The Little Sisters of Sun Valley’s Grand Dame
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY The Community Library REGIONAL HISTORY DEPARTMENT
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Even more rustic than Trail Creek Cabin was Pioneer Cabin, which opened the same year on a 10,000-foot perch looking out onto such peaks as Hyndman, Old Hyndman, Cobb, and Handwerk. The hut—the forerunner of today’s yurts—was billed as a high-mountain hostel for guests who wanted to spend a few days “in a remote and peaceful winter wonderland.”
Harriman believed that such overnight huts were essential if the resort was to compete with European ski resorts. And the idea pacified Austrian ski instructors like Friedl Pfeifer, who found the idea of lift-accessed skiing less appealing than the time-honored method of climbing a mountain slope with sealskins or “canvas creepers” on his skis.
The two-room cabin featured four double-decker bunks with green Pullman car curtains for privacy, plush sleeping bags with sheets sewn into them, and leftover maroon carpet from the Sun Valley Lodge. Ski instructors packed in steaks, bacon and eggs, and cases of dehydrated soup imported from Switzerland. And Sun Valley provided a cook—albeit a temperamental one who threw a fierce temper tantrum every time he burned the French toast on the wood stove.
The area’s wide-open spaces and plentiful sunshine offered unlimited spring skiing along numerous routes fanning out from the cabin. Skiers could take Route 82 to Duncan Peak and into the Hyndman Peak Basin, for instance. Or they could follow Route 81, as outlined in ski instructor Andy Hennig’s trail guide, up the Salzburger Spitzl.
One of the ski guides Harriman hired to guide tourists on that 4-mile European-type tour into the cabin was Florian “Flokie” Haemmerle. Dorice Taylor, Sun Valley’s early publicist, recalled how the Bavarian guide, who often wore lederhosen, added a teaspoon of rum to every cup of tea—the way “my grandvater used to do.” Even as World War II unfolded in Europe, he downplayed talk of war. “Var? Why talk of var? If they vould build more ski lifts and more little houses [like Pioneer Cabin], there vould be no need for var.”
One of the guests Flokie guided into the cabin was Dwight Shepler, an American landscape artist who loved to paint the craggy mountains that form a half-cirque around the site. Shepler traded Haemmerle watercolor-painting lessons for ski lessons, and Haemmerle took to painting like a skier to a powder day. He sold his work to Lucille Ball, Gary Cooper, Darryl Zanuck, and other Sun Valley regulars. He also covered the walls of the Sun Valley Inn, the Knob Hill Inn, and a few homes along Fairway Drive with St. Florian and other designs in Bavarian fashion.
Pioneer Cabin has also been a favorite destination of hikers over the years.
When a religious group living in Triumph announced in the early 1980s that UFOs would be landing in their vortex, Ketchum native Bill McDorman decided to hike into Pioneer Cabin with a friend and watch the landings from there. Darkness fell before they had finished the 2,400-foot climb, and the sliver of moon was providing little light.
Suddenly, the friend’s dog set off a cacophony of agonized howling.
“I was never as scared in my entire life,” McDorman remembers. “I didn’t know if the dog had run into an alien creature or what!”
Their hands shaking, the two men rummaged through their packs for a flashlight as the dog came bounding down the path toward them, still howling in a bloodcurdling manner. In the light of the flashlight, the cause was immediately revealed: a face full of porcupine quills.
“We spent the rest of the night picking quills out of the dog’s face,” McDorman says. “We didn’t have time to watch for the UFOs.” >>>