Alpine skiing on Mount Baldy above the town of Sun Valley, Idaho.

Sun Valley And Ketchum, Idaho

Sun Valley is a resort town located in the US state of Idaho. Adjacent to it is the town of Ketchum. Ketchum dates back to the mid-19th century when it was developed as a mining town. However, by the end of the 19th century, the once-booming town became rather sleepy after the demand for precious metals fizzled out. In the wake of the Great Depression, a new resort community in the vicinity of Ketchum began to emerge that would reinvigorate the town’s economy. It was the resort town of Sun Valley, the first winter resort in the United States.

Geography Of Sun Valley And Ketchum

Aerial view of Sun Valley.

Sun Valley and Ketchum are located side-by-side in central Idaho. Sun Valley is the town in the east, while Ketchum is to the west. The towns are located in the Wood River Valley, beneath Bald Mountain, which lies to their west. There are no other towns in the immediate vicinity of Sun Valley and Ketchum. The closest community to these two towns is the unincorporated community of Gimlet, which is located south of Sun Valley and Ketchum. The river known as Trail Creek flows through both towns. To its west, is the Big Wood River, which flows only through Ketchum. The town limits of Sun Valley cover a more significant chunk of territory than those of Ketchum. Whereas Sun Valley has a total area of 25.61 sq. km, Ketchum encompasses an area of just 7.98 sq. km. Sun Valley and Ketchum are situated at elevations of 1,812 meters and 1,784 meters, respectively. 

Population And Economy Of The Towns

Sun Valley
Tourism forms the backbone of the economy of Sun Valley and Ketchum.

While Sun Valley is significantly larger than Ketchum in terms of area, it is the latter that has the bigger population. Ketchum has a total population of 2,879. In contrast, Sun Valley has a population of just 1,496. In both towns, the vast majority of the population is white. Ketchum has a bit more of a Hispanic population than Sun Valley. The former’s Hispanic population makes up nearly 12% of the total population, while only 5.84% of Sun Valley’s population is Hispanic. More than 83% of Sun Valley’s residents and close to 88% of Ketchum’s residents speak only English. Spanish is the next most spoken language in both towns. More of Ketchum’s population, 28.52%, was born in the town itself, instead of Sun Valley, where just 11.68% of its population was born in the town. Ketchum also has a larger portion of its population, 91.58%, born in the United States than Sun Valley, where 86.03% of residents are American-born.

The average household income in Sun Valley is $96,242, while in Ketchum, it is $70,813. Both towns have poverty rates of around 14.5%. The largest industry in terms of a number of employees in Sun Valley is arts, entertainment & recreation, while in Ketchum, the largest industry is accommodation & food services. The economies of both towns rely heavily on tourism. 

History Of Sun Valley And Ketchum

Sun Valley in summer.

Before the arrival of European settlers, the Wood River valley, in which both Sun Valley and Ketchum are situated, was inhabited by Native Americans from the Shoshone, Bannock, and Lehi nations. The first Europeans to explore the area were beaver trappers. In the mid-19th century, gold was discovered in the valley, triggering a gold rush as many prospectors flooded the area, hoping to strike it rich. By the 1880s, Ketchum, initially named Leadville, was a booming mining town famous for its hot springs. Its population in 1889 was more than 2,000.

Towards the end of the 19th century, however, the mining boom went bust. Thus, the residents of Ketchum had to find another way to earn a living. They turned to ranching, specifically sheep farming. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the economy of Ketchum and the Wood River Valley as a whole would begin to change forever. At the time, the head of the Union Pacific Railroad, W. Averell Harriman, was looking for a way to encourage the growth of passenger rail traffic in the West. This was a time in which the popularity of Alpine skiing was gaining momentum, especially after the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Seeing the opportunity to use the popularity of skiing to attract rail passengers, Harriman commissioned a man named Count Felix Schaffgotsch to search the Rocky Mountains in hopes of finding the perfect place for a ski resort. Eventually, Schaffgotsch came upon Ketchum and wrote to Harriman that the area had features suitable for winter sports that were better than any others in the United States, Austria, or Switzerland.

Ernest Hemingway's Grave in Ketchum Idaho scattered with tributes from his fans. Editorial credit: Vineyard Perspective /

In just seven months, a lodge was constructed, and ski runs were created on Dollar and Proctor Mountains. Later on, public relations specialist Steve Hannagan, who was behind the transformation of a sand dune in Florida into Miami Beach, was hired to handle the marketing campaign for this new ski resort, which he named Sun Valley. The first chairlift was built at the Sun Valley ski resort, and the first ski school was set up. In 1947, the village of Sun Valley was officially incorporated.

Attractions In Sun Valley And Ketchum

Above all, Sun Valley is a ski destination. In fact, it is billed as America’s first ski resort. Skiing in Sun Valley takes place chiefly on two mountains: Bald Mountain, sometimes nicknamed “Baldy” by skiers, and Dollar Mountain. Bald Mountain alone has 13 chairlifts and 65 ski runs. In contrast, Dollar Mount

ain is used primarily for children and beginner skiers. Both downhill skiing and cross-country skiing are popular in Sun Valley. The resort features over 40 km of trails for those interested in Nordic skiing or snowshoeing. Other winter-related activities can also be enjoyed in Sun Valley, including snowmobiling, ice skating, and riding horse-drawn sleighs through the hills.

Scenic bike path in Ketchum

Sun Valley is not just a venue for winter sports, though. During the warmer months, visitors to the resort can enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities. For example, the resort features several golf courses, including the 18-hole Trail Creek championship golf course. For those who like to bowl, the Sun Valley resort is home to one of the oldest bowling allies in the Northwest, located in the Games Room of the Sun Valley Lodge. The resort is also home to venues and facilities for biking, swimming, tennis, horseback riding, and hiking.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. Sun Valley And Ketchum, Idaho

More in Places