In 1935, W. Averell Harriman, then chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, sought to open a European-style winter resort and, through an emissary, was steered to the mining-turned-ranching town of Ketchum. He started with the lodge, which also has a heated outdoor pool, ice rink, restaurant and wall of fame with nostalgic photos of stars who helped put–or keep–Sun Valley on the map over the decades.
Harriman persuaded a group of Austrian mountain guides to relocate to Idaho from their hometown of St. Anton, and his Euro vision began to take shape. Within months an advisor mused that the conveyor belts used to harvest bananas in Central America could probably haul people up a hill, and in 1936 the first known chairlift in the country debuted on Proctor Hill, adjacent to the site of the Sun Valley Lodge. And thus skiing was born in the States.
Sun Valley the ski resort is actually two mountains: The main draw is Mount Baldy, which features 19 lifts and a 3,400-foot vertical drop (from 9,150 to 5,750 feet); across town and much closer to the Sun Valley Lodge is Dollar Mountain, the beginner’s area and terrain park. This mild geographic annoyance is mostly surmountable through an efficient (free!) shuttle system and the fact that everyone here is so dang nice. And frequent views of the Alps-like Sawtooth Mountains from the slopes help breeze away most worries. Still, it is no small hassle to leave your kids on the bunny hill for an hour or two while you board a bus to go take a few runs of your own.
Baldy offers a solid range of terrain, highlighted by ripping-fast groomers, steep open bowls and, when the snowpack cooperates, beautiful glade runs. Peer behind those passing goggles on the hill or chairlift and you might spot one of the Hollywood stars who frequent these mountains: Schwarzenegger, Springsteen and others maintain a presence, continuing a tradition that dates to the resort’s earliest days. Harriman’s original marketing visionary, Steve Hannagan, who had put Miami Beach on the map with a New York-focused ad blitz, not only proposed the name Sun Valley but also suggested recruiting Hollywood stars, including Errol Flynn and Clark Gable, to attend the grand opening.
Baldy’s two base areas–the main River Run lodge on one side and the Warm Springs lodge on the other –are comfortable, reflecting a focus on customer service that is a central principal of resort owner, Robert Earl Holding, the Sinclair Oil mogul who bought Sun Valley in 1977 for $12 million.
Holding is also a huge proponent of live music, and on any given afternoon professional-grade musicians are likely to be filling the yawning, light-filled atrium of the River Run Lodge with picking, plucking and singing. Or drop into Apples, one of the country’s quintessential apres ski bars, adorned with ski porn on the walls and likely more than a few pro athletes that call Sun Valley home, tossing back a few local brews.
The town of Ketchum is a near-perfect blend of variety and character, anchored by Old West saloons, modern cocktail-and-creative-dining restaurants, warm bakeries and coffee shops and classic fine dining. It’s a place that encourages lingering. Or, perhaps, coming back year after year.
Imagine plush lodging across 108 newly renovate (and larger) rooms, and then throw in a 20,000-square foot spa, gym, bowling alley (for kids) and game room, and you will look forward to your daily return to the sanctuary known as Sun Valley Lodge. The outdoor pool is circular, further encouraging socializing.
Il Naso, a half block off Main Street, is a warm wine bar and Italian restaurant that achieves the elusive “relaxed upscale” feeling that it so hard to achieve. The nightly ravioli is a hit, and Executive Chef Kate Metzger sources many ingredients from local farms.