Sun Valley’s Serenade
By Robert Ross
“Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga choo choo?
Boy, you can gimme a shine
I can afford
To board a Chattanooga choo choo
I’ve got my fare
And just a trifle to spare”
— Song ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’, written and composed by Choo-Choo
Mack Gordon & Harry Warren, and featured in the movie:
Sun Valley Serenade.
Nineteen forty-one, the movie Sun Valley Serenade makes its debut, starring Sonja Henie and John Payne. The world is at war, but for an hour and twenty-five minutes and the price of admission, all is well. Sonja Henie, who made her name as an Olympic skater, winning in the 1928, 32 and 36 Olympics, is a shining star in the film — with her radiant looks, blond hair, button nose, and Norwegian accent.
In the film, she falls in love with John Payne, who is committed to someone else, of course. Throughout the movie we are treated to some . . . unrealistic skiing scenes (Hollywood took some liberties), great music by the Glenn Miller Orchestra (In the Mood, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Moonlight Serenade, etc.), and an ice skating extravaganza featuring Sonja Henie herself, doing what she does best. Oh, not to forget, by the end of the movie, she wins over John Payne and they live happily ever after. For nostalgia buffs, the movie is a must see.
For the past half dozen years my wife and I have made a sojourn from San Diego to southern Idaho, to ski and enjoy the ambience of Sun Valley. As the name implies, the resort lies nestled in a valley — the Hood River Valley — surrounded by the Sawtooth mountains. Ketchum is the main town, with a population of a little more than 3,000.
The winter months draw skiers, both alpine and cross country, and summer and fall are perfect for a host of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, golf and river rafting, to name a few. This Swiss Alp setting has attracted more than a few celebrities like Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Clint Eastwood and Tony Robbins, who have homes in the area.
Sun Valley — as a resort — was the brain child of Averell Harriman. He was the chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad and an avid skier. In 1935 Harriman commissioned an Austrian count, Felix Schaffgotsch to scour the U.S. in search of a potential “Swiss Alps” type of mountain resort. It was decided that the Hood River Valley would be that setting. The Union Pacific had a spur line running from Boise to Ketchum, making the area accessible.
By December 1936 the Sun Valley Lodge was opened and the rest, as they say, is history.
Soon names like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable and Ernest Hemingway were flocking to this ideal getaway. In fact, Hemingway completed For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1939 while staying in suite 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge. Papa Hemingway eventually made Sun Valley his home and is buried with his fourth wife about a mile north of the Sun Valley Lodge. The railroad tracks were eventually taken out in 1964 to make way for the Hood River Trail.
Today, Sun Valley has world class ski runs, a lively art community, unique restaurants, and in the summer months, hosts numerous music festivals. Two thousand and eight also saw the opening of the Sun Valley Pavilion which is home to the orchestra’s annual three and a half week series of free concerts. The Pavilion is also used by performing artists from around the world.
There is something about homemade soup, especially if you have to take three or four chair lifts — rising in elevation from 6,000 to 9,000 feet — and ski for forty minutes before enjoying it. Seattle Ridge Lodge, built with huge timbers in 1973 can only be reached by skis. It sits atop of Bald Mountain, which affords one of the most spectacular 360 degree views imaginable.
There’s always a roaring fire and more than a few lunch items to choose from. Seattle Ridge Lodge is known for its homemade soups — so it’s always a treat to stop in mid-day and see what’s on the stove.
Another restaurant worth visiting on the slopes, is the historic Roundhouse (built in 1939). It’s perched at 7,700 feet and can only be reached by gondola. The menu features a host of gourmet dishes from salmon to quiche.
The focal point of the Sun Valley experience is the Sun Valley Lodge. It was originally built in 1936, but has gone through numerous upgrades. There’s a huge circular hot tub outside surrounded by pine trees and a view of snow-covered mountains. There’s also an ice-skating rink, a gourmet restaurant, and a very cozy and comfortable lobby, where one can sit and read, or just do a little people watching.
The real treat of the hotel are the old black and white photos of past visitors which line the hallway leading from the lobby to the outdoor hot tub. You might find yourself saying: isn’t that Gary Cooper, Janet Leigh, Lucille Ball? Look at this one, Jacquelyn Kennedy on skis, or I think that’s Clark Gable, and I bet that’s Errol Flynn.
The movie Sun Valley Serenade is available on television — for free — in each guest room, or you can view it in the Opera House a few yards from the Lodge.
See the movie a couple of times and it will be difficult to stop thinking about Sun Valley or humming the tune “Pardon me, boy, Is that the Chattanooga choo choo? Track twenty-nine, Boy, you can gimme a shine...
Sun Valley has been called a little Shangri-La . . . we think so!
Robert Ross can be reached at: SanDiegoRoss@Yahoo.com
Copyright © 2012 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved