Sun Valley Travel Guide

Where to Weekend: Sun Valley, Idaho

PHOTO: Visit Sun Valley

How to spend 3 days in America’s first ski town.

As America’s oldest ski resort, Sun Valley has long been a playground for celebrities, athletes, and ski bums. The resort is known more for sun than snow, but world-class snowmaking equipment ensures a long season here when other ski resorts are dry. With two different ski hills (Dollar and Baldy), 3,400 vertical feet, and over 2,000 acres of varied terrain, Sun Valley has something for every skier, from beginners to terrain-park experts and from lodge-hopping snow bunnies to side-country powder hounds.

If skiing isn’t your thing–don’t worry. With two film festivals, a writer’s conference, a state-of-the-art outdoor concert pavilion, and countless art galleries, Sun Valley is a cultural mecca. At night, the town of Ketchum, the town at the base of Sun Valley Ski Resort, comes alive with rustic steakhouses, old-school pubs, hip hangouts, and live music.

Gadd_Ray_J_Medium_O4A4514
Gingerita_BaldyBramble_RayGadd
IMG_3696
1.Hotel Ketchum; 2.Hotel Ketchum; 3.Teddy Minford
DAY1

After you’ve checked in to your accommodations, it’s time to make the most of the afternoon. Any visitor’s first stop in Sun Valley should be the Sun Valley Lodge, a sprawling resort that’s actually more of a small village, with a few shops, restaurants, a post office, and two different hotels. You can take a stroll through the Tyrolean-inspired Sun Valley village, shopping for cashmere sweaters, jewelry, or ski equipment–if you’re feeling especially cute, you can shop for postcards at the souvenir store and walk over to the post office to send them. The lodge itself is a little slice of history, built in 1936 (but renovated in 2017, which stripped the hotel of some of its old-school charm). Peruse the framed photos of celebrities hung in the lobby, or grab a hot chocolate or a hot toddy and sit outside to watch the figure skaters at the outdoor ice rink. Chances are, you’ll see at least one Olympic medalist. If you’re feeling brave, you can even rent a pair yourself and go for a spin around the rink.

For dinner make your way back to town for a classic Idaho dish of steak and a baked potato at the Pioneer Saloon, a wild west-inspired restaurant filled with taxidermy and cattle ranch-themed decor (it’s not as cheesy as it sounds–trust me). Dinner here is a must, but it can be quite the production as the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Arrive early and cozy up at the bar while you wait. After dinner, it’s best to get a good night’s sleep–there’s a lot of exploring to be done.

Tory Taglio Photography/Visit Sun Valley
DAY2

Wake up early and eat a big breakfast, because you’re hitting the slopes today. Wrap City, right on Main Street, serves perfect breakfast burritos for a quick meal on your way to the mountain, or if you’re a latte and a pastry kind of person, head to Java for a “bowl of soul” (a secret recipe mocha with homemade whipped cream) and a scone.

The lifts open at 9 a.m. and depending on the conditions, you’ll want to time your start accordingly. On bluebird powder days (where it’s snowed the day before but the skies today are blue) or warmer spring days, you’ll want to make sure you’re there when the lifts open and the snow isn’t scraped off or melted. If it’s still snowing, a lazy start is fine since there will be plenty of powder throughout the day. On super cold mornings, feel free to stay inside and linger over breakfast while you wait for the day to warm up and the snow to soften.

Sun Valley is a fun mountain full of long and steep groomed runs where you can really carve your way down the mountain. Off the main trails, there’s plenty to explore in side-country areas and tree runs. Expert and beginner runs can be found all over the mountain–it’s almost impossible to get yourself into a situation where the only way back to the lift is via a double-black diamond expert run, so feel free to get a little lost.

For lunch, make a reservation at The Roundhouse, one of the coolest on-mountain dining experiences in the United States. The round building (hence the name) was built in 1939 and offers a white tablecloth sit-down lunch with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains. Drinking red wine and dining on steak frites while wearing ski boots is a surreal experience that’s reminiscent of Europe’s poshest ski resorts.

After lunch, it’s honestly okay to quit for the day. You’ve done a lot already, and nobody (especially me) is going to judge you for taking one last run and calling it a day–you can even take the gondola down if you’re feeling lazy enough.

When you’ve changed out of your ski clothes, make your way into town for a little bit of shopping at one of Ketchum’s many boutiques. Thrifters will love pawing through the racks of vintage ski wear and cozy flannel at the Gold Mine, while those looking to spend a bit more can shop for Prada at Elle Rose, fashion-forward streetwear at Theodore, and exquisite vintage clothes at Deja Vu. There’s more than just clothing for sale though, with galleries scattered along Main Street and Sun Valley Road, a cozy bookstore full of great recommendations, a few wonderfully tacky souvenir shops, and a coffee shop/vintage store combo with a great jewelry selection.

After you’ve explored in town, it’s time for any local’s favorite sunset activity: hot tubbing, preferably with an alcoholic beverage in hand. Most–if not all–of the hotels in the area have a hot tub on-site, but if you want to venture somewhere that’s more than just a run-of-the-mill plastic tub, look no further than the Sun Valley Resort, whose gigantic hot pool is open to the public (for a fee). There’s even a server that comes around taking drink orders.

Now that you’ve been refreshed and energized, it’s time to hit the town. Last night was an old classic, so tonight is something new. The Covey, one of the buzziest restaurants in town, feels like a chic farmhouse with a locally-inspired seasonal menu full of small plates, seafood, and pasta. After dinner, you can opt for a craft cocktail at The Hangout, a glass of wine at Enoteca, a pint of Guinness at The Cellar, or a martini at The Sawtooth Club before making mischief at Whiskey Jacques, a huge bar with a varied lineup of musical acts, rollicking cover bands, and DJs who will get you dancing.

 

IMG_3444
IMG_3789
Teddy Minford

 

DAY3

You might be too hungover to ski today and that’s totally okay. But either way, there’s a burger and fries in your future. If you’re skiing, visit the “local’s” side of the mountain, Warm Springs, for lunch at Apple’s, where you can get your burger with a side of tater tots (Idaho loves tater tots; they are a nearly perfect food). If you’ve decided to sleep in instead of ski, you’re headed to Grumpy’s for lunch for a perfect quarter pounder and fries that’s (perhaps) washed down with a little hair of the dog.

If you have time before your flight, it’s good to get one last dose of fresh mountain air. If you’ve rented a car, take a drive north to Galena Lodge, Smiley Creek Lodge, or the town of Stanley, Idaho for a bit of cross country skiing, snowmobiling, or fishing. If you’re without wheels, don’t worry–the Sun Valley Nordic Center is a quick bus ride away and will outfit you with everything you need for a fun and easy afternoon in the snow before it’s time to head home.

Hotel Ketchum

GETTING THERE

Sun Valley is hard to get to, and most of the people who love the town are eager to keep it that way. The tiny airport is serviced by just a few direct flights (many of them operating seasonally) from Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Chicago. It’s an easy weekend trip for West Coasters, but East Coasters may want to take an extra day off to make the long journey worth it. The good news is that once you’re here, you don’t actually need to rent a car. The free bus service is punctual and extensive–and there are even racks for your skis and bikes.

WHEN TO GO

Sun Valley thrives in the summer when mountains beckon adventure seekers for fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, white water rafting, swimming, and more. But winter here is truly magical, with a soft blanket of snow covering the valley and twinkling Christmas lights illuminating the night. Pack your coziest apres-ski gear and visit in February or March, after the holiday crowds have gone home but the skiing is still prime.

WHERE TO STAY

Compared to other ski towns, Sun Valley doesn’t have a very diverse portfolio of hotels, but there are some fabulous options depending on your budget and travel style. Those traveling with the very young or the very old should stay at the iconic Sun Valley Lodge, where you’ll find plenty of dining options, comfortable and accessible rooms, and tons of family-friendly activities. More mature couples will enjoy the coziness and comfort of the luxurious Knob Hill Inn (with a fabulous restaurant attached) while young families will love the happening kid-friendly lobby and giant hot tub at the Limelight Hotel. Hotel Ketchum is the hippest place to stay and is perfect for young couples, groups, or more budget-conscious travelers.

 

Comments are closed.