A Place in the Sun

It’s a dog’s world at Sun Valley, Idaho
By Gay F. Salisbury, November 2008

Locals often refer to the resort community of Sun Valley, Idaho, as “God’s country,” but as a visit to this heavenly town will surely tell you, it’s also a dog’s world. On any given day, dogs run alongside their families on the cross-country ski trails, dine with them outside on the doggy deck at Galena Lodge, or lie in the sun at Tully’s Coffee, which, like most businesses in town, provides water bowls for its canine clientele.

Residents of Sun Valley not only enjoy the outdoors themselves, they love sharing it with their dogs. Of the more than 120 km of groomed trails in the North Valley Trail system, nearly half are dog-friendly. Even more astounding, of the 4,000 trail passes that were issued last winter, nearly 1,000 were for family dogs.

Tucked away in central Idaho’s Wood River Valley, Sun Valley is America’s first great winter resort, founded in 1936 by the Union Pacific Railroad Company. It quickly became Hollywood’s playground, and Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe could be seen schussing down Bald Mountain or relaxing at the Sun Valley Lodge, where, in 1939, Ernest Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. Dogs were a ubiquitous part of this glittering mix.

Celebrity guests were met at the Ketchum train station by dog teams and mushed around town and to the lodge. Sun Valley also had its share of mascots, whose photos are still displayed in the lodge’s lobby. One of them, a Labrador named Frostie, became internationally known for his skiing skills. The dog’s prowess was aided by the equipment designed for him by a local ski instructor: a scooter-like contraption on skis, with little toe straps for his back paws and handlebars on which he could rest his front paws. When Frostie reached the bottom of the run, he’d quickly jump off his skis, take the rope in his mouth and run back up the hill, ready for another ride.

Visiting Sun Valley? Join the owner of Sun Valley Sled Dog Adventures, Brian Camilli, for a ride behind his great team of Alaskan Huskies. Purchase a day pass for yourself and your dog and enjoy the trails. Accompany the dogs from the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, a no-kill facility, on one of their weekly public hikes. And, if you’re visiting on the first Saturday in March, look for the “Paw & Pole” event, a shelter fund-raiser in which cross-country skiers and their dogs compete in races and win special prizes for best costumes.

Though there’s lots of fun for dogs in Sun Valley, not all of the area’s canine residents spend their days trail-running or being treated to holistic healing, acupuncture or massage therapy—many of them also have jobs. During ski season, trained search and avalanche rescue dogs are on active duty with local ski patrols, and over the years, they have been instrumental in recovering victims and saving lives.

Long may Sun Valley’s dogs run!

Gay Salisbury, co-author of The Cruelest Miles, The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic , divides her time between New York and Alaska.

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