Mountain’s Contributors guide to
Your inside line to downhill shredding, Nordic exploring, kid-friendly adventures, dining, and one circa 1988 nightclub.
BY ROB STORY | PHOTOGRAPH BY TAL ROBERTS
My first excursion to Sun Valley occurred on the heels of a blizzard in a particularly snowy winter. I came from the Great Plains, trundling Interstates 80 and 84 while half-blind behind the wheel, my vision obscured by eerie drifts that kept ghosting across the road. The drifts would clear to reveal thousands of pulverized rodents that for unknown reasons chose, in the confusion of the blizzard, to travel the murderous freeway. The memory still gives me chills.
Departing the interstate, the mystique of the Northern Rockies only grew. I rolled into Sun Valley, where the mountains thrust, with great urgency, out of the earth between the Owyhee Desert and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Certainly, there’s no other ski mountain anywhere like Bald Mountain, with its endless, 3,400-foot fall lines.
Although chairs did not spin on Bald Mountain till the resort was four years old, that mistake is long-since rectified. Twelve lifts now carry as many as 28,400 skiers per hour. That’s the highest lift capacity of any ski resort, and means Sun Valley skiers seldom wait in line. Not that Sun Valley skiers come for the uphill conveyances. No, they come for blistering-fast descents, the finest on the White Planet. Sun Valley makes snow on 645 acres and grooms religiously: It’s the ultimate venue for stomping the accelerator. Everywhere you turn are corduroy-carpet cruisers that beg for channeling a Franz—whether that Franz is Olympic DH champ Klammer or speed-skiing legend Weber, who once hit 138 mph. And that same pitch that makes for rollicking groomers morphs into a powder skier’s dream when storms hit. Baldy’s amazingly consistent tilt is never disturbed by ridge, plateau, or inconvenient drainage, and etches Sun Valley upon any serious skier’s “must-ski” list.
Sun Valley has also been cool forever. It became America’s first ski destination in 1936, and quickly attracted Hollywood royalty, Ernest Hemingway, and assorted members of the Kennedy clan. Much less known is that Sun Valley served as one of America’s first PTSD treatment centers. Yep, during World War II, Sun Valley’s founder shut down public skiing and offered up his lodging and hot springs operations to the Navy as a wartime hospital and recuperative facility. More than 1,500 patients came to the Wood River Valley. Some were said to shy away from fishing, skiing, golf, or hiking opportunities for fear of appearing healthy enough to be rotated back into combat units. The choice—front lines or Sun Valley?—was really no choice at all.
The early visitors plied only Dollar Mountain, which today stands as the perfect peak for families who enjoy terrain parks, and halfpipes. But the broader Sun Valley Resort now offers snow-tubing, fat-biking, and Nordic skiing, which is to say, it appeals to every family. The original Sun Valley Lodge sits a kick-and-glide away and demands a visit, if only to see its subterranean bowling alley and massive 2015 renovations, particularly the brand-new 20,000-square-foot spa.
Over most of my adult life, I’ve crisscrossed the globe on a pilgrimage for the perfect turn, and most of this travel has occurred, I’m happy to report, on roads free of suicidal rodents. I’m often surprised though at how few fellow pilgrims have visited Sun Valley. I reckon central Idaho is not “on the way” to anywhere (unless you’re a potato farmer). You only visit Sun Valley if you make the effort—and you can’t call yourself a serious skier or snowboarder until you do.
The Sun Valley Company | www.sunvalley.com/dining/trail-creek-cabin
The Sun Valley Company runs a horse-drawn sleigh that pulls you along a rushing stream to Trail Creek Cabin. Built as a hunting getaway in 1937, the rustic log shelter was a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway and his cronies. It now serves family dinners featuring local elk, steelhead, and bison. Dec. 15 – Jan. 1; $159 plus tax including gratuity (adults), $95 plus tax (12 and under)
The Ketchum “Wreck” department | www.ketchumidaho.org
Each winter, with the help of the fire chief, it transforms the soccer field at Atkinson’s Park into a free ice skating rink. No skates? No problem. They loan hockey and figure skates, helmets, and sticks for the bruisers.
Boulder Yurt | www.svtrek.co
Operated by Sun Valley Trekking. The relatively flat 1.5-mile approach suits tykes in a sled or older kids on Nordic, alpine touring skis, or snowshoes. Spend the day sledding or ski touring beneath stunning views of the Boulder mountains, then relax in the wood-fired sauna or play board games in the toasty yurt.
BY KEVIN LUBY | PHOTOGRAPHS TAL ROBERTS
I sat angst-ridden on my Sun Valley barstool. To that point, the Christmas 2013 storm cycle had been a bust. All anybody had been skiing for days were groomers—and I was just showing up. And then Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation coach Brett Jacobson cracked a tall PBR and set me straight. “Shit Bud, with a good tune on a pair of GS skis, today was the best day ever!” he cackled.
Jacobson’s sentiments capture the essence of Sun Valley, Idaho. But had he spoken those words at any other Western ski area, he would have faced mockery, not the high fives that passed around Apple’s Bar and Grill. In Sun Valley, PG-13 conditions bring out the locals armed with trench-digging frontside skis to feast on immaculate corduroy. Such, go-fast days are cherished here almost as much as pow. Realizing my error, I swapped my trendy fat skis for metal-laminated Austrian-made demos and spent the rest of my vacation pulling Gs until my quads gave out. I’ve skied plenty of untracked in Sun Valley over 25 years of family visits, but that week of railing groomers stands out as my fondest memory. Trust me, the oddity of that statement is not lost on me.
When storms fatten the bowls and lower south slopes, Sun Valley turns into a powder skier’s smorgasbord: On the hill, you can raid consistent steeps linked by sneaky traverses, and plunder tree-skiing powder stashes that continue to expand thanks to a multi-year glading effort. As for the backcountry, if you’ve got the right avalanche safety gear, education, and local beta, I’d pick Sun Valley’s out-of-bounds skiing over almost any other lift-served spot in the country. The word epic comes to mind to describe Sun Valley during a storm pattern, but the word doesn’t suit the area’s style.
“No one here has anything to prove,” says local pro freeskier Banks Gilberti. “We live simple lives that allow us to get on the hill everyday. It’s amazing here no matter what.” It helps that Sun Valley invested millions in its park and pipe offerings in 2009.
That “No bad days just bad skiers” ethos has fostered Sun Valley’s Olympic medalists like Gretchen Fraser and Christin Cooper, industry icons like Bobbie Burns and Bob Smith, and modern day pros including the Crist Brothers, Lexi Dupont, and Gilberti. “So many incredible skiers have come out of this hill for a reason,” says Gilberti. “If you love the physicality of the sport, it will test your limits every day.”
Steep bumps to groomer, a relentless top-to-bottom thigh burner with incredible pitch.
The original Sun Valley test piece.
One of the most influential runs of the Hot Dog era.
Best blend of pitch and playfulness in the bowls.
BY GREG RANDOLPH | PHOTOGRAPHS BY ORIGIN DESIGN + COMMUNICATIONS
A night on the town in Sun Valley/Ketchum can follow a couple of paths. The Pilgrim’s Route, aka the Sun Valley Haute Route, travels from après ski at Apple’s Bar and Grill or the River Run Lodge, prior to a quick stop into the Cellar for a cocktail. (It should be noted that while it’s OK to unbuckle your ski boots, they should be left on for the duration of the evening in the Austrian beer tent style.) Then the Haute Route makes a tromp into Whiskey Jacques for pizza and beer before eventually doing “the robot” through the doors of the Casino Club where time stands still (1937) and good times roll until last call.
If you need to recover from the Haute Route, a more refined approach involves an après ski sauna and shower, fresh socks, and a glass of wine from a gallery or many other institutions of cultural significance nestled among the streets of “Paris on the Big Wood” (River). Next, sample from the wide variety of drinking and dining options, which run from satisfyingly greasy burgers, to steak and potatoes, to sublime and innovative cuisine. The cool thing about Sun Valley is that you can dine on the fly. The town has no dress code, and takes pride in its over-the-top hospitality.
Lefty’s Bar and Grill and Grumpy’s | www.leftysbarandgrill.com // www.grumpyssunvalley.com
Gritty local hangouts serving burgers and beers. Akin to the cantina in Star Wars, these two places are where you go to dive into true mountain culture.
The Pioneer Saloon | www.pioneersaloon.com
“Cocktails so stiff you’ll shudder,” is the motto. But also baked potatoes and slabs of beef so generous they’ll bring on a food coma; all served under the watchful eye of an inordinate amount of taxidermy.
The Grill at Knob Hill Inn | www.knobhillinn.com
Summer or winter, the Rocky Mountain inspired gourmet fare and intimate atmosphere at The Grill at Knob Hill Inn earn top marks for splurging locals and out of towners.
Sawtooth Club | www.sawtoothclub.com
For a real western experience, head to the Sawtooth Club for natural mesquite wood-fired cooking (the artichokes and ribeyes are the stand outs), and a lively pub scene.
by MIKE HATTRUP | Photograph BY ORIGIN DESIGN + COMMUNICATIONS
“You drove an HOUR AND A HALF to go skiing?” my kids ask when they hear how far my parents drove to get the family to Crystal Mountain from Seattle. We’re standing atop Exhibition run at Sun Valley. The kids have just finished 15 laps of race training and have already wrapped up school for the day. Yes, they’re spoiled, and it’s my fault. I chose Sun Valley over any other ski hill in the country because its trails spill into the cool, friendly, outdoorsy, former mining town of Ketchum. And the kids are reaping the benefits.
From our house, it’s a two-block walk followed by a 200-meter skate (in their alpine skis) along the Big Wood River to the River Run lifts on Baldy. We can get to Main Street and all its small-town charm just as easily. The skiing and the nightlife were pretty much all I cared about when I moved to Ketchum 22 years ago. But my kids, Axel, 13, and Isabella 11, have additional needs—fortunately, Hemingway Elementary is four blocks away.
When school’s out, my family spends part of every day canvasing the bowls, glades, and groomers of 2,054-acre Sun Valley. Axel hammers moguls on Picabo while I rail trenches on Flying Squirrel. Meanwhile, Isabella and my wife Claudia explore the newly gladed Frenchman’s trees. When we need a change of pace, we hit the Dollar Mountain terrain park, where Axel throws 180s. And when we’re all flushed from the cold and sun and the vast, echoing emptiness that exists only in Idaho, we hit the historic Sun Valley Lodge to go bowling, or head to Bald Mountain Pizza and the Opera House to catch a pie and movie. With my whole family in smiles, there comes a new thought: Forget just the kids, we’re all spoiled.
BY DYLAN BEESON | PHOTOGRAPH RAY GADD
My wife Stacy clicks into her cross-country skis and is off, skating fast, her braids trailing behind. She glides up an impeccably groomed trail that looks like white ribbon candy. Big flakes float from a pale blue February sky. Other than me yelling, “Wait up!” it’s utterly silent. Stacy snorts with laughter. Then she screams over her shoulder “Keep up!” and blasts ahead. We’re on the Harriman Trail, north of Ketchum, along the Big Wood River. The trail winds 23 miles clear to Galena Lodge, but we’re taking it easy today. We do a 10-mile out-and-back then drive the rest of the way to the lodge where we order bowls of dreamy chili and warm bread, and skate some more. Returning to Ketchum, we head to the newly remodeled Sun Valley Lodge to grab a drink before dipping in the pool.
Eat, sleep, repeat, or find some new spin on the day’s possible activities. We can ski Mach-speed groomers all morning at Bald Mountain; then rent fat bikes and ride the Durrance Loop, 10 miles north of downtown. We can Yaktrack up Proctor Mountain; then soak in Russian John Hot Spring, or trap shoot at the Sun Valley Gun Club before snarfing calzones at Wiseguy Pizza Pie on the Sun Valley Road. Or we can grab a buttery croissant at Christina’s Bakery in Ketchum, and hit Sun Valley’s iconic skating rink, where Stacy will pirouette like a 2016 version of Dorothy Hamill and I’ll grin and shake my head, because, well, who can keep up with that?
Nordic Ski or Fat Bike on the Harriman Trail | www.galenalodge.com
Nordic skiers mingle with fat bikers on the 30-kilometer Harriman Trail. Start at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Visitor Center and pedal through pristine forest to Galena Lodge, for a Ginger Sesame Bowl (lentils, rice, kim chee, kale) or a Grown up Grilled Cheese (bacon, apples, caramelized onions, Havarti).
Sight See at Stanley Basin | www.bcrd.org
Daytrip 40 miles from Ketchum to the breathtaking Stanley Basin, where 16 kilometers of trails groomed for both skate and classic skiing costs a mere $3 suggested donation. For a view, ski Wapiti Trail 8.5 kilometers to Alturas Lake.
The Spa at Sun Valley | www.sunvalley.com/the-spa/massage
Enjoy a “couples retreat” at the Sun Valley Spa: two different treatments followed by an 80-minute couples massage and healthy meal in a VIP setting with views of the mountain.