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“Winter sports under a summer sun”: the marketing of Sun Valley ski resort in the 1930s

Dylan J. Esson (Department of History, The Waterford School, Sandy, Utah, USA)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 2 November 2012



The purpose of this paper is to describe the growth of the early ski market and the marketing strategies that the Union Pacific Railroad took in promoting Sun Valley ski resort, one of the most popular early destination ski resorts in the USA.


The paper uses primary and secondary source material, including ski periodicals, national magazines and the manuscript collection of W. Averell Harriman, the Chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad during the creation of Sun Valley.


This paper finds that Sun Valley pioneered the western ski vacation by conducting careful market research into not only the snow and weather conditions of western mountains, but also into the habits and economic potential of skiers and winter tourists.


Scholarly work on skiing has primarily looked at the sport from the social and cultural perspective of skiers. Work on entrepreneurial objectives of ski resort designers has largely focused on the period after the Second World War. This is among the first works to analyze entrepreneurial activities and marketing strategies in the ski industry before the Second World War. As a result, the paper challenges the idea that big business only began to shape the ski industry during the Cold War. Instead, this paper shows that large corporations like the Union Pacific Railroad were influential in growing the ski market by building resorts that illustrated the importance of market segmentation to the success of ski areas. In this way, the paper challenges the popular idea that Sun Valley was merely a media sensation and shows that it was a carefully designed business that exhibited a nuanced approach to changes in the ski market.



Esson, D.J. (2012), "“Winter sports under a summer sun”: the marketing of Sun Valley ski resort in the 1930s", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 554-577.



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