Ever since railroad tycoon Averell Harriman decided to plunk down a resort near one of his railheads in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1936, Sun Valley has been practically synonymous with Americans’ picture of a glamorous winter sports mecca.
For more than 80 years, the resort, which includes local ski hills Dollar Mountain and Bald Mountain, have been the gathering spot for a veritable who’s who of American arts and letters, from old-time celebs such as Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Errol Flynn to modern-day notables such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mark Zuckerberg, Demi Moore and Justin Timberlake.
There are a multitude of reasons why Sun Valley has been a lodestar of the ski and snowboard set, but here are five that we rate above most others.
Sun Valley Lodge
The original raison d’etre — aside from the skiing, that is — for holidaying in Sun Valley, the edifice, which opened in December of 1936, has had a renaissance, to the tune of a reported $51 million. The insides of the slightly tattered building were demolished two years ago and replaced with a sparkling modern gem, replete with remodeled and expanded guest quarters (there are now 104 rooms, down from 148), a 20,000-square-foot luxury spa, a state-of-the-art fitness center and reconfigured/redesigned restaurant and bar among other touch-ups. However, not all things have changed: The charming black-and-white photos of famous guests past and present still line the Lodge’s corridor walls.
Warm Springs area
The main ski hill, Bald Mountain, is almost perfectly conical in shape, with practically all of its more than 100 runs maintaining a consistent pitch. You can, after taking a couple of lift rides to the top from the River Run base, ski Baldy’s entire 3,400 feet of vertical. Or you can get nearly that much vert (3,142) with one lift ride, the Challenger quad that rises from the Warm Springs Lodge. All the runs that this lift services face due north, so the snow is generally the exquisite chalky kind, and they are all fast and steep. Throw in a few leg-breaking bump runs and sublime tree shots and you have the foundations of the perfect winter playground.
Getting one’s fill
For a small town, Ketchum (population of less than 3,000) has an outsized selection of dining options (more than 60) with the bulk of the visitors opting for such longtime favorites as Pioneer Saloon, Cristina’s, Ketchum Grill and The Grill at Knob Hill. But there are some newer establishments that are worth exploring, including Enoteca, which features local and sustainable ingredients in its big plates, small plates and wood fire pizzas, Warfield Distillery and Brewery, which may have the best burger in town, and Town Square Tavern, which concentrates on Mediterranean cuisine.
Keeping in tune
For years Whiskey Jacques was the place to go for live entertainment, and though it still does attract a lively crowd on a regular basis, it appears to be on a downturn. However, the aforementioned Warfield Distillery and Brewery is making a name for itself, booking a wide variety of entertainers, from singer-songwriters to indie bands. The new Limelight Hotel is also becoming a popular gathering spot for live apres entertainment.
About an hour southwest of Ketchum, just outside the town of Fairfield, is a modest ski hill (2 lifts, 1,425 vertical, 1,150 acres, $40 lift ticket) that’s something of a hidden secret: When all the powder from the latest storm has been thoroughly trashed on Baldy, Sun Valley locals have been known to wander over to Soldier on a Thursday morning knowing they can still find deep pockets of fresh pow. That’s because the ski hill is closed Monday-Wednesday. Another option is you can rent Soldier Mountain during their dark days for about $2,500 a day and have it all for yourself.