Sun Valley Lodge sets itself up for the future with a major renovation

The Sun Valley Lodge is just one part of the Sun Valley Resort, which includes ski areas, an ice rink, apartments, condominiums and 45 holes of golf.

But in terms of mystique and folklore, it’s the lodge that is the image of Sun Valley itself. It opened in 1936, the first destination winter resort in the United States. Author Ernest Hemingway and actors such as Gary Cooper, Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe were among the first celebrities who came to ski, provide photo opps and free publicity, and put the resort on the map.

“Sun Valley has been well known — it’s been one of the icons of Idaho for years,” said Jack Sibbach, marketing and public relations director for Sun Valley Resort. “(The renovation) is just going to raise the level of awareness even more.”

The lodge has been remodeled over the years — new paint, carpet, furniture — but nothing like this. Tractors rolled in and out of the lobby, gutting the public spaces down to the supporting pillars and 13-inch concrete walls. (They’re painted to look like wood.) The Sun Valley City Council granted a noise waiver so interior work could go on 24 hours a day and outside work from early morning to late evening.

There’s new plumbing, wiring and insulation along with new everything else, including an elevator to the bowling alley and a 30,000-square-foot addition that includes a luxury spa.

“Every lodge needs to renovate on a regular basis,” said Tim Silva, the general manager of Sun Valley Resort. “We were in very good shape already, but what we’re going to have now truly is going to be world class.”

As for the renovation’s price tag, the Holding family, which owns the resort, isn’t saying.

“It shows the commitment of our ownership to Sun Valley and to Idaho,” Sibbach said. “They could have put a Band-Aid on it, but how they did it — there’s no great time to do this, but they bit the bullet and we’re going to be better for it.”

Sun Valley resident Lynn Willis regularly checks out the progress on her walks to the post office and is eager to see the inside. “I’m sure this will be first-class like the ski resort,” she said.

Conventional wisdom was Sun Valley’s tourism industry would take a significant hit with the lodge’s temporary closure. But thanks in part to a good snow year, area hotel occupancy rates were up 18 percent from November through April, according to Visit Sun Valley, the organization that markets the valley’s tourism industry.

“People who may have stayed at the lodge previously just chose different places, but they didn’t decide not to come because the lodge was closed,” said Arlene Schieven, president of Visit Sun Valley. The resort has 300 more rooms in addition to the lodge, and overflow merely benefited Ketchum hotels. Summer is the busiest time of year for the resort, so it’s no coincidence that construction should wrap up by mid-June.

“There are weekends in the summer where it definitely would have had an impact,” Schieven said. “But the way (the resort) planned it, they avoided having to turn people away.”

On a recent tour of the lodge, Silva surveyed the activity near a half-done patio — a place that will be a heated deck around a warm saline swimming pool with quiet views of Bald Mountain.

“This sets us up for success for many, many years to come,” he said.