Head to Sun Valley this winter for some serious skiing, shopping, and spa-going
Photos courtesy of sunvalley.com
Tucked in the Wood River Valley and surrounded by four mountain ranges, America's oldest ski resort seems to be in the middle of nowhere. But after 70 years of relative solitude, Sun Valley, Idaho, has finally become more accessible—at least when the weather cooperates: Last winter, Horizon Air launched a direct flight from Oakland to Hailey, delivering Bay Area snow-seekers to Idaho's Rockies faster than you can make the bumper-to-bumper drive to Squaw. And much to the delight of any celebrity-seeker with a snow jones, Sun Valley has attracted quite a crowd of highfalutin but low-key Hollywood types and private jet–setting second- (or third- or fourth- …) homeowners.
Those who take the pilgrimage find no lift lines, a free townwide shuttle to the mountain, and fast and fun steeps that produced such gold-winning Olympians as Christin Cooper and Picabo Street. And that's just the skiing. With a burgeoning spa and dining scene and a range of places to stay, Sun Valley should be next on your list of getaway spots.
what to do
Ski and snowboard
Well, duh. With 65 trails, 13 lifts, and 2,054 skiable acres, 9,150-foot Bald Mountain—"Baldy" to the locals—is a snow-seeker's paradise. The snow is dry and light, and there's usually lots of it from Thanksgiving Day on, thanks to exceptionally sophisticated snowmaking operations. A vertical drop of 3,400 feet (almost as steep as the $74 one-day adult lift ticket price) means invigoratingly looooong, leg-aching runs. The longest is Warm Springs, almost two miles (9,100 feet) from top to bottom with a perfect 30 to 40 percent pitch. On your way down, you'll whiz past old-timers in white cotton turtlenecks and Dale of Norway wool sweaters, skinny blondes in $800 Bogner jackets, low-profile celebs, and second-homeowners who've "been coming here for years."
For a guide on how to make the most of a day on the mountain, http://www.sunvalley.com/
Not sure you're ready for Baldy? You might try Dollar Mountain, an adjacent 6,638-foot mountain with 10 mellow runs and a world-class ski school at the base—and lift tickets for $32. There's a tubing hill for anyone over 42 inches tall. (208) 622-2241, (208) 622-6135 for tubing
Pick up a pair of shoes or skis (and lots of other cool backcountry gear) at the Elephant's Perch, and break your own trail in the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Or rent right at the Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center, and head out on the nearly 25 miles of groomed trails. Or go about 25 miles up Highway 75 to the Galena Lodge. Located at the northern tip of the Harriman Trail, the lodge is set amid 33 miles of Nordic trails that are among the finest in the country. Many of the snowshoe trails are even dog friendly. Elephant's Perch, 280 East Ave., (208) 726-3497, http://www.elephantsperch.com/; Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center, (208) 622-2251, http://www.sunvalley.com/; Galena Lodge, (208) 726-4010, http://www.galenalodge.com/
Zambonied smooth every morning, the Olympic-size outdoor rink in back of the Sun Valley Lodge calls to both ankle-weak toddlers and adults who haven't donned a pair of skates in years. Glide around and around to '80s tunes coming over the loudspeaker while watching sequin- and stocking-clad semipros spin center stage. Or take a group or private skating lesson from Olympic silver medalist Linda Fratianne's professional staff. Hockey or figure skate rentals $3.50, entrance fees are $8 for children under 12; $9.50 for adults. Kids under five skate free. (208) 622-2194, http://www.sunvalley.com/
Ditch your skis and leap right off Baldy. $195 buys you a supersafe tandem flight over snowcapped peaks—even if you've had no prior experience. Soar like an eagle until you get sick of it (umm, that would be never …), and then return to the slopes, right where you left off. Afterward, you can purchase a video of your flight. Fly Sun Valley Paragliding, (208) 726-3332, http://www.flysunvalley.com/
If this is something you've always wanted to do, now's your chance. Head into the Sawtooth backcountry via helicopter with this 40-year-old outfitter, staffed by guides born and raised in Sun Valley. You'll make your mark on untracked snow as you explore the terrain on skis. Overnight adventurers stay at the new Smoky Mountain Lodge—the only heli-ski lodge in the lower 48—situated on 750 acres of national forest land in Idaho's Smoky Mountains and accessible in winter only by a 20-minute flight. From $375 per person per day for a morning helicopter lift followed by a guided tour of the slopes to a $4,300 per person three-day skiing/lodging combo. Custom tours start at $8,000. Sun Valley Heli Ski Guides, (800) 872-3108, http://www.sunvalleyheliski.com/
Cross-country ski, snowshoe, or ride in a horse-drawn sleigh to these two cozy, old west–style log cabins, tucked way out in the wilderness.
Trail Creek Cabin Constructed in 1937—and it hasn't aged a bit. Ernest Hemingway's old haunt has become a Sun Valley tradition for families, celebrating couples, and locals looking for some evening fun. Enjoy candlelight and good wine with hearty fare, such as locally raised buffalo rib eye, pan-seared Idaho trout, or braised barbecued baby back ribs. Sleigh rides to the Trail Creek Cabin run mid-December through March, Tuesday through Saturday evenings; reservations required. (208) 622-2135, http://www.sunvalley.com/
Full Moon Dinners at Galena Lodge This historic day lodge turns—by the light of the full moon—into a romantic gourmet retreat. Hunker down before a roaring fire for five well-deserved courses served at communal tables. The lodge hosts stargazing dinners during the new moon, too, when local astronomers show slides over dessert before everyone bundles up with hot toddies and telescopes and toddles outside under clear, dark winter skies. Reservations required. (208) 726-4010, http://www.galenalodge.com/
where to relax
You've worn yourself out in the snow. Now it's time to head to the spa for a bit of pampering. Both addresses in Ketchum.
Zenergy Part high-end health club, part full-service day spa. Work out to your heart's content at this deluxe gym—which includes squash courts, personal trainers, yoga and belly dancing classes, and a heated outdoor pool that is open year round—in the Thunder Springs condo complex, a mile north of town. Then head into the candlelit "grotto" for hot-stone rubbing, bamboo scrubbing, or cocoa butter wrapping from Zenergy's top-notch staff. 245 Raven Rd., (208) 725-0595, http://www.zenergyatthunderspring.com/
24/7 Skincare by Nancy Kelly A posh little spot right in Ketchum where skincare specialist Nancy Kelly sells a line of products she developed with chemists especially for Sun Valley's dry, high-desert climate. She offers the facial of a lifetime. Pick up a bottle of hydrating rosewater spray ($18 for 8 ounces), or get your makeup professionally done for dinner. 659 Sun Valley Rd., (208) 726-5400, http://www.24-7skincare.com/
where to drink
Because really, what's après-ski (or après-spa) without drinks? All addresses listed below are in Ketchum.
Grumpy's: Dive bar to the stars Part-time resident Tom Hanks has been known to toss back a few at this closet-size joint walled in tainted-yellow beer cans and enough quality bumper-sticker reading material to keep you entertained while you wait for a bar stool. Food? You bet. Grumpy's "fowl burgers" and fries have a cult following. 860 Warm Springs Rd., no phone
Cavallino Lounge: Home of the $45 margarita Dubbed the "martini bar" by the locals, Ketchum's swank new watering hole boasts some 25 boutique brands of vodka that make Ketel One taste like "the cheap stuff," plus ports and creative cocktails designed by on-staff mixologists. Oh, and—no joke—a $45 Millionaire's Margarita: a Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Añejo margarita topped off with 150th anniversary Grand Marnier that deep-pocketed drinkers really do order, the waitress assured, in rounds. 380 N. Leadville Ave., no phone
The Cellar Pub: Frat House And for those who prefer to spend a paltry $5 on a beer, there's the Cellar, arguably the "Cheers" of Ketchum, where young, fleece-clad locals gather just about nightly. 400 Sun Valley Rd., (208) 622-3832
Java on 4th: Caffeine fix classic coffeehouse filled with comfy cushions, eggy breakfast bagels, and happy-friendly people slurping stiff coffee drinks, such as the Keith Richards (four shots of espresso with Mexican hot chocolate) or a spicy hot mix of espresso, hot chocolate, and cream known as the Bowl of Soul. 191 Fourth St., (208) 726-2882
Sun Valley Wine Company: Vino! The leading retail wine store in Idaho, Sun Valley Wine Company features 2,000 selections from California to Italy to Australia. Have a seat at the tasting bar, or buy a bottle and snag a spot on a couch by the fireplace while you enjoy a lunch of pizza, sandwiches, soups, or salads. 360 Leadville Ave. N., (208) 726-2442
Trail Creek Pub: New brewery in town Last fall, this Twin Falls–based brewery turned the 1940s Ketchum Korral motel into a pub that serves pulled-pork sandwiches on Bigwood Bread (baked right in town) and "fresh beer"—according to the sign out front—including Lace Wing lager, made from Idaho-grown pilsner malted barley. A pub favorite is the fried pickles—kosher dill spears breaded, deep-fried, and served with whole grain mustard aioli or roasted red pepper ranch for dipping. And if you can take the heat, bring your drinks and snacks to the firepit. 310 S. Main St., (208) 726-3773, http://www.trailcreekbrewing.com/
where to eat
Gourmets may not think of Idaho as a dining destination, but, surprisingly, great restaurants abound both on the mountain and in town.
On the Mountain
Seattle Ridge Day Lodge: Meal with a snowcapped peak view This is not your typical institutional cafeteria with flimsy plastic chairs and prewrapped turkey subs. Here at 8,880 feet, you get comfy, thronelike chairs from which you'll look through wall-size windows toward views of the Pioneer Mountains' jagged peaks—plus roaring fireplaces, marble bathrooms, and an almost guaranteed table to yourselves. On the menu you'll find Tuscan salads tossed fresh, gourmet pizzas with blistered crusts, baked potato and pasta bars, and giant, still-warm chocolate chip cookies—plus wines by the glass and microbrews on tap. You might even find low-key celebs, such as Daphne Zuniga, Mariel Hemingway, and Chris O'Donnell, who like to sip their cocoa in peace. (Word on the mountain is that the paparazzi don't ski, so the stars like to hang up here at the summit lodge.) Lunch only. (208) 622-6287
Ciro Restaurant & Wine Bar: Pizza plus As close to Chez Panisse as Sun Valley gets. Owner Mark Caraluzzi has an obvious love of good food and focuses on organic, fresh ingredients for his creative salads and apple wood oven–baked pies. There's a fireplace, candlelight, and a globe-trotting wine list with more than 70 selections, 25 by the glass. 230 Walnut Ave., Ketchum, (208) 727-1800
Ketchum Grill: Local favorite It's not the fanciest spot in town, but this homey haunt is the hands-down favorite of locals, celebs, and just about everybody who comes through Ketchum. Classic Sun Valley posters dot the white-wood walls, while super-sincere servers add color to a simple but hearty meal made with sustainably raised products, including lamb meatballs, New York strip steak bathed in Gorgonzola butter, and house-made mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. 520 East Ave., (208) 726-4660, http://www.ketchumgrill.com/
Sushi on Second: Don't be afraid It never ceases to amaze when a landlocked mountain town has great sushi. Ketchum's seafood surprise is a boon for us Bay Area folk, who just can't seem to pass up raw fish and rice—especially when the fish is as fresh and interesting as any you'll find in San Francisco. Toro, uni, quail egg—take one of each—plus local catches, such as the smoked trout and Sun Valley mustard maki to remind you you're in Idaho. 260 Second St., (208) 726-5181
The Kneadery: Best breakfast in town A powder day might be the only time you don't have to wait here at Ketchum's go-to breakfast-lunch institution. Taxidermied mounts hang from the wall, and fires roar in oversize hearths as families, friends, and up-all-night ski revelers chow down on platter-size omelets, home fries, and fat grilled Reubens. Oh, and those still-warm chocolate-chip cookies piled high on the plate by the counter? Yours, free for the taking—if you've still got room. 260 Leadville Ave., (208) 726-9462
Rickshaw: East comes West Locals and jet-setters alike enjoy Rickshaw, which offers a seasonally conscious pan-Asian menu featuring dishes such as lemongrass mussels, Indonesian chicken satay, and pho bo, a Vietnamese rice noodle soup. Don't miss out on the teas provided by SerendipiTea, several of which are organic and fair-trade certified. 460 N. Washington Ave., Ketchum, (208) 726-8481, http://www.eat-at-rickshaw.com/
Chandler's: Fancy for the mountains That special-occasion spot where kissy couples go for anniversary dinners, families take moms for 60th birthdays, and tourists go because, well, they've heard it's "the best." Which it is, if you like flawless at-your-service service paired with Americana classics such as Yankee pot roast and pan-seared filet mignon topped with cognac-infused blue cheese. 200 S. Main St., Ketchum, (208) 726-1776, http://www.chandlersrestaurant.com/
East Avenue Bistro: Gold medal cuisine Be sure to make a reservation if you want to get into this small Mediterranean-style restaurant. Once inside, you won't be disappointed by the individualized service—or the rack of lamb stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in phyllo dough, a dish as divine as the wine list. 220 East Ave. N., Ketchum, (208) 726-9251
"The PIO" (aka the Pioneer Saloon): Worth the wait It's all about the buffalo burgers, prime rib, and giant Idaho baked potatoes at this half century–old Ketchum institution where there's always a wait. Buck up with a beer at the bar with the rest of the town, and hold out for a booth. It's worth it. 308 N. Main St., (208) 726-3139, http://www.pioneersaloon.com/
where to sleep
Sun Valley Lodge: 1936, upgraded Long before there were fancy Four Seasons hotels, there was Sun Valley Resort. "America's first destination resort" drew wealthy hotshots from around the West, including starlets and Olympians who still crowd the hallways today in proudly displayed black-and-white photos. The good ol' "lodge" may not be as celeb-level luxurious as it once was, but its snowcapped–mountain surroundings, elegant charm, and classic timelessness are truly refreshing in this fast-paced, frou-frou, Frette-filled world.
The rooms: More than 500 recently renovated rooms with all-new decor and flat-screen TVs help elevate this place to the modern age. Take your pick among the main lodge, the inn, or the freestanding cottages and condos, all spread out over 2,900 acres. (Plans for a new boutique hotel are in the works, too. Construction is scheduled to begin within two years.)
The perks: Guests of the lodge get free overnight ski storage at the base of River Run—no luggin' nothin'!—not to mention anything you could possibly want to do when you're not on the mountain, from hot toddies to steamy outdoor swimming to Wi-Fi, fine dining, and a first-run movie house.
The price: From $199 to $1,500 per night, (800) 786-8259, http://www.sunvalley.com/
Knob Hill Inn: Posh. And pink. Those looking for a Relais & Châteaux will find one right on the edge of downtown Ketchum—with Baldy and the Sawtooth and Boulder mountain ranges in view. Knob Hill is the kind of intimately quiet inn where you feel like you're the only one staying there. (On a slow night, you just might be.) It's staffed by smiling, young, helpful staff, including an Ashton Kutcher look-alike Austrian who, on a wet, snowy night, may rush to the front door after you and ask, "Would you like an umbrella?"
The rooms: 26 frilly, peachy-pink, super-spacious suites complete with marble baths, balconies, and easy-light fireplaces.
The perks: Where to begin? A knock on the door at turn-down brings a doilied cookie plate. A year-round lap pool, Jacuzzi, and sauna are down one flight of stairs—as is the cheery breakfast room, where whole wheat waffles, quiche, fresh berries, pastries, and bread are included in the room rate. Plus, the most brilliant move a ski-town hotel could make: providing mini Knob Hill Inn lip balm tubes in addition to the requisite shampoo-conditioner-lotion trio.
The price: $250–$500 per night, (800) 526-8010, http://www.knobhillinn.com/
Luxe homes on loan: Your own Private Idaho
Distinctive Properties, Sun Valley Choose from more than 200 truly over-the-top manses around the Sun Valley area—Baldy views abound—from Elkhorn to Warm Springs to Ketchum, including enclaves such as the prestigious Gimlet community, where the Wood River runs through your backyard.
The rooms: How many do you want? Are 12 bedrooms enough?
The perks: Plenty, ranging from personal chef to personal yoga instructor to refrigerators stocked with your personal favorites. Ski passes, fresh flowers, firewood—whatever you want awaits your arrival. Babysitters are on-call. You get better-than-five-star service—without ever checking into a hotel.
The price: $300–$10,000 per night; (877) 978-2978, http://www.svdp1.com/
where to shop
Brass Ranch River Run
Coveted item: Kid fur–lined Prada ski jacket for a mere $2,185. River Run Plaza, Sun Valley, (208) 622-6123
Silver Creek Outfitters
High-end stuffed animals, fly-fishing gear, handmade jewelry, and backgammon boards that cost more than a week's worth of lift tickets. 500 N. Main St., Ketchum, (208) 726-5282, http://www.silvercreek.com/
Rue de Shoe
Designer shoes from Cole Haan and Stuart Weitzmann pale in comparison to $1,800 Stingray cowboy boots. 360 Walnut Ave., Ketchum, (208) 622-5566
Jackets from Italian designers such as Loro Piana and Roberto Cavalli. 647 Sun Valley Rd., Ketchum, (208) 726-8871
Unique, contemporary jewelry items, including black diamond chains ($6,000–$8,000) and a diamond briolette lariat ("under $10,000"). 351 Leadville Ave. N., Ketchum, (208) 726-2363
Casmari cashmere sweaters ($695), Bruno Banetti jackets ($795), and JSX ski parkas ($650). 511 Leadville Ave., Ketchum, (208) 726-3544
Ochi Fine Arts
This gallery featuring contemporary sculpture, paintings, photography, and mixed media is open by appointment only. 119 Lewis St., Ketchum, (208) 726-8746, http://www.ochigallery.com/
Gail Severn Gallery
Choose from landscapes, contemporary works, and sculptures from both upcoming and established artists at this 30-year-old local institution. 400 First Ave. N., Ketchum, (208) 726-5079, http://www.gailseverngallery.com/
Daily flights depart from Oakland International Airport (OAK) and arrive at Hailey's Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN). 800-547-9308, www.horizonair.com. Despite recent renovations and ongoing expansion, Hailey's airport is still hassle-free, but it can be hard to reach in bad weather.
No rental car is necessary. KART (Ketchum Area Rural Transit) is about as good as a personal chauffeur, with stops all over town from 7:30 a.m. to midnight. It even provides pick-ups-by-request after hours or if you're nowhere near a regular stop. (208) 726-7576, www.kart-sunvalley.com
Like most mountain towns, taxis can be overpriced and hard to come by—especially if a flight happens to be getting into town at the same time you're looking for a ride. Both Sun Valley Lodge and the Knob Hill Inn offer pick-ups/drop-offs free of charge.
Rachel Levin is an editor at Sunset magazine. She wrote the guide to Park City in the February 2006 issue of Diablo. Additional reporting by Justin Goldman.