It is, frankly, a foolishness akin to an ostrich hiding its head in a snowbank for any high-altitude resort not to help skiers - in some discreet way, of course - recognize that the elevation may cause difficulties. I found it a pleasant surprise to read skier-friendly advice about altitude problems and how to avoid them altogether when I was staying at the Vail Athletic Club Hotel while skiing Vail - base elevation 8,200 feet.

Many major western ski areas have base elevations above 7,000 feet. One of the few exceptions is Sun Valley. When Averell Harriman, then president of the Union Pacific Railroad, wanted to build the ski resort in the pre-air travel depression of the 1930s to spur business, he brought over an old European ski buddy, Count Felix Schaffgotsch of Austria, to help find a location.

Harriman told the count he had only one requirement: The resort must be reachable by the Union Pacific. The count added a second requirement. He told Harriman, “A ski resort shouldn’t be over 6,000 feet because [higher altitude] affects too many people.”

One after another the count toured and rejected snowy mountains - some of which are today famed winter playgrounds - because of their base elevations. He finally visited Ketchum, a sleepy mountain town. He checked the altitude in front of the Pioneer Saloon, later Ernest Hemingway’s favorite mountain watering hole. It was 5,750 feet. He
wired Harriman that he’d found the perfect place: towering mountains, heavy snows, and a reasonable base altitude.

Sun Valley opened in 1936.

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