Sun Valley Idaho

Sun Valley, Idaho, home of  the Allen & Co. conference “summer camp for billionaires”, the first female US winter Olympics gold medalist, the first ski resort to build a chairlift, Ernest Hemingway’s final resting place, and the Hokey Pokey.

I decided to turn a ski trip into an opportunity to see a new state, and in my research found that the Epic Local pass which I had purchased in anticipation of ski season, would afford me two ski days at Sun Valley resort. I was interested in the playground of the rich and famous, and in getting myself to Idaho so I booked a long weekend in mid-February and had a blast.

Getting to Sun Valley was an all-day affair, and I wish I had booked myself an extra day for some extra relaxation and more adventures but I made the most of the time I had. Upon arriving atFriedman Memorial Airport, I loaded onto a shuttle headed to the Sun Valley resort and listened to the other travelers discuss their plans. Driving throughHailey, Idaho into Ketchum and Sun Valley was fantastic, there was all the trappings of ski resort towns with the addition of an old timey western atmosphere. A number of travelers (who were attending a wedding) remarked on the lack of snow during the season, and how they weren’t planning to ski due to the low snowfall. I heard this refrain several times, on ski lifts, and around the lodge, and no doubt there was a shortage of snow for the season overall, but as an east coast skier who commonly skis entirely on artificial snow that immediately turns to ice, the refrains about how icy the terrain was made me chuckle.

I stayed at the Sun Valley Inn, but the grounds of the resort connect easily to the Lodge. Unfortunately, due to Covid the heated pool at the inn needed to be reserved in advance so not too many guests would be using it at the same time. I quickly made some reservations for that afternoon to enjoy a nice soak and get my bearings after a long day of flying. I wasn’t skiing until the following day and so I decided to venture out to the Ketchum Cemetery and look for Ernest Hemingway’s tombstone before night fell. However, after trekking about a mile to the cemetery I forgot that I had read his tombstone is flat and while I earnestly searched the grounds I was unable to find the writer. I guess I’ll have to visit again in the spring. As the sky turned purple I headed back toward town to get some dinner, and while usually not a difficult task as a solo traveler I found every establishment packed to the brim, most notable The Pioneer Saloon where I had hoped to enjoy a steak and the old west atmosphere. After walking up and down the street a few more times I happily found a food truck, at this point I was happy to just get something to eat and go to bed after a long day. Luckily the truck was the “TaterTrailer” and was thrilled to chow down on a giant helping of cheesy tater tots with bacon. Just when I thought my night was ending on the bus back to the inn a local woman started chatting with me, before disembarking the bus she asked me to join her for a drink at the Village Station (a restaurant and bar withinSun Valley village) I obliged and when it looked like we wouldn’t be able to get a seat she managed to grab us spots at the bar after greeting the manager and the bartender. Ann, splits her time between Sun Valley and Seattle, she grew up skiing in Sun Valley and loves showing off her town to new people. It seemed Sun Valley was hit particularly hard by Covid, and while there was no sign of it left in the town of Ketchum, a lot of bars and restaurants had shut their doors, and on that point,  she added that the Pioneer had eliminated their staff’s health insurance and encouraged me instead to grab a burger at “Grumpy’s.” I can’t speak to how true this information was, but I opted to heed her advice and err on the side of service industry workers the next night.

I was shocked on both Friday andSaturday at how open the terrain was while skiing, I was really anticipating a lot more skiers and boarders than I encountered. Bald Mountain is large, and gave a lot of options for skiers of all stripes. Bald Mountain boasts over 90trails, so the vast area for snow sports likely contributed to how un-crowded it felt for typic ally high-volume days. The skiing was refreshing, the only other “western” skiing I’ve done has been in Aspen, so it was really nice to be out in the open, on (less icy) terrain than back home, and able to see some really incredible views. Sun Valley leans into their history of being a home to many Olympians with a lot of their trails named for the likes of GretchenFraser and Picabo Street. Everyone on mountain was polite and helpful, and chatting with folks on the lifts was insightful. A LOT of people split their time in Sun Valley, or at least ski there regularly enough that they had a lot of nice little tips and tricks about trails and the town of Ketchum, it was really great to get so many different perspectives on the sport and the area.

Ann was right, Grumpy’s hit the spot. They boast the “best damn burger in town” and based on my meal I wouldn’t doubt them. They have a very simple menu hanging above the bar and offer “schooners”of beer (32oz). The place is covered in stickers and signs, it’s a real dive bar with small booths and sticky floors. They had a small outdoor eating area, and a few makeshift outdoor/indoor seating areas that had been used during the height of Covid, there were lots of local beers on tap and whatever sport happened to be on at the moment on the tv above the bar. It was a perfect end to a long day on the slopes.

The spa at Sun Valley is the far opposite end of the spectrum from Grumpy’s. As soon as you walk in you can feel that this is the type of spa frequented by those with disposable income, it’s not lost on you walking down the hall of the Inn that the walls on either side of you are lined with photos of the rich and famous. From Bill Clinton to Oprah you are very aware of the types of people who are regulars at the resort. The spa was exactly what one might need after a long day on the slopes using muscles seldom in action, and the atmosphere was that of relaxation and sophistication- likely exactly what the clientele is looking forward to.

On the last night in Sun Valley, after a bit of a kerfuffle on the slopes, I headed back to the Village Station for a meal and a drink. The same bartender, K, who I met with my bus companionAnn, was working. I saddled up to the bar and chatted with her. It was early enough that the bar wasn’t busy and we talked about skiing, and dogs, and travel.Dinner was great but getting to chat with a local bartender (the people who really know a place best) is one of my favorite parts of solo travel. K was awesome and I hope to run into her again WHEN I go back to Sun Valley.

Exiting Freidman Memorial Airport early in the morning is, something else. When I arrived, I knew the airport was small, but this was smaller than any I’ve seen. One small food stand/deli I honestly don’t even know how to describe it, but an older gentleman took orders, wrote them on post-it notes, and then when an order came up would just call out the person’s name- no speaker, and honestly not even very loudly, everyone was well within ear-shot to hear him call “Kyle, ham and cheese.” I half expected the gentleman to be my pilot, my friends asked if the airport was akin to Wings the 1990s sitcom, and really, it was. Bracing myself for a full day of travel in my return to New Jersey I walked up the stairs of the plane and bid a farewell, for now, to the spectacular views, skiing, and people ofSun Valley certain to return again.

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