A brief history

original configuration of cabin

First, a word about the image to the right. The image belongs to the Ketchum Sun Valley Historical Society (KSVHS) and is displayed here under the fair use clause of U.S. copyright laws. What is significant about it is that it is the only photo I've been able to locate that shows the original structure, which apparently was expanded shortly thereafter.

Second, this information is much abbreviated. The details are still emerging for me as I visit libraries, museums, and identify the people that know the history well. But for now, here are some highlights.

Sun Valley history is not the subject here, but the history of Pioneer Cabin is part and parcel of origins of the Sun Valley Company operations as they began in the mid and late 1930's. Averell Harriman's plan for a skiing resort in the western United States to rival those of Europe did not originally include attention to alpine touring (currently referred to as ski mountaineering). He planned lifts in order to avoid what many people considered the drudgery of applying climbing skins and climbing to the top of the slopes in order to ski down. But he quickly decided that the remote areas around Sun Valley would lend themselves to traditional alpine touring and he constructed two ski touring huts to support the fledgling Alpine Touring School. The result of this decision included Pioneer Cabin, which is named for the mountain range it faces. According to records, another hut was also constructed at the base of the Corral Creek trail to Pioneer Cabin, named Saw Mill Hut.

The original instructors of the Alpine Touring School included Florian Haemmerle, Andy Hennig, and Victor Gottschalk, all transplants from Germany and Austria. Florian Haemmerle was the original curator of Pioneer Cabin and began guiding clients there from the beginning. Haemmerle was a German refugee and craftsman that had immigrated to New York as Europe deteriorated prior to World War II. According to an archived interview with his wife Beatrice, he entered a ski contest at Lake Placid shortly after his arrival and won it and others, attracting the attention of the ski coach at Dartmouth. After being hired as an assistant coach, Haemmerle soon found himself coaching another German transplant, Dick Durrance. As Harriman sought to round out his stable of ski instructors, he hired Haemmerle and after some initial friction with the Austrian instructors, was assigned to the new Alpine Touring School.

The original cabin included amenities long since abandoned, including beautiful Pullman compartments for the bunk beds, comfortable mattresses and sleeping bags, a cast-iron range with cook and helpers for the gourmet meals, and expert guides in Haemmerle and Hennig. One of the first visitors was Dorice Taylor, who went on to author the definitive history of Sun Valley as the Director of Public Relations for Sun Valley Company.  

Florian's Nudl below Goat PeakThe war interrupted operations and prompted the enlistment of many Sun Valley instructors and staff in the famous 10th Mountain Division. Haemmerle became a climbing and ski mountaineering instructor for the division, but did not serve overseas, having been given a military inoculation that left him hospitalized with Hepatitus. Hennig and others did serve in Europe and were highly decorated. The Pioneer Range as seen from Pioneer Cabin became peppered with names and remembrances of those that served, including Salzburger Spitzl, Handwerk Peak, and Duncan Ridge. A unique spire on the ridge between Duncan and Goat Peak was named Florian's Nudl in honor of Haemmerle himself.

Once the resort resumed operations, the golden years of Sun Valley ensued, attracting celebrities and political figures by the dozens. There were good and bad snow years, but lots of excitement. In 1948, Hennig authored the seminal book that includes original ski routes in and around Pioneer Cabin: Sun Valley Ski Guide. Four years later in 1952, avalanches claimed the other touring cabin (Owl Creek Cabin) and the life of Victor Gottschalk on Bald Mountain. The Alpine Touring School was closed and Pioneer Cabin apparently abandoned.

The history at that point becomes muddled. Local authorities mention the collapse of the cabin in the 1960's and into the 1970's, with a local contractor taking the initiative to keep the structure sound along with other volunteers and the U.S. Forest Service.

the current wood burning stove in Pioneer CabinIn the early 1980's, while spending a damp afternoon in the cabin one fall, I was alerted to the sound of a helicopter approaching. As my companion and I exited the cabin, the helicopter came into view over the saddle, obviously carrying something below it. Once landed, Forest Service personnel allowed us to see the cargo: a new wood stove. It was sad to see the original cast iron range be yanked to the door and kicked down the steps, crumpling into many pieces (why didn't I grab one?). But it was also a privelege to be involved in the replacement. This new stove now looks as old as the cast iron range once did.

In more recent history (since I've been visiting), I've seen changes made and conditions both improve and deteriorate. The privy has been relocated further down the hill. The graffiti-covered walls have been repainted then recovered with a second generation of prose. The slogan on the reconstructed roof has been repainted several times over, but the cabin would not be the same without it:

The higher you get, the higher you get.

What do you know?

Are you someone that is knowledgable regarding the history of Pioneer Cabin? I'd love to hear from you. Send me an email: todd@pioneercabin.org.

Do you have photos?

If you have photos to share, feel free to add the to the photo library on the Facebook page. When you do, please let me know if we can use them on this site.

Did I get it right?

I'm still accumulating the facts as I consult resources and compile this story. If you can correct or clarify, please let me know

the northwest corner eave

a group gathers for a Pioneer Cabin wedding

a stuffed bear has taken up residence