Only in Sun Valley, Idaho, can a 75- square-foot, early 1950 log cabin go on the market for $949,000.
Here is the history of that log cabin.
My job at Sun Valley in the winter of 1948-49 was to teach beginning skiing to people who had come there on a Learn to Ski week vacation for $87.95. This price included room and board, a one-week ski lift ticket and six days of ski lessons. I taught people from Nebraska, Chicago or Los Angeles how to put their skis on for the first time in their life and walk around in the flat at the bottom Dollar Mountain.
One afternoon, when the class was almost over, the snow had melted enough for the dirt to make its spring appearance. By the middle of the week, that small patch of dirt had grown so big, there was no flat place left to teach my prepaid, learn-to-ski, already sunburned, beginning skiers.
My beginning class was moved a few miles up the road to Galena Summit where there was still 3 feet of snow in the flat.
The big, yellow Sun Valley bus also brought along box lunches and plenty of drinking water for everyone in ski school, as well as the bus driver and me.
The scenery was different from that around the Sun Valley Lodge and Dollar Mountain, but we still had to walk around in the flat snow fields teaching pupils with previously alabaster white faces who were now getting sunburned beyond recognition in the bright spring sun.
The end of my dream job as a ski instructor was close. I had gotten used to having a place to live and three meals a day. Rather than pack up and spend the summer surfing at San Onofre, I got a good night job washing dishes in the Challenger Inn. I loaded the dishwashing machine and someone else at the other end of the conveyor belt emptied it.
When Sun Valley had a convention and served them dinner in the Lodge, we moved over there to keep things going at the right rate. While this dishwashing was going on, during the day, I was getting material ready to build my dream log cabin on my $300, vacant lot in nearby Ketchum.
Now shift your attention to August 2013 when Ron and Kendall Johnson of Ketchum sent me a flyer complete with photographs of an attractive log cabin:
“This is a very special one of a kind early 1950 log cabin. The cabin was completely refurbished down to the studs in 2006 and this wonderful property is a showpiece. Tourist zoned so a business is possible on over 200 feet of Trail Creek footage. Underground parking and storage area in The Crossings (just across the creek.). Owner occupied. The log cabin has 1 bathroom, 1 bedroom.”
When I read the fine print in the ad it said that the cabin was built by ski filmmaker Warren Miller, so I called the real estate agent, Lane Monroe, to find out more details. I’ve known Lane for many years and he told me that, yes, it is the log cabin I started building in April 1948 while I was washing dishes in the Challenger Inn and earning $125 a month. I also was winding up my Nylon Parachute shroud ski boot lace business. But, that’s another story.
I had added a wooden floor to my $5 a month garage that I had rented from Austin Lightfoot, who I had bought my vacant lot from. I was renting sleeping bag space for 50 cents a night to Edward Scott, who a few years later would invent the light ski pole. Another sleeping bag space was rented to a future stock broker from Santa Barbara named Bob Brandt, who later was married to Janet Leigh for many, many years.
Digging further into the fine print of the real estate ad, the house still contains the 750 square feet I’d planned, so the owner has spent a lot of money rebuilding my amateur dream log cabin, but apparently kept the floor plan along with the window locations.
When I designed the log cabin, I was a 24-year-old bachelor ski instructor with no responsibilities except for food and gas for my car and wax for my surfboard. The asking price for this 750-square-foot cabin is $949,000. That is 950 times as much as I originally sold it for. When I sold the cabin for $900, exclusive of my labor, I made a couple of hundred dollars or 20 percent of what I’d put into it.
With no real responsibilities, as I said, I had decided I’d wanted to be surfing after all, rather than hanging around, washing dishes at night and building something that even as simple as I’d planned, was way over my head. I never looked back and that $900 helped me buy enough 16mm color film to make my first surfing movie at San Onofre. A lot of the shots in that film were made with my waterproof camera box that I made in my garage in Ketchum before I left in July. It was then that I got a job testing air mattresses for leaks after I got back to LA. That was one soft job.
It is nice to stumble onto something that you created 60-plus years ago that still has value and to know that someone who cares has preserved your dream alongside a gurgling creek. At least I assume that the stream still gurgles at the entrance to Ketchum above the roar of the cars commuting twice a day to Hailey and beyond.
Warren Miller is history’s most prolific and enduring ski filmmaker. Visit warrenmiller.net or visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/warrenmiller.