Sun Valley: A Four-Season Retreat
Author: Lauren Hunsberger | Posted In: Go | February 2022
The Sun Valley Resort opened in 1936 with the objective to be North America’s first luxury-destination ski resort. In fact, it’s home to the world’s first chairlift. And from the beginning, Hollywood elite and athletic royalty flocked there. The hallways of Sun Valley Lodge still boast evidence of Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger and more enjoying the slopes of Bald and Dollar Mountains. “And there’s certainly legacy of that,” Bridget Higgins, director of marketing and PR, says. “There’s an old Hollywood charm that still attracts people.”
But the resort has a new appeal these days—it’s a bit of a hidden gem within the vast ski industry. With only a few direct flights and no major metropolitan city nearby, it’s become a hideaway for those who want all the modern amenities without the touristy crowds or paparazzi. Here’s a little more about the latest happenings in winter sports and beyond at Sun Valley in Idaho.
It’s no secret the ski resort at Sun Valley shines brightest in the winter season. Ski magazine rated it the top ski resort in North America for the past two years in a row, but the designator doesn’t begin to describe just how special this winter wonderland is. Short lift lines for high-speed quads, a variety of challenging terrain and world-class amenities are just the tip of the mountain.
Sun Valley Resort has long been known for its long, groomed runs that allow skiers and boarders to bask in the sunshine for which the resort was named. “We have a lot of vertical—the most vertical feet of steep incline in all of North America,” Higgins says. “The Warm Springs run from top to bottom is something really special.”
And last year they opened 380 acres of backcountry-style terrain to give thrill seekers a few more options. “We’re known for our world-class grooming, so to be able to open backcountry options—with beautiful shoots and big open bowls—really feels in balance,” Higgins adds.
Higgins shares a great insider tip, especially if you want to explore their new terrain: “We offer snow-sports team reservations for four-hour sessions,” she says. Meaning, you can get a guide to safely show you around at any time.
Afterward, she highly recommends breaking at one of their four on-mountain restaurants (Seattle Ridge Day Lodge, the Roundhouse, River Run Day Lodge and Warm Springs Lodge) for a nourishing meal that ranges from fresh salmon salads to loaded Idaho baked potatoes.
Of course, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and skinning options are also available at their Nordic facility. And younger skiers can head over to the neighboring hill, Dollar Mountain, to work up their ski legs before heading to Baldy.
The convenient shuttle service (complimentary for all resort guests) makes for a no-hassle day on the mountains and will safely return you to the resort when the day is done. In the village, you’ll find even more options for dining, including local favorites, the Ram and Konditorei. You might also choose to soak in the heated pool or relax in the sauna as well as in a well-appointed suite.
For more information, visit sunvalley.com.
When the weather warms and the snow melts, it’s the perfect time of year to tee up on one of three premier golf courses in the area. Sun Valley Golf was recently recognized by Golf Digest as one of the top 75 resort courses in North America. With 17,782 total yards to golf, there’s something for everyone at the Trail Creek, White Clouds and Elkhorn courses.
Golfers also enjoy the same stunning, snowcapped mountain views and sunny weather as skiers do as well as dining in the unique clubhouse restaurants that highlight the best food Idaho has to offer. For more information about the greens, please visit sunvalley.com/things-to-do/golf/.
Spring offers hikers and cyclists a chance to check out the terrain. For a mild hike, start at Bald Mountain and enjoy the Scenic Overlook trail, which is roughly 3.15 miles. For more of a challenge, tackle Hyndman Peak, a 12-mile trek that covers more than 5,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s Idaho’s ninth tallest peak and won’t disappoint with views. Use this time of year to train for the big races that come to the area with summer (see below).
Summer lift operations on Bald Mountain open June 26, allowing guests a whole different view of the mountains most people experience covered in snow. Hiking and mountain biking are the go-to activities for exploring the sunshine-drenched hills.
There are more than 400 miles of single-track mountain biking trails on Baldy and beyond. “Bald Mountain now boasts America’s longest purpose-built downhill trail and over 3,100 vertical feet of thrilling lift-accessed trails,” according to Sun Valley’s website. There are also plenty of milder (some paved) trails, perfect for families and beginners.
And summer is the perfect time to train for the world-famous, private bike-racing event that takes place on Labor Day (Aug. 31–Sept. 4, 2022). Rebecca’s Private Idaho is a multiday stage race that covers 196 miles and 12,646 feet of elevation gain. If that’s a little too intimidating, there are shorter versions you can enter. All the proceeds go toward the Be Good Foundation, which “enriches communities by using the bike as a catalyst for healing, empowerment and evolution.” For more information, visit rebeccasprivateidaho.com.
In similar fashion, many summer Sun Valley adventurers choose to traverse the trails by foot, no easy feat for sure. Those with the most guts can sign up for the Standhope Ultra Challenge, Idaho’s highest trail race (July 22–24, 2022). With options for 100-, 38- or 18-mile races, there is no easy way to get to the finish line, especially if you’re tackling the full 28,000 vertical feet of the 100. But finishers receive bragging rights, unrivaled views of the mountains and a customized belt buckle. To check out more details, visit standhopeultrachallenge.wordpress.com.
While it’s not part of the Sun Valley Resort, this group provides access to fly-fishing in some of the country’s most pristine waterways. Sun Valley Outfitters is run by expert anglers who know the area very well. They offer both one-day and multiday guided trips that will maximize your time spent outdoors. Bring your own rig or rent equipment from them before trying your hand at making a catch.
If you’d rather stay on the resort to relax with your family, the lodge has tons of added amenities that are great any time of year. Check out the in-house, kid-friendly bowling alley; the ice-skating rink (which is open year-round and always a huge hit); the arcade; or the Spa at Sun Valley.
Another surprising natural feature that locals know about is the abundance of hot springs near Sun Valley. The most popular and close by is Frenchman’s Bend Hot Springs (about 11 miles away). A simple Google search will lead you through some local neighborhoods right to the calming, soothing warm waters. There are three pools of varying temperature. And, if you dare, you can couple it with a cold plunge. This is a great excursion for those visiting any time of year, but during the fall you might miss some of the ski crowds and find the springs all to yourself.
No matter the time of year or activity you choose, stop in for a brew or quick bite to eat at one of these legendary dive bars. Sun Valley is filled with fine-dining options, but these are must-see spots for those who love local history.
Grumpy’s—The legendary dive bar with the biggest schooners of beer in the valley.
Lefty’s—Another storied dive bar with great burgers and lots of lore.
Hobey’s Casino—The oldest bar in the valley. It’s been around since the mining rush.
Warfield Distillery—Your source for local gin, vodka, whiskey and more.