Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Crown jewels of the mountains

Earl Holding's lodges exemplify rustic elegance

Express Staff Writer

Carol Holding rings the bell at Carol's Dollar Mountain Lodge to officially open Sun Valley Co.'s newest resort facility in time for the Christmas season last year. Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman, right, joined a large crown in applauding the grand opening ceremony at the open house for the lodge. Photo by Willy Cook

In the early days, Sun Valley Resort attracted Hollywood starlets and Eastern socialites to enjoy luxurious facilities in an alpine setting. Visitors experienced world-class skiing combined with architectural excellence.

Embracing the resort's historical legacy, Sun Valley Co. owner Earl Holding transformed Sun Valley's ski lodges into the ultimate on-hill facilities. The Sun Valley lodges' architectural achievements far surpass typical ski industry day lodges. The world-class designs, inside and out, testify to Holding's commitment to the WoodRiverValley.

"Earl's vision was something totally different," said Ketchum-based architect Jim Ruscitto.

Ruscitto designed Sun Valley's crown jewels—Warm Springs, River Run, Seattle Ridge and Carol's Dollar Mountain lodges—with partners Nicholas Latham and Thadd Blanton of Ruscitto/Latham/Blanton Architecture in Ketchum.

Charged with the architectural design of the lodges, the architects created a signature Sun Valley style that elevated the resort's status. The designs meld rustic mountain elements with Old World class, and serve as functional ski facilities while luxuriously accommodating guests.

"No one had really done that in the ski design," Ruscitto said.

The juxtaposition of rustic elements and refinement came to fruition with the Warm Springs Lodge. Ruscitto explained that Holding desired to move away from the typical Tyrolean style-lodge and to create a mountain style in line with Sun Valley elegance.

During the 1992 ski season, the Warm Springs Lodge, a 16,000-square-foot log and river rock building, opened on the Warm Springs side of BaldMountain. The log-cabin style building includes two massive rock fireplaces and an expansive wall of windows.

"The new ski lodge is a departure from the typical ski lodge décor. It takes on much more of an eloquent feel," said Sun Valley spokeswoman Shannon Besoyan in a 1992 interview with Sun Valley Guide magazine.

The Warm Springs Lodge replaced the North Face Hut, which was a modest private residence previous to becoming a ski lodge.

Far different from the previous structure located on the site, the Warm Springs Lodge, like all the lodges that followed, entertains Old World luxuries. The architects credit interior decorator Lauren Tyler for incorporating details like hand-dyed carpets and oversized chandeliers into all of the lodges to create unrivaled ambience.

"She knew the quality of the furnishings," Latham said.

With the luxurious furnishings, the lodge offers gourmet dining, a ski shop, ski storage and a ski patrol office. The concept earned recognition by Snow Country magazine as the "Best Day Lodge in the Country."

After Warm Springs was completed, the architects immediately began to work on Seattle Ridge Lodge, atop BaldMountain. The Seattle Ridge Lodge opened on Christmas Day in 1993.

"Seattle Ridge was received better than Warm Springs," Ruscitto said.

Ruscitto remembers the crowds waiting outside for the 18,000-square-foot structure to open. He recalls feverishly working to finish details like hanging chandeliers before the doors opened.

Situated at 8,800 feet, the lodge's remote location posed challenges for construction crews. Helicopters were used to ferry items to the lodge.

The location offers a stunning view of surrounding mountain peaks. Snow Country again praised Ruscitto's work, according Seattle Ridge the "Best Day Lodge" award.

Construction on BaldMountain continued with the opening of the River Run Day Lodge for the 1995-96 ski season. Located on the River Run side of BaldMountain, next to the BigWoodRiver, the River Run complex includes a 30,000-square-foot day lodge, a shop maintenance building and retail building connected by heated brick patios.

According to the architects, several hurdles were experienced during the construction of the massive facility. Located in BlaineCounty, the site required a zoning change, reconstruction of the soil and construction of a bridge across the BigWoodRiver.

Obstacles overcome, the completed project boasts an elegant log and stone structure, with marble details, expansive chandeliers and massive fireplaces.

"With each project, Earl becomes more and more sophisticated," Latham said.

The architectural awe reached new heights with the opening of Carol's Dollar Mountain Lodge on DollarMountain last winter. The new 26,000-square-foot Dollar Mountain Lodge replaced the historic Dollar Cabin, offering a state-of-the-art children's facility.

"We have been told that it's the best in the world," Latham said.

The two-level facility includes a gourmet cafeteria, a day-care center, a ski and snowboarding school, and a full-service ski-rental, repair and retail shop. The expansive lodge came from the encouragement of Carol Holding, Earl's wife.

Holding's architectural team believes his dedication to the facilities will carry on.

"I think he has a list of things he wants to do to continually upgrade Sun Valley," Latham said.

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