When you visit Ketchum, Idaho today, you’ll find a beautiful little town nestled in the Sawtooth Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountain Range. It’s a beautiful little town, with a population in the ballpark of 2,700 residents. The weather here is fantastic, with almost year-round sunshine. However, the sun doesn’t stop Ketchum, and the Sun Valley Ski Resort, from being one of the best skiing destinations in the world.
According to the National Geographic, Ketchum is one of the top twenty-five skiing towns in the world. Ketchum rivals locations in Switzerland. What is it that makes this small Idaho town, that’s hidden away in the Sawtooth Mountains, so special? It’s a small town, but it’s big on recreational opportunities and beautiful views.
Silver Linings: Ketchum’s Start as a Mining Town
When Ketchum first came into existence, it was a small mining town. With a population of fewer than 500 residents, it certainly wasn’t a booming town. Though that didn’t stop Ketchum from being huge in a different way. The town was named after a local trapper. David Ketchum had a claim in the basin, and also acted as a guide. Ketchum is certainly a unique name, and it’s far better than what the town was originally called.
In 1880, when the town was the smelting center for the Warm Springs mining district, it was called Leadville. For around a decade, massive amounts of lead and silver were refined and processed here. Thankfully, the post office thought that the name Leadville was simply too common. The name was short lived, and Ketchum became the official name of the mining town.
And for the town of Ketchum, Leadville would have been too simple of a name. The town wasn’t just a smelting center. It was one of the largest. In fact, according to the history on Ketchum’s city website, it was one of the richest mining areas in the entire Northwest. However, after about a decade the price of silver dropped, and with it the mining operations of Ketchum.
Evolving Industry and the Birth of Sun Valley
The fading of the mining boom didn’t kill Ketchum, though. Unlike the scattered ghost towns throughout Idaho, Ketchum remained, and a different industry arrived. Sheepherders brought their herds from the south to Ketchum. During the summer, the sheep grazed throughout the Sawtooth Mountains.
Proof that Ketchum doesn’t do anything small, the sheep industry boomed here just like mining had. Over the next few decades, Ketchum grew into the largest sheep and lamb shipping station in the entire country. Ketchum was only going to get bigger.
In 1935, the Sun Valley Ski Resort opened its doors for the first time, and it was a resounding success. It brought celebrities and skiers from all over the world. With the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad, it was easy for anyone to travel to the small Idaho town to enjoy some of the best skiing in the world. Sun Valley boasted the first ski lifts in the entire world, and the popularity, and size, of the resort only continued to grow over the years.
A Booming Ski Resort that’s Line-Free
As Sun Valley Resort grew, the skiing expanded. Now, there’s a huge amount of ski slopes to use. The resort boasts 18 ski lifts, which provide the ski resort with a massive lift capacity. Sun Valley actually has a higher lift capacity than any other area. The lift system at Sun Valley is capable of moving almost 30,000 skiers. Per hour! With so many mountains, slopes, and lifts, it’s easy to see why Sun Valley can say that they offer a line-free experience.
From humble beginnings as Leadville, Ketchum has grown into an impressive year-round destination. The town is still small, with barely 3,000 permanent residents, but that doesn’t mean its offerings are small. Instead, it offers an incredible ski resort and a gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains that makes Ketchum more than just a town. This is a destination. And it’s a destination that draws people not only from all over the country, but from all over the world.
This is what Idaho is about. It’s big places and fun in small, unassuming packages. Driving into Ketchum, you’d never guess that it’s home to one of the most popular, and best, ski resorts in the world. It’s also home (or a second home) to many celebrities. Ketchum is a small town, but it offers big opportunities for life, and recreation.