Your Own Private Idaho

Sun Valley
Skiing, Snowboarding in Idaho, Sun Valley
Reality, it blurs atop Sun Valley. (PhotoDisc)
Mountain Stats
Skiable Terrain : 2,054 acres
Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced-Expert (percent) : 36/42/22
Summit Elevation : 9,150 feet
Vertical Drop : 3,400 feet
Lifts : 19 (including three surface lifts)
Average Annual Snowfall : 225 inches
Lift Ticket : $66
Ski In, Ski Out : Yes
Contact : 800-786-8259;

On the other end of the ski area spectrum—the end that’s opulent with marble bathrooms, palatial stone lodges, and restaurants with French chefs—lies Sun Valley. The terrain here is immense. The surrounding peaks of the Sawtooth, Smokey, and Boulder ranges is spectacular. Ketchum, the town closest to the resort, is so archetypically quaint (little Swiss chalets with fluffy mounds of snow piled out front, trendy cafés, the bar with the skis crossed on the wall) that you can’t help but think someone might charge you admission just for visiting.

We arrive in Sun Valley around noon on a Thursday. The place is living up to its name—it's sunny and warm enough today to get by with just a base layer and a jacket. Heidi and I get our lift tickets and head up the mountain from the River Run side on the south. It’s a long ride to the top. It’s an even longer ski back down. On telemark skis, my legs are burning like a train wreck by the time I get halfway down. The runs just seem to go on and on and on. The slopes here are a speed demon’s dream: Interstate-wide swaths of immaculately groomed corduroy. When we get back on the lift to go for another run, I’m wondering if I’ll be able to make my legs do any work at all.

This is the beauty of Sun Valley. Yes, it can hurt like hell just to do five runs here, but the vertical and the scope of the terrain is gigantic. Sun Valley is actually two mountains. Bald Mountain, not Dollar Mountain, is where the money’s at. Runs here top 3,400 feet of vertical—65 in total, served by 14 lifts. All tallied, Sun Valley can carry a whopping 28,180 people to the top of the mountains an hour. That’s the equivalent of taking every single living soul who lives in Ketchum up the lifts more than nine times an hour.

Though a young and impecunious Warren Miller got his start in film by camping out in the parking lot here with his first cameras, Sun Valley today appeals mostly to the established set among us, the folks who have healthy reserves of disposable income and enjoy the après as much as the ski. The ambience here is rustic chic. A few snapshots at lunch: two fur coat sightings, a marble-floor bathroom, cashiers in the ski area “cafeteria” wearing cummerbunds. Movie stars from Gary Cooper to Arnold Schwarzenegger have frequented these slopes. No wonder. With this level of extravagance comes the assurance that your time in Sun Valley will be unique, pampered, and filled with active, long days on the slopes, ice rinks, or in the spas.

I do manage to wobble back to the car after taking a few runs down the backside of Bald Mountain into a series of sunny bowls. It’s closing time and we run back to our hotel, shower, change, and head out again to explore Ketchum. We start by walking down to Java on Fourth, a hip café that serves caffeine in various configurations such as the “Bowl of Soul,” a mocha with Mexican chocolate, and the “Keith Richards,” a coffee drink with no fewer than four shots of espresso. Wired, we stroll past the Pioneer Saloon where a local tells me that another local—not too long ago—would actually tie his horse up out front before having a drink. We pop into a few ski shops, check out the boots, and head back to the car for the mile-long drive to the base of Dollar Mountain, where Sun Valley’s main resort complex lies.

Walking among the plazas with ski shops, the brick sidewalks, the covered archways, clock tower, and old inns, I’m instantly reminded of upscale European resorts. To top the cliché off, we’ve been invited to go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride out to a cabin that doubles as an über-charming restaurant. We hop into the wooden sleigh, pull the wool blankets over our legs, and look up at the stars. Christmas is just ten days away and a lady with braces insists on leading us in an assortment of Christmas carols. For the next 20 minutes we sing at least the first verse of a dozen songs.

Built in 1937, Trail Creek Cabin is cozy, with a fire raging in a stone fireplace, snowshoes on the wall, and an urn of vegetable soup on every table. I half expect to find rowdy Swiss men barking in gurgled German and downing tankards. It’s not quite Euro-rowdy, but the accordion player is doing his best to keep the mood lively. So far it’s working.

We order the lamb and chicken—both are excellent—a couple of glasses of wine, and for the ride back, a hot chocolate. The sleigh takes a more direct route back to Sun Valley; it’s cold and late and with bellies full, bed seems like a great option. No one sings and silence washes over us. Listening to the hiss of the blades on the snow, nursing a body spent from a hard day of skiing, catching the occasional streak of dust from a shooting star, a beautiful lady snuggled up next to me: It’s one of those cheesy, sentimental moments that you can hardly believe you're experiencing, and never want to end.

Access and Resources
Where to Stay:
The Sun Valley Inn, located right in the heart of the resort, is an Austrian-style inn gone big. Rooms are decorated with antiques and plasma TVs and range in size from standard rooms to parlor suites and apartments (800-786-8259;

A more affordable option that puts you in the heart of Ketchum, the Kentwood Lodge (operated by Best Western; 800-805-1001;; about $140 a night for doubles) has a pleasant stone-and-wood lobby with high ceilings, basic, comfortable rooms, a heated pool and spa downstairs, and offers a 10 percent discount on meals next door at Esta. The egg-sandwich bagels with tomato are excellent.

Published: 14 Jan 2004 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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