Born in Averell Harriman's iron-horsepowered mind, Sun Valley opened for skiing in December 1936. America's first ski resort destination, it combined skiing, romance, and Hollywood with the 1940 film Sun Valley Serenade that gave us Sonja Henie. Ernest "Papa" Hemmingway is buried here. The resort helped popularize the sport of skiing with the masses. The resort celebrates its 75th anniversary during the 2010-11 season.
It's almost like visiting the Holy Shrine of modern-day, lift-served skiing. It was a pilgrimage as well as a western ski trip for this Midwesterner when I made the trip to Sun Valley in late March. I love skiing and the history of the sport.
But, beyond all that, the gourmet food, the lavish facilities, the rich history and Hollywood celebrities, the real Sun Valley serenade is the sweet music of sustained pitch. Bald Mountain, "Baldy" as it's known, is truly a superb skiers' mountain. From crowd pleasing greens on Seattle Ridge to blue cruisers on Warm Springs to the black-diamond bowls in between, runs tumble down Baldy like serenading waterfalls beckoning skiers and riders to jump in. There's a superpipe and terrain features just above the Warm Springs day lodge.
Baldy is a perfect pyramid of a mountain. This is the place for unrelenting vertical - 3,400 feet - especially the cruisable variety. Seven high-speed lifts provide maximum on-snow time. Lift lines are almost non-existent. You can pile up a lot of vertical feet in a day.
Dollar Mountain is a beginner's playground. Sun Valley's groomers keep it as smooth as Warren Miller's head. Miller, as you probably know, began his long film-making career living on oyster crackers and catsup in a tiny trailer in the Sun Valley parking lot. Dollar is set apart from the more difficult Bald Mountain and perfect for novices, timid intermediates, and those looking for a terrain park.
The resort sits in Idaho's high desert where the spring sun shines brightly by day. Make sure you bring sun screen. Nighttime temps drop well below freezing, which is perfect for snowmaking. Sun Valley receives high marks for its snowmaking system, which covers a number of trails from top to bottom on Baldy, the Seattle Ridge area, and the front face of Dollar. No snow is better cared for than at Sun Valley. Maybe that's why you often find former world class racers out simply enjoying a day on the slopes here.
Complimenting the skiing and riding is the picturesque, real mountain town of Ketchum. Sun Valley may be America's oldest ski resort, but it's just a youngster compared to the town. Born of long ago sheep ranches and silver mines (1880), Ketchum has never lost its dusty, Wild West ambiance. Enjoy fine dining at the Ketchum Grill downtown, and no trip is complete without a visit to a couple of local landmarks; the Pioneer Saloon for steak and prime rib and Grumpy's where they could care less if you stop by. It's a funky little local hangout.
Hidden in the woods just a couple of miles from the Sun Valley Lodge is Trail Creek Cabin, a don't-miss dining spot. It's as famous for its steaks and ribs as its views of the mountain. During winter months you can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride to get there.
In a hurry to get to the slopes in the morning? Stop by Perry's in Ketchum for their convenient Excursion Wraps, which are custom omelets wrapped inside tomato or spinach tortillas; delicious and portable. The Casino Club on Main Street is allegedly where Papa Hemingwayhung out. He wrote A Farewell to Arms while staying at the Sun Valley Inn, which is where I stayed this spring.
There isn't any on-slope lodging, but the Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn are just a convenient, free shuttle bus ride away. The resort is connected to the town and ski area by a very efficient transportation system. No need to drive once you get there. Ski storage at the River Run base complex is free, so you don't have to transport gear back and forth daily.
While the two old lodging facilities - elegant historic originals - overflow with memorabilia of skiing's past, both have been updated and provide ultimate ski village comfort. While not required in the two lodges' fine dining rooms, a jacket for gentlemen is a nice touch. It's a romantic trip back in time.
Getting there: It's a 150-mile drive from Boise, the nearby largest city. Flights into Ketchum are few and can be expensive. It's literally almost at the end of the road, but worth every mile and hour. I drove from my home in northern Michigan. I like to see the country and listened to three books on CD while driving a little over 4,000 miles.
A Spring Ski Package, through the end of the 2010 winter season included a night's lodging and full-day lift ticket is available for $69 per person, based on double occupancy ($111 single occupancy). The package may be booked for multiple days and does not include room tax.