The Soul of Sun Valley

Since 1977, the Holding family has transformed this historic Idaho resort while honoring its fabled past.  By David Butterfield

On a February morning in 1977, Sun Valley executive Wally Huffman was summoned to owner Bill Janss’ office. There he met a middle-aged couple, Earl and Carol Holding, and was told to show them around the resort. Two days later, Huffman responded to a disturbance in Upper 5, a dormitory above the Ram Restaurant. There he found the Holdings stuffing mattresses through the windows to fall two stories onto the kitchen loading dock. Huffman called Janss and asked, “What should I do?” Janss replied, “I think you should do whatever Mr. Holding tells you to do.” The Holdings had purchased Sun Valley.

Janss had bought the resort from Union Pacific about 13 years earlier. He was an accomplished skier and had revitalized the mountain, but he was not a hotelier. They were now in a severe drought with minimal snowmaking, few skiers, and little cash flow. A sale was imminent. Corporate giants Disney and Ralston-Purina passed. The Holdings had built up the Little America franchise and owned Sinclair Oil; they knew the hotel business and had working capital. They had driven through Sun Valley only once, that summer, and then Earl saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about Disney’s play on the property. Something clicked. He made some calls, visited the resort again, and within two weeks had a deal. Janss said, “His timing was perfect.” And the mattresses flew out the windows...

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