I have always loved the history of skiing. And Sun Valley has more history than most in North America.
It was the first destination ski resort built in the US (established 1936), long before Vail or Aspen were even thought of. It had the first chair lift in the world and was the playground of Hollywood stars and celebrities from the Golden Age. Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway used to eat (and carouse) at the Trail Creek Cabin. In fact, Ernest Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in Suite 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge hotel. And his grave is located in the area. The hallways of the Sun Valley Lodge are lined with photos of the celebrities who have stayed or performed there (they also host skating shows in the summer).
And it is the setting for two of my favourite movies “Sun Valley Serenade” from 1941 staring among others The Glenn Miller Orchestra (and is shown 24/7 on one of the TV channels at the resort and is shown daily in the Village Opera House), and “Ski Party” (1965) – the last of the “Beach Party” series of movies, with special 1960s musical guests including James Brown and the Flames (dressed up in a ski sweaters and those old stretch ski pants.)
During the season of my 50th birthday, Sun Valley was included as one of the HPSC trips. It was a little more than I would normally spend, but it was well worth it.
Sun Valley, Idaho is not easy to get to, so therefore is not part of our tour operator’s standard roster of trips. This excursion was put together specifically for HPSC. We arrived late on a Sunday night after a very long travel day (Toronto-Denver; Denver-Boise; and then a 3 hour bus ride). The first thing we noticed is that the Sun Valley Lodge doesn’t just have a doorman, it has both an outdoor door man, and also an indoor doorman. And they had staff to take all of our skis to the ski room.
The hotel is not just the only luxury feature. Arriving at Bald Mountain on the free and frequent local buses (the hotel and resort complex is across the town of Ketchum from the main hill, Bald Mountain) you encounter one of the most luxurious base lodges you will likely encounter. (Sun Basin in Utah, owned by the same company, has a similar vibe). All carpeted, comfy chairs, stone topped tables, two-story stone fireplace. Free cubbies with doors on them. You can also leave your ski boots at the day lodge over night or have them dried out over night at the pro shop. Skis/boards can also be stored overnight at the hill. And the food!!! I have never seen a salad bar like it!
If you have ever skied at westen resorts and suffered from altitude sickness, not to worry about Sun Valley. Bald Mountain tops out at just 9,100 feet (so no altitude sickness), but one of the great things is that the slope is a consistent pitch from top to bottom.
While the skiing is fantastic and varied, it is the extra experiences that made this trip so memorable. It was the horse drawn sleigh ride at twilight to the Trail Creek Cabin for dinner. It was having lunch at the famous mid station restaurant “The Round House” and having fondue in Averall’s Bar (named after the founder of Sun Valley and President of the Union Pacific Railroad, Averall Harriman) located on the lower level of The Round House and looking out towards the town of Ketchum. It was listening to live jazz in Duchins Lounge in the hotel. It was seeing “Sun Valley Serenade” on the large screen at the Opera House in the village, and meeting some of the locals. It was sitting in the huge outdoor heated pool – more like a hot tub 55 feet in diameter.
While there are many celebrities who live in the area, the town is very unpretentious. And you will never know who you will meet. While we were there, Tony Robbins was holding one of his higher end events. On the bus back to the hotel one afternoon, while a couple of us were talking about meeting some of the people who were part of Tony Robbins event, a blond women about my age, who piped up and said that they were also part of the event. She mentioned that Tony Robbins events had helped her daughter recover from an injury and get back to dancing with the New York City Ballet. She mentioned that as a former Olympian it had been helpful as well. We asked “What sport?”
“Figure skating” “Pairs?” “No singles” she replied just as we were stepping off the bus. Later that night, one of our group reported that when walking along the hallway in the hotel, she noticed a photo of our Olympian. Looking her up it turned out to be Rosalyn Sumners, the US Silver medalist at the 1984 Winter Olympics – who narrowly lost to Katarina Witt.
At Sun Valley you never know who you are going to meet. It is not about your fashions, or what bar you are drinking at, it is really about the skiing and an authentic (while admittedly comfortable) experience. While there might be a bar to drink champagne at, most places are much more low key.
Every year, I always check off Sun Valley on our Long Trips survey. But it is not just me – Sun Valley was voted as the Number 1 Western Ski Resort by the readers of Ski Magazine for the 2021 season, moving ahead of Aspen Snowmass. And in my view well deserved.