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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ski pilgrimage to Sun Valley, Idaho

Ski pilgrimage to Sun Valley, Idaho

Amy Whitley


As the country's original destination ski resort, Sun Valley offers a mountain experience steeped in history while alive with newfound vigor. From the moment you arrive at picturesque SUN airport in Hailey, Idaho, you’ll have no trouble seeing the European inspiration behind this iconic American ski resort. Sun Valley manages to marry the Old World Austrian charm of its resort village with the Wild West-yet-gentrified vibe of Ketchum. The inviting and distinctly original cocktail of culture, cuisine and fresh mountain air draws outdoor enthusiasts for weekend getaways, weeklong vacations, and, in the case of the many transplants I met, newly envisioned lives.

Sun Valley’s two distinct Alpine mountains are ready for fresh turns through Idaho’s light powder, all under skies famous for cloudless, bluebird days. The views are equally as spectacular from the historic Roundhouse restaurant perched at mid-mountain as from the sun-soaked deck of the golf club and Nordic center. Able to compete with any major city, the town of Ketchum is drawing celebrated chefs, innovative hoteliers and a lineup of entertainment options to its indoor and outdoor performance spaces.


Stay at the historic Sun Valley Inn: 

Located in the Sun Valley Village (a complimentary 10-minute shuttle ride from Ketchum and the slopes), the Inn, which opened in 1937, oozes history and charm. The soul of the hotel is without question its iconic Ram Restaurant with the attached Ram Bar, where visitors can still view (and sample) heritage menu items such as liver and onions and Hungarian goulash alongside its still ever-popular cheese fondue and Idaho Ruby Trout.

Amenities at the Sun Valley Inn include roaring fireplaces, stunning views of Bald Mountain, and a heated outdoor pool and fitness center on-site. For more, guests must brave the short but chilly walk to nearby Sun Valley Lodge for spa services, a larger outdoor pool and hot tub complex, a small bowling alley and an ice skating rink. Don’t neglect to linger in the guest hallways and lobby to take in the framed photos of famous guests, past and present, ranging from Earnest Hemmingway to Marilyn Monroe. 

Dine in both the village and in town:

Sun Valley Village dining offers convenience without sacrificing quality if you’re staying at the Sun Valley Inn. Just steps away, guests can’t go wrong at the Village Station for casual pub fare with some healthy options. For breakfast, both Austrian-inspired Konditorei or Gretchen’s in Sun Valley Lodge are sure bets, the latter named after Gretchen Fraser, the first American to win an Alpine Olympic gold medal.

In Ketchum, Warfield is the region’s go-to distillery and brewpub, currently making their own gin and vodka, with whiskey coming soon. Another distinctly local go-to for the 21-and-over crowd is the Casino right down the street, with pool tables and affordable (but strong) drinks and plenty of local flavor. The Limelight Hotel, Ketchum’s newest lodging option, features a large “living room” as an informal dining option, with space for kids to spread out and play, a big plus for parents. 

The Covey is one of Ketchum’s newest restaurants and popular enough to warrant a line outside the door when it opens at 5:30 p.m.—no reservations taken. The atmosphere is cozy but modern, with an open kitchen concept and a wide selection of beer and wine. Try the winter squash appetizer if it’s still on offer, given their ever-refreshed menu.

Ski on two distinct mountains:

True to its European inspiration, the skiable acreage at Sun Valley is spread over two mountains, accessible by shuttle or car. Dollar Mountain is the beginning mountain, housing the snow sports school, a daycare, and a very innovative Terrain that Teaches program, for which the snow is actually sculpted in such a way that helps you learn, plus is totally fun. Dollar is very manageable for families with young kids with its beautiful and quiet day lodge, a full rental system, and terrain parks for those who want to challenge themselves. If all you need is Dollar, you’ll pay a lower lift ticket price, too.

Bald Mountain, or Baldy, boasts advanced terrain, and they do mean advanced. The grooming on Baldy is phenomenal, so you can usually count on groomed blues and greens, but the steep vertical still makes them very challenging. With over 2,000 total acres, everyone who is intermediate level and above will find something perfect for their ski and snowboard needs.

The two main base areas are Baldy are River Run and Warm Springs. Warm Springs recently went through a complete facelift, making it the place to grab that aprés ski drink at the bar overlooking the slopes.

What else not to miss:

The window shopping in Ketchum is worth a leisurely afternoon, concluded by taking in a show at the region’s newest performance space, The Argyros, host to annual events such as the Sun Valley Film Festival. If you haven’t gotten your fill of mountain sunshine, the Sun Valley Nordic and Snowshoe Center is the hub for all winter snow sports activity aside from downhill skiing. (In the summer, this area transforms into a golf haven.) At the Nordic center, visitors can snowshoe, classic XC ski, or skate ski on the perfectly groomed 25-mile trail system, which includes dedicated snowshoe trails. Keep an eye out for elk and fox.


If you go:

Multiple airlines, including Delta and United, offer direct flights from SUN to Seattle and Salt Lake City, both easy connections to MFR.

While ski season is celebrated in Sun Valley, summer is actually their peak season, with golf, mountain biking and outdoor concerts taking center stage.

It is entirely possible to enjoy a Sun Valley vacation without a car, utilizing a hotel shuttle from SUN, then relying on the free in-town and in-resort shuttle system.  

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