2005-01-06 / Travel

Sun Valley, Famed Idaho Resort, Offers Luxury Skiing

By Nancy Ness

Scenic View of Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain.
                      ©Steve PlatzerScenic View of Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain. ©Steve Platzer I expected Idaho’s Sun Valley ski resort to be full of over-the-top luxury after hearing ski friends rave about it. Amazingly, our time there was even better than expected.

Sun Valley is located right in the heart of Idaho, northeast of Boise. The original Sun Valley ski mountain, Dollar, sits adjacent to the resort and is now the beginner area. Baldy, the larger mountain, is near the town of Ketchum and can be reached by a free shuttle. Baldy Mountain is 3,400 vertical feet of solid pitch. Don’t let a mere 78 trails fool you: These are really long trails — and fun to ski, thanks to long steeps, bumps, bowls, and trails that are variously winding, wooded, wide open or twisty. For the rugged there are glades or areas to ski off-piste. As with most places out west, the important factor is the high number of skiable acres: 2,067 at this resort.

The valley gets 80 percent sunny days during the ski season. A summit altitude of 9,000 feet helps the snow stay light, which made it possible to blast right through the bumps. I found myself changing technique to fit the light snow. Instead of riding my edges, I pressed down to turn, much like stepping on a bicycle peddle. The light snow is addictive. It slows your speed and adds support to your balance. This all adds up to skiing in light, powdery snow on a sunny day and stopping in really posh lodges with great food. That’s what I call a good day.

Natural beauty places the resort at the head of the pack; man-made comfort places it in a realm of its own. Sun Valley’s lodges are carpeted and have chandeliers. Yes, chandeliers, not to mention real wood chairs and terrific food.

Sun Valley also has the world’s largest automated snowmaking system, covering 78 percent of the trails, just in case Mother Nature gets tired.

Then there’s the history: Long before the advent of snowmaking, the president of Union Pacific Railroad, Averell Harriman, envisioned an American high-end European-style ski resort. He wanted to transport wealthy customers by rail to a winter getaway. He ended up building a resort in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, and Sun Valley, which opened in 1936, became the first U.S. ski destination. Harriman pushed the resort’s fame further by inviting movie stars. A 1941 Hollywood movie called “Sun Valley Serenade” staring Sonja Henie, John Payne and Glenn Miller, depicts the early days at Sun Valley and is shown daily in Sun Valley’s movie theater.

My husband and I stayed in the newly remodeled Sun Valley Inn, which has carved front doors and tapestry window dressings that easily weigh 50 pounds. My friends raved about the circular hot pool, and rightly so: It’s not often you get to swim through steam as snow falls.

The inn is within the resort’s walkable European-looking village, which has a number of good restaurants, unusual shops and a movie theater. The village also includes the Sun Valley Lodge, where the walls are lined with many years’ worth of photos showing visiting celebrities There’s also a wonderful piano bar and a large skating rink for performances.

Ketchum is a busy tourist town filled with shops, restaurants and accommodations that are definitely worth exploring. Not far from Ketchum is the smaller town of Hailey, whose famous resident, Bruce Willis, co-founded a theater group there called “Company of Fools.” We saw a first-rate musical in the theater’s intimate setting, featuring actors who had been brought in from as far as New York. After the performance the audience was gathered to ask questions of the director and the performers.

To make this trip, we flew into Boise and drove to the Sawtooth Mountains. We spent two nights in Boise, giving us a chance to look around at a really terrific, sophisticated city. Driving to Sun Valley was easy and the scenery was quite spectacular. This luxurious, history-filled resort was well worth the visit.

©2004 Car & Travel Monthly. Used by

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