorus from the ridge top. Surrounded with such treasures, few locals have the right or the inclination to complain.
But paradise doesn’t come cheap. The average house value here hovers at $704,802, compared to $178,000 statewide. They say money can’t buy happiness, and there’s a country-western song called "All the Happiness in the World Can’t Buy Money." So what is our secret? Maybe the reason we live in harmony is that so many of us dare to dream a different dream than the rest of the madding crowd. And with so much space to be ourselves, we are hard-pressed to find fault with each other. Of those to whom much is given, much is expected. The next time you’re following a bumper sticker that throws you into a road rage, remember that sharing paradise is what makes it paradise, and wave.
—Karen Day, 2002