Sun Valley is having one of the best starts to winter it has seen in decades with pre-Thanksgiving snows hugging Bald Mountain like icing hugs a cake, with man-made sprinkles on top.
With the startup, signs are emerging that employer-sponsored housing could make a comeback in a big way and help alleviate the housing shortage.
The area can go back to the future.
Sun Valley Resort general manager Pete Sonntag said during a conference call this month that the company is talking about building housing for mid-level managers and their families within the resort. It already offers dormitory-style units, but needs family-friendly apartments.
This week, the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency said it would work with a new housing organization, Wood River Community Housing Trust, to develop 50 to 60 units of workforce rental housing for the “missing middle,” people who they earn too much to qualify. for low-income housing, but unable to pay market rents.
The trust is working with local employers St. Luke’s Wood River, Sun Valley Community School and Wood River Community YMCA to develop housing for their employees. It could also provide housing for other employees if its financing arrangements prove successful.
Both efforts have their roots in the early days of skiing.
Sun Valley Resort built its own employee housing when its founder, the Union Pacific Railroad, built the Challenger Inn, the Sun Valley Lodge and the country’s first ski lifts.
When the resort opened in 1936, employee housing was the rule, not the exception, in remote western vacation destinations.
The practice began with the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the first in the US. The Northern Pacific Railroad, completed in 1883, drew tourists to visit this geological wonder created by volcanism.
The tents were the first accommodations in the park, but they were not enough. So, in the spring of 1904, the Old Faithful Inn became the first lodge to open within a national park. Thereafter the Great Northern Railway built many lodges in Glacier National Park, which was established in 1910.
When Union Pacific Railroad President Averell Harriman decided to develop the nation’s first destination ski resort in Sun Valley, he understood that national park lodges were essential to attracting people to see the natural beauty of the West.
Part of the charm lay in the contrast between the bracing daytime contact with sun, wind and weather and the opulent comfort of a cozy hostel at night. Glacier’s lodges were built to be no more than a day’s ride from one to the other.
Harriman knew that each park shelter developed along with the employee housing. There was no other way to attract enough workers to remote locations.
From its earliest days, Sun Valley Resort offered dormitory accommodations to employees who were mostly seasonal workers. Other types of housing were scarce, if they existed at all.
Local employers today are not enthusiastic about becoming homeowners, but now, as then, they know that workers must have a roof over their heads or employers will have no workers. They are faced with the harsh fact that stabilizing housing costs has become a cost of doing business.
The Sun Valley area has to climb a steep hill to have enough worker housing on the ground to prevent businesses and utilities from closing their doors. No single entity can do it by itself. It will take local government, non-profit organizations and businesses working together to achieve this.
Going back to the future by building work-linked housing could be key.
“Our Vision” represents the opinion of the editorial board of the newspaper, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Comments can be sent to [email protected]