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Ski Resort Life

Sun Valley's Other Half


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Hailey, Idaho

Every glitzy resort has one. You know-a town where the locals live. It’s a little less glamorous than its big sister, not quite as close to the hill, and a lot less expensive. Hailey, Idaho, is such a town.

Sun Valley’s less-polished counterpart, Hailey is situated at the south end of the Wood River Valley, only 11 miles from Bald Mountain, the ski area around which Sun Valley and Ketchum grew up.

As is the case with most such bedroom communities, Hailey has a whole lot of heart and soul. Talk to the locals, and most will swear up and down that they’d never move to the North Valley. Never.

“Southerners” will tell you that the North Valley, by inference, is home to the rich, famous and pretentious, whereas Hailey is far more sensible, down-home and modest. In contrast to Sun Valley’s and Ketchum’s tourist-oriented restaurants, night clubs, hotels, boutiques and coffee shops, Hailey mirrors a hundred other small American towns where visitor accommodations are limited and businesses cater to a stable middle class. Families live on tree-lined streets, and church parking lots are crowded on Sunday mornings.

People who can still afford to live at the north end of the valley either moved there before real estate prices soared in the early Eighties, or after they made their fortunes in the outside world. Now, with a median-priced home running at $600,000, the North Valley is too pricey for even the upper-middle class. For that reason, the people who provide the strong hands and willing backs that keep the immediate resort area clothed, washed and fed, commute from Hailey.

But real estate prices aren’t the only reason Hailey locals live where they do. Bruce Willis and Demi Moore could have afforded the biggest estate on Sun Valley’s best golf course, but with three young children, they chose to live in Hailey.

Hailey Mayor Steve Kearns likes to say that the town could have been lifted from a Norman Rockwell painting. “Unlike many resort towns, Hailey has an authentic downtown, and residents share a sense of belonging,” says Kearns.

Hailey’s history is written in the abandoned gray tailings piles and cool dark shafts that dot the sage-covered hills above town. Hailey was built on sweat and silver ore, and the town owes its sense of time and place to the hard-rock miners who worked the drifts out of Croy Creek and Quigley Canyons. Among the richest, the Minnie Moore produced $15 million worth of silver. A century later, Wood River High School kids must be cautioned against spelunking into its abandoned shafts where cave-ins are an ever-present danger.

The only other threat residents feel comes from development. Houses are creeping into Quigley and Croy Creek Canyons located a half mile to the east and west, respectively. At 7:45 am, Monday through Friday, the drive from Hailey to Ketchum is bumper-to-bumper traffic and can take up to 45 minutes. To merge from one of the tributary canyons onto Highway 75, you must wait for someone to let you in. And if commuters are especially churlish, you can wait for minutes.

In a recent election, Hailey voters overwhelmingly approved a growth-control initiative. While Mayor Kearns doesn’t see a problem with growth, he’s quick to point out that local politicians will continue to fight the shopping centers, discount chains and subdivisions that would compromise Hailey’s communal character.

John Mills moved to Ketchum to ski in 1972, when a full-day ticket was $12 and the average hotel room went for less than $20 per night. Mills, who owns American Heating and Air Conditioning, has called Hailey home for the past 12 years. Even though 75 percent of his business comes from either Ketchum or Sun Valley, Mills says he won’t be moving back to the North Valley. The father of two young sons, he values Hailey’s settled atmosphere, close-knit community, easy access to recreation and the fact that his home is within walking distance of the schools. “Hailey has everrything I need and want to raise a family,” he explains.

Like Mills, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore chose Hailey for its family friendly qualities. And though locals were put off when Willis first started buying up downtown property, his investments have done much to revitalize Hailey. He revived the Liberty Theater with a fresh coat of paint, new seats and carpet, and resurrected the dilapidated Mint Bar as an upscale nightclub.

Prior to July 4, 1995, however, locals were evenly divided on whether Willis was a prince or a pirate. That year, Willis and Moore paid for a huge fireworks show. Watching the bombs burst above their small town, citizens were touched by the stars’ unexpected generosity. In the following months, most of their critics were silenced, and today the whole family can often be seen at local events where they more or less blend into the crowd.

Like most locals, I came to the Wood River Valley to ski, fell in love with the region and stayed. In the early Seventies, lifestyle meant more than assets. We lived to ski and had our eyes on tomorrow-not the next year, or even the next month. But 25 years later, my priorities have changed. As a father to two sons who go to school in Hailey, I no longer ski 100 days a season. My only regret is not having put a down payment on one of the weathered miner’s houses that lines Hailey’s quiet back streets-$25,000 was a king’s ransom back then, but I see now I should have bit the bullet.

Hailey, Idaho’s Almanac

Population 6,000 year-round residents
Elevation 5,300 feet
Median home price $175,000 for a single-family dwelling in town; $322,000 in the county
Tax $1,250
School population 1,600
Season Pass $1,200
Lift ticket $53
Baldy’s Average Annual Snowfall 220 inches
Local Events (Winter) The Christmas Holidays, (Summer) Fourth of July Weekend Festivities
Locals’ Favorite Restaurants Gurney’s Restaurant (Continental, American), Hearthstone Family Restaurant (pancakes, burgers, specials), Shorty’s Diner (sandwiches, soups and salads)
Locals’ Favorite Hangouts Liberty Theater (movies), Mint Bar (live music and food), Shorty’s Diner (young crowd, sidewalk tables)
Best Places to Stay The Povey Pensione (eight guest rooms and a fantastic breakfast), The Hailey Hotel (eight nicely renovated rooms unfortunately situated above a bar)
Chamber of Commerce P.O. Box 100, Hailey, Idaho, 83333; (208) 788-2700