Sun Valley was faced with some monumental changes this year as the resort replaced longtime managers and constructed never-before-seen mountain amenities such as a gondola and terrain park. The city also had some tough decisions at hand, with a developer asking to build a hillside housing development and a councilman advocating a merger with Ketchum.
Sun Valley Resort changes its guard
The valley's biggest business, Sun Valley Resort, spent 2009 pursuing a managerial makeover. Wally Huffman, after 30 years as general manager, was made director of resorts and development in mid-May. He was replaced by Tim Silva, previously with Northstar at Tahoe Resort in California.
Not even a month later, the company replaced Director of Mountain Operations Mike Federko with Peter Stearns. Like Huffman, Federko had worked with Sun Valley for more than 30 years. The last managerial change was the replacement of Assistant General Manager Claude Guigon in November. Guignon had been at his post for 15 years and had served under company owner Earl Holding since 1976. Sun Valley offered Guigon a "consulting position" and gave his job to Catering Manager Doug Horn, who'd been with the company since 2000.
Resort taken to new heights
Bald Mountain's new Roundhouse Express Gondola earned Sun Valley national acclaim on several occasions. The resort placed seventh in Ski magazine's annual report card of North American resorts, an improvement over the past four years when it was ranked 10th or lower.
"Life gets even better when the Roundhouse gondola debuts this season," the article stated.
National Geographic Adventure magazine named Sun Valley one out of the 11 mandatory ski destinations from Oregon to Maine to visit this winter, pegging the gondola as a significant reason for the attention.
But the gondola wasn't the only addition. Dollar Mountain has seen its daily skier numbers double since its new terrain park and tubing hill opened.
City denies DeNovo
DeNovo Independence, owner of 800 acres south of Sun Valley, spent six months trying to convince the city to extend its limits to include 93 acres of DeNovo property for a 12-house development. But the city didn't bite, sticking to its hillside ordinance, which discourages constructing on slopes of 25 percent or greater. And the proposed steep roads of 10-percent grade didn't help the request.
The land was stuck in Blaine County—bad news for DeNovo because the county most likely wouldn't even allow one house. The land is zoned in the county's Mountain Overlay District, which highly restricts hillside development.
DeNovo wasn't done yet. The landowner then claimed that its title company, Sun Valley Title, never mentioned the overlay district, and sued the firm's underwriter, Commonwealth Title Co., for the policy's $6-million value.
The case is ongoing.
Winter games warm valley
For a week in February, Sun Valley was a little sunnier as it hosted the Special Olympics 2009 World Winter Games. The valley was one of several Idaho venues for the games, but was also the site of the Special Olympics Festival attended by nearly every athlete and delegation, visitors, families, hordes of happy, blue-jacketed volunteers and well-wishers bedecked with fun hats.
The Olympics were a chance for residents to volunteer and even open their homes to the competitors who needed a place to stay—an altruistic way to start the year.
Municipal merger meltdown
Talk of merging the cities of Sun Valley and Ketchum materialized into something more when two councilmen, one from each city, announced plans to put the issue before voters. But it never came to that.
The proposed consolidation of city administrations did anything but bring the two communities together. Residents divided into opposing camps, with the group One Community, One Town on one side and two other organizations, Citizens Against Consolidation and Save Sun Valley, on the other.
Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn and Sun Valley City Councilman Dave Chase eventually dropped their suggested merger after two and a half months of divisiveness.