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Getaway: Sun Valley

Idaho's Iconic Mountain Town with Something for Everyone

Article by Caitlin Agnew

Photography by Yuriy Manchik

Originally published in Bellevue Lifestyle

Sun Valley, known as “America’s First Destination Ski Resort,” has a history that dates back to 1935 when W. Averell Harriman had a dream to build a world-class ski destination on U.S. soil. He scouted out the ideal location where a ski resort along the likes of those located in Austria and the French and Swiss Alps could be developed. After discovering the small mining town of Ketchum, Idaho, Harriman broke ground in 1936. As an effort to increase visibility to his new resort, Harriman’s original intention was to attract Hollywood players to the resort—and the plan worked. Since its beginning, Sun Valley was an instant success and eventually became the lodge for celebrities and champion skiers from around the globe.

While Hollywood glamour put Sun Valley on the map, it’s the endless outdoor terrain and almost year-round sun that has kept people coming back. Sun Valley is an outdoor enthusiast's playground. With more than 2,000 skiable acres and 40 kilometers of cross-country tracks, it's a true alpine paradise, offering just about everything skiers and snowboarders dream of doing in one location.

Sun Valley boasts two world-class mountains: Bald (“Baldy” to the locals) and Dollar. Skiers and snowboarders rave about both, however, they each offer something different.  

Dollar Mountain, the home of the world’s very first chairlift, is known for beginner-friendly slopes and the ideal place to become introduced to downhill sports. Dollar offers two high-speed quads, seven terrain parks with various features and a Wundercarpet—an effortless uphill transporter. While Dollar is a paradise for first-timers, every snow lover, no matter their skill level, will find something on this mountain to enjoy.

Baldy, the larger of the two mountains, has earned a reputation as being one of the world’s finest ski mountains. The mountain’s 100-plus varied runs stretch over 2,054 acres to the edges of the Sawtooth National Forest. Although it offers a range of terrain from expert to beginner and groomers to slalom challenges, its popularity truly stems from for its perfect-pitch vertical from peak to base, no flats, no plateaus and nothing but downhill. Baldy is a mountain for people who like to go down, no matter how fast or what they strap to their feet. And when you need a break in the day, choose from one of five deluxe day lodges where you can relax and rejuvenate.

If cross-country skiing is more your speed, Galena Lodge has got you covered. With a gorgeous backdrop of the Boulder Mountains—10,000-foot peaks of amazing scenery—Galena Lodge is located in the Rocky Mountains, 23 miles north of the Sun Valley Resort and Ketchum, Idaho. Surrounded by some of the best cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the nation, it’s open daily in the winter, serving lunch, special dinners and operating as home base for cross-country skiers. Directly from the lodge is the North Valley Trail System with more than 50 kilometers of beautifully groomed Nordic trails for both skate and classic skiing and more than 25 kilometers of snowshoe trails. The terrain offers a variety for all abilities, from first-time skiers or snowshoers to experts. From flat or gradually rolling terrain with great views to long challenging climbs and consistent grade changes, these trails provide variety for all levels. Instead of skiing, you can opt for snowshoeing, with trails that vary from a nice stroll along the river to a wilderness adventure through the trees. The trails are maintained and groomed impeccably for optimal conditions.

There are many lodging options to consider while visiting Sun Valley, from resorts, Airbnb, timeshares and more. Bellevue Lifestyle had the opportunity to experience the charming Knob Hill Resort. An ideal home base for all your adventures, whether that includes outdoor activities, shopping or dining, Knob Hill’s location is prime. Stellar hospitality begins each morning with a provided signature breakfast in the Fireplace Room. For daytime and nighttime activities, they provide on-demand transportation throughout Sun Valley and Ketchum—no need to even rent a car. It is ideally located for recreational activities; some of the best mountain biking, hiking and cross-country skiing in the country are just a few minutes away. After a long day on the mountain, take advantage of the indoor heated pool, hot tub and sauna. And at the end your day, enjoy dinner on-site with The Grill at Knob Hill, which offers delicious Northwest cuisine, great wine and craft cocktails. Make sure to make time for at least one meal here on your trip. It’s easy to see why Knob Hill was recognized in 2019 by Trip Advisor with a “Certificate of Excellence Hall of Fame Award for outstanding guest reviews for the past five years.”

While Sun Valley has a number of reasons that make it a prime ski resort destination, what locals say sets Sun Valley apart from many other ski destinations is that it offers a real community.

“We have a lot of heritage, which makes us unique in the fact that we are not a cookie-cutter resort,” says Kelli Lusk, public relations and communications manager at Sun Valley Resort. “We are still independently owned and have not been purchased by a big conglomerate. We have really maintained our character both as a community and also as a resort.” 

Sun Valley truly has every type of postcard-worthy activity for you and your family. Book a quick direct flight from Seattle and experience it for yourself.