Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sun Valley Co. owner Earl Holding dies

Community bids farewell to the man who rebuilt resort

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Resort owner Earl Holding, who died Friday, April 19, waves to the crowd during the 2005 Wagon Days Big Hitch Parade in Ketchum.
Express file photo

    Sun Valley Co. owner Robert Earl Holding died Friday, April 19, at the age of 86. He passed away just five days after the close of his 36th winter season as the resort’s owner.
    The announcement of Holding’s death was made Saturday evening by the Sinclair Oil Corp., a Utah-based oil-refining and gasoline-retail company Holding purchased in 1976, the year before he acquired Sun Valley Resort for $12 million from then-owner Bill Janss.
    Resort spokesman Jack Sibbach said Tuesday that Holding passed away from natural causes at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah, his native state. Holding suffered a stroke in 2002 but continued to travel to Sun Valley for business and to attend events.
    At the time of his death, listed Holding as the 423rd richest person in the world, with his wealth estimated at $3.2 billion. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Carol, three children and 12 grandchildren.
    “Mr. Holding was a very, very special individual,” Sibbach said. “I think all of us were very lucky and honored to have worked for him. He will be missed.”
    Sibbach started working for the resort in 1978, as a doorman at The Ram restaurant. However, Sibbach isn’t the only Sun Valley-area resident who made his bones working for Holding. Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall said he met Holding at 18, while working as a bellman at the Sun Valley Lodge.
    “I had the great pleasure of getting to pick him up several times at the airport,” Hall said. “I found him to be an honest and sincere person who truly cared about all the people who worked for him. I value those moments.”
    Hall said that what “stands out the most” about Holding is the “vision” he had for the resort and community and the quality of life he gave to the area’s residents.
    “Ketchum owes a lot to Mr. Holding,” he said. “I doubt we’d have anywhere near the quality of life we have without his investment in us. Our condolences to the family. We’ll do everything we can to fulfill Mr. Holding’s dream, which is to continue to be the best resort in the United States.”
    Andy Berman, co-owner of PK’s Ski and Sports in Ketchum and a longtime local, said Holding was the type of person who worked quietly, but had “huge” influence.
    “I’ve been thinking about the impact he’s had on my life, in recreating and being a business owner,” Berman said. “He doesn’t stand around looking for accolades. I applaud the guy and everything he’s done, and the impacts he’s had on the cities, Bald Mountain and the Sun Valley Resort.”
    Sun Valley Marketing Alliance President Arlene Schieven said Holding’s legacy is “tremendous,” including his contribution to and influence on the Sun Valley area.
    “We wouldn’t have the Sun Valley Resort we have today, this world-class facility, if it weren’t for Earl Holding’s vision and all of the energy that he put into the resort,” she said. “It’s really incredible. His passions yielded what we have today.”
    Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe said Holding’s contributions will bring joy and recreation opportunities to the city of Sun Valley’s citizens for generations to come.
    “The city of Sun Valley will forever remember and be grateful to Earl Holding for his vision, commitment and stewardship of the Sun Valley Co. in our city,” he said. “May his family be blessed at this difficult time and know that Earl Holding will always be remembered and honored.”
    Those who wish to pay their respects can do so at a reception on Friday, April 26, from 6-8 p.m. at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. The event is open to the public. Funeral services will be held the following day at 11 a.m. at the Federal Heights Ward in Salt Lake City. A private burial will follow at the Holdings’ Wyoming ranch.
    “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Earl Holding to the Boy Scouts of America or to the University of Utah Stroke Center,” a Sun Valley Co. news release states.
    According to the release, Holding and “sweetheart and best friend” Carol Holding were seldom apart, and their marriage—which began in 1949—was an “unbeatable” partnership in both business and in life.
    “His happiest times were spent with his children and grandchildren, hiking, biking, fishing and exploring the great outdoors,” the release states.

‘A man of vision’
    Holding was known in the Wood River Valley for focusing on Sun Valley Resort’s brick-and-mortar facilities, in which he invested untold millions of dollars.
    He installed luxurious day lodges and high-speed ski lifts on Bald and Dollar mountains, followed by a state-of-the-art gondola on the River Run side of Baldy. He led the ski industry in the early 1990s by installing the world’s largest, most advanced snowmaking system, which Director of Snowmaking Dennis Harper said cost about $16 million and boasts 38 miles of pipes under the slopes. Holding’s on-mountain crews set the standard for groomed ski and snowboarding runs. In addition, he built the resort’s second golf course, acquired a third, and built the Sun Valley Club, a massive day lodge for golf and cross-country skiing.
    In 2008, he unveiled the outdoor Sun Valley Pavilion, an impressive piece of architecture that became the home of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony. The structure includes about 1,000 tons of travertine rock that was shipped from Italy’s Mariotti quarry outside of Rome, which produced the same stone used to build the Roman Coliseum.
    Holding also developed Snowbasin ski resort near Ogden, Utah, as well as the Little America hotel chain and the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, which was built for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
    “Earl Holding was a man of vision, optimism and accomplishment,” states a Sinclair news release issued Saturday. “Wherever he did business, he was committed to improving and beautifying the community.”

From rags to riches
    At the time of his death, Holding was considered to be among the largest landowners in America, with some 400,000 acres across the West, according to However, his self-made empire comes from humble origins.
    The Washington Post reported that Holding’s parents “lost everything” in the 1929 stock market crash when he was just 3 years old. He reportedly did not invest in stocks because of the impact the loss had on his family.
    “He belonged to a generation who grew to manhood during the Great Depression and a world engulfed in war,” the Sinclair news release states.
    After graduating from West High School in Salt Lake City in 1944, Holding joined the Army Air Corps and served in Europe at the end of World War II. Following his return home, he attended the University of Utah, where he received a degree in civil engineering. He then started his first business with Carol Holding (then Carol Orme), even before they were married. According to the release, they planted a 25-acre fruit orchard and worked “side by side” to harvest peaches, pears and apples and sell them to local stores.
    In 1952, the Holdings accepted an offer from the Covey family—who owned an apartment complex where Earl Holding had lived and worked—to manage the Little America motel and service station in western Wyoming.
    “In a few short years, they transformed the enterprise—Little America—into the highest-volume service station in the nation [and bought out the other owners],” Sinclair’s website states. “By 1967, the Holdings acquired and reopened a closed refinery in Casper, Wyoming. In 1976, they purchased Sinclair.”
    According to the release, Earl Holding “deeply loved” the land and the beauty of the American West.
    “After spending his childhood in an apartment, he always longed for open space where he could have a dog and a horse,” it states.
    The release also states that Holding kept a silver dollar in his pocket that he “often turned while pondering an important decision or challenge.” The release states that the coin reminded him that “things in business, as in life, should be genuine” and of “how hard it is to make and keep a dollar.”

Sun Valley Co.’s Future
Following the death of Sun Valley Co. owner Robert Earl Holding on Friday, the resort’s future is not up in the air, at least for the time being. “The resort is and will continue to be owned by the Holding family,” resort spokesman Jack Sibbach said Tuesday. However, Sibbach declined to elaborate further as to what the family’s plans for the resort might be. Sibbach also said that Holding’s wife, Carol Holding, wrote a letter to Sun Valley Co. employees following the death of her husband. Sibbach declined to comment on what the letter says, saying that it is a private correspondence between Carol Holding and the resort’s staff. However, he did say it was “really wonderful and from the heart.”

Earl Holding: At A Glance
• Born: Nov. 29, 1926, in Utah.
• Married his wife, Carol, in 1949. They met in 1946 while attending the University of Utah.
• Degree: Engineering, University of Utah.
• Estimated net worth: $3.2 billion.
• Business resume: Owner of Sun Valley Resort, Sinclair Oil Corp., Snowbasin ski resort (Utah), Little America hotel chain, and the Grand America Hotel (Salt Lake City).
• Purchased Sun Valley Resort in 1977.

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