For beginners who want a day off from the ski slopes, snowshoeing is a perfect way to get outside on a sunny winter day.
Photo courtesy of Sun Valley Resort
What Sun Valley newcomers
need to know
Freddie Harris, for Sun Valley Guide
If you're a first-timer in Sun Valley, you've picked the perfect winter destination; after all, we are ranked No. 4 in SKI magazine's listing of the top Western mountain resorts. The resort area and the surrounding Wood River Valley is like a romantic memory—simply gorgeous and ever so slightly elusive.
The intimate towns of Bellevue and Hailey are bookended by sage-frosted hills to the south; Ketchum and Sun Valley burrow in the stunning Central Idaho Rocky Mountains to the north. Sun Valley is remote, but our elusiveness is part of the area's charm. Unspoiled by corporate commercialism that has leached through the borders of other mountain resort towns, and beloved by locals who are loyal to businesses that have withstood the test of time, Sun Valley boasts a unique character reflected in an array of human personalities.
"There's an incredible collection of people here," says Paul, an elderly gentleman whom I encounter at a coffee shop in Ketchum. "And everyone mixes very well."
Sun Valley's varied personality is further reflected in the multiple things one can do here. So, for your first time in Sun Valley, what are your options? What to do? Where to go? Like anywhere, in Sun Valley people, businesses and fads come and go. But some things, like the mountains that surround us, have been around for ages. These are the places that a first-timer should visit. These are Sun Valley staples.
Sleeping in historic comfort
If you are looking for a place to stay that oozes with traditional Sun Valley charisma, try the Sun Valley Inn. Originally opened as the Challenger Inn in the 1930s, the Inn offers a charming alternative to the Sun Valley Lodge, which is a short stroll away through a picturesque pedestrian village of shops, restaurants and even a movie theatre. The Inn, which was inspired by the movie "I Met Him In Paris," is gilded with ornate furnishings and sumptuous fabrics. It provides 190 rooms, a conference center and delicious dining at The Ram restaurant. However, if you want to venture slightly further afield to dine, without getting in the car, take your significant other on what is possibly the most romantic night out—a sleigh ride under the stars to the Trail Creek Cabin, where you can dine on typically Western fare by a crackling fire.
Hitting the slopes
The Inn and the Sun Valley Lodge offer two year-round heated pools that steam against a crisp, cold winter night and soothe tired post-skiing bones. Best of all, they're only minutes away from a beginner's ski haven: Dollar Mountain. As a beginner, there might be nothing quite so alarming as tackling Bald Mountain, the resort's larger, more advanced ski area immediately west of Ketchum. Dollar, however, offers calm slopes and a luxurious lodge with a wide selection of comfort foods.
Dollar boasts 10 runs and five lifts on its 628-foot vertical rise, including two high-speed quad lifts. Particularly appropriate for beginner skiers is the "magic carpet," a slow-moving, soft conveyor belt that takes younger skiers up a short slope where they can take their first turns. For adults, most of their first runs are on Poverty Flats, accessed by the Quarter Dollar lift. It's even better when one's first awkward turns are guided by an expert from the SnowSports School at Dollar Mountain.
After a luminous afternoon on the slopes—Dollar is treeless which means more sun, and fewer pesky branches to get in one's way—enjoy some time in Carol's Dollar Mountain Lodge. Indulge in a hot cocoa, or something stronger, or chose something yummy from a delightful family-friendly menu.
For those who prefer not to ski—there are those of us who would like to curl up in an armchair while others tackle the slopes—the lodge is a sumptuously rustic place to relax with a great book, while friends or family members ski or snowboard. Or, given that the lodge offers spectacular views of Bald Mountain, skiers and non-skiers can dine in the sun on the heated deck.
For an après-ski drink or snack, head to The Ram Bar at the Sun Valley Inn, where you can have a drink before relaxing your bones in the nearby heated pool.
Some other tips for getting outdoors are:
• To get geared up for skiing or snowboarding, several sports stores offer rental packages and top-notch gear. Try Pete Lane's, Sturtevants or Formula Sports.
• If you want to try something other than downhill skiing, go to the Sun Valley Club at Sun Valley Resort or Galena Lodge, 23 miles north of Ketchum—both offer opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
• If you're in Sun Valley for the winter holidays, the resort puts on a spectacular Christmas Eve ice show on the outdoor rink followed by a fireworks show over Dollar Mountain.
Dinner out on the town
Finding excellent places to eat in the Sun Valley area is a formidable task, only because it offers so many options. Those new to town might want to try two of Ketchum's oldest and coziest dining spots: The Pioneer Saloon and the Ketchum Grill. Originally a casino dating back to the 1940s and shrouded in a dim light that casts a warm glow over the heads of various game animals mounted on the wall, the Pio (as the Pioneer is known by the locals) is reminiscent of an ancient Wild West saloon. The Pio doesn't take reservations, so be prepared to wait, even during slack seasons. The Ketchum Grill has been a staple for locals and tourists alike for 22 years. Owned by husband-and-wife team Anne and Scott Mason (he is the head chef, she concocts delectable pastries and desserts), the Grill is located in the historic Ed Williams House, which was built in 1885. The ambience inside is lively and warm.
Ernest Hemingway 101
After all that food and skiing, it might be time to visit the haunts of Sun Valley's most famous resident, Ernest Hemingway. A regular at The Alpine Club (now Whiskey Jacques') and The Casino, both busy bars on Main Street in Ketchum, Hemingway stayed at the Sun Valley Lodge in a lavish suite he called the "Glamour House," where he worked on his acclaimed novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls." People can visit the writer's grave in the Ketchum Cemetery north of downtown; many visitors leave coins on the headstone shaded in a grove of trees. The Hemingway Memorial is also a must-visit. Situated northeast of Ketchum and Sun Valley on Trail Creek Road, the memorial consists of Hemingway's bust and a eulogy he wrote for a friend: "Best of all he loved the fall … the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams and above the hills the high blue windless skies."