Having lunch or dinner at the historic Roundhouse Lodge on Bald Mountain is high on the list of must-do activities for Sun Valley Traditionalists.
Photo by Kevin Syms, courtesy of Sun Valley Resort
Savoring mountain life
and looking for more
Pam Morris, Sun Valley Guide
As America's first destination ski darling, Sun Valley's middle name is Tradition. Cocooned in history and romance, it is without peer in the West.
Been-there, done-that Traditionalists approach Sun Valley with a well-honed, but unstuffy sense of style. They don't want to waste time or money on junk. They savor life and are looking for more.
Traditionalists soak up the comforts of Sun Valley like a cat curled up next to a wood-fired stove. They wander down the paths that beckon to wrap themselves in the essence of this unparalleled place. Getting from Point A to Point B and back in record time is not No. 1 on their list. Sun Valley feeds their need for substance, authenticity and connection. They're not into contrivance, plastic or the latest, greatest thing, unless it makes life more interesting or more enjoyable. They still welcome a good adventure.
They love new mountain gear, but were content to let rocker skis evolve for a couple of years and to let others figure out how they should be handled before they clamped them on for a ride. They never lost their love for wool, even when it was displaced by fleece. With today's wool in its no-itch form, they're having the last laugh.
Traditionalists don't want to miss even the tiny molecules of a Sun Valley experience. None would miss the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but Traditionalists would also seek out the tiny cafes where the chef is also the waiter.
First things first
Sun Valley Resort founder and Union Pacific Railroad Chairman Averell Harriman built the nation's first destination ski resort in a Western style with European flair to entice passengers to travel here on the railroad, which served the resort when it opened in 1936. Brass bands met the trains at the station near Ketchum and horse-drawn wagons scooped up passengers for the three-mile ride to the Sun Valley Lodge, which today is a Traditionalist's haven.
The first thing Traditionalists should do at the lodge is to run a hand over the building's exterior wall that looks like plank siding. No slivers here—the wall is concrete, which astonishes most people. This touch is the beginning of connecting with the resort's history, which should continue with a stroll down history lane, a gallery of resort photos that hang in both wings of the lodge's main floor. The friendly doormen will point out the way.
A cozy dinner in a tall upholstered booth at The Ram, the resort's oldest restaurant, sets Traditionalists up for a sound sleep before a big day on Bald Mountain. Pianist Larry Harshbarger plays standards most nights and will let you sing along if you've got the voice.
On the mountain
If it's an epic storm night, powder will demand a quick morning cup and a croissant to arrive at the lifts in time for first tracks. Otherwise, plan on carving the corduroy first thing to capture magic-carpet-ride sensations. The wise Traditionalist knows that Baldy doesn't close at noon and some of the most inspiring skiing can be found in the afternoon, after the speed demons have spent their energy. Baldy's high-speed quad lifts provide as much vertical gain as anyone can handle and most days any time is a good time to hit the mountain.
The curious can get a look behind Baldy's curtain by joining a snowmaking tour or booking an evening ride on The Beast at River Run Lodge to see what the night shift does to extend our lives on skis and to make sure there's good snow underfoot. Don't tell the kids, but Baldy is a high-tech miracle, and the masters of "construction snow" have good stories to tell.
Traditionalists will revel in romance in an evening ride up the Roundhouse Gondola to the historic Roundhouse Lodge for dinner.
On a clear night, watching the lights of Ketchum and Sun Valley recede and give way to the Milky Way's glittering blanket is worth the price of admission. The crackling wood in the river-rock fireplace welcomes diners to the mountain restaurant whose ceilings, walls and windows were patterned after a railroad building where locomotives were repaired. Bon appetit.
Up the road
Nordic skiers will want to spend a day at Galena Lodge about 24 miles north of Ketchum. It was saved from the wrecking ball by local activists and the generosity of philanthropist Teresa Heinz Kerry.
On the way up state Highway 75, a quick weekday trip through the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Visitor Center will orient the disoriented to the wild places around them. It's one of the few places around with a stuffed wolverine, a most elusive creature, along with a new video about it. Our favorite Nordic ski and snowshoe trail, the North Fork Trail, is located there, too. It's an easy figure-eight ramble, dog-friendly, along a shallow creek lined with soft snow drifts. People on this trail are more prone to drifting in time than to racing time trials, so it's peaceful and friendly and a good workout.
Quaint Galena Lodge, once a way station for travelers, serves up spectacular soup. It lies in the center of a pretzel of groomed Nordic trails at the top of the Harriman Trail, which stretches from the lodge to the SNRA Visitor Center at the south end.
Back in town, some Traditionalists will want to go in search of the spirit of famous author Ernest Hemingway. Books and biographies about him are abundant, but the best way to understand why he lived here is to walk outside, take in the crisp blue winter sky, then have a cocktail in Ketchum, the town he enjoyed with many friends.
Once home to a lead and silver smelter and once the largest sheep-shipping center in the U.S., Ketchum was settled before Sun Valley. Today it's a place to find new twists on world cuisine or penultimate comfort food.
When the legs become putty, Traditionalists can find a place to watch the world go by with a coffee drink in hand. Chain or small brewer, Ketchum's got it. Looking to wind down? The nearest hot tub, a session with a massage therapist or a yoga class at the YMCA or Zenergy Health Club and Spa are the ticket to some relaxing alpha waves.
After an afternoon and evening in Ketchum, Traditionalists must exchange their sheepskin boots for dancing shoes, take their partner by the hand and lead their friends into the embrace of the dark-paneled walls of the Duchin Lounge in the Sun Valley Lodge, where concert pianist Joe Fos and his trio can play anything—really—but give dancers the allegretto swing-time of their lives. From a slow waltz to a jazz jive, it's all there.
Of the old-fashioned cocktails-and-jazz bar, one well-traveled Traditionalist gushed, "You don't know what you have here, this easy atmosphere, this music, this dancing—this doesn't exist anywhere else anymore. It's amazing and wonderful."
After a of couple days like these, Traditionalists will want to tuck in with their favorite anti-inflammatory. They're gonna need it, but it'll only hurt when they walk downstairs. However, laughing will be no problem.
Must-dos for the traditionalists
1. View historic photos at Sun Valley Lodge.
2. Ski/snowboard on Baldy.
3. Dinner at Baldy's Roundhouse or take the sleigh to Trail Creek Cabin.
4. Visit the Ski and Heritage Museum in Ketchum.
5. Cocktails and dinner in Ketchum.
6. Nordic ski and soup at Galena Lodge.
7. Take a snowmaking tour.
8. Wander Ketchum for coffee, shopping and a good book.
9. Dance at the Duchin Lounge.
10. Hot tub, massage, yoga.
11. Nap. Ibuprofen.