Sun Valley, Idaho, is America's original ski resort, dating back to 1936. Its clientele then, as now, was as chic as the grades are steep. Henry Ford and Gary Cooper skied here. Hemingway lived (and died) here. Yet these days, the resort’s quirky neighboring town of Ketchum—a southern gateway to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area’s sprawling backcountry—is also proving a draw for powder hounds.
“The perception used to be that if you go to Sun Valley, you better ski Baldy and hit that hard,” says Shea Andersen, a native Portlander who’s lived in Idaho for years. “But nowadays there’s so much off-slope.”
Ketchum’s charm, Andersen says, is borne of its remove from the “big” city. (Boise is about 150 miles away.) Here, scrappy locals make their own beer and their own gear. At Christina Potters Outdoor Ice Rink, the pond hockey competitions are fierce. Three blocks away at Grumpy’s—where the walls are literally bricked with beer cans—the après-ski quaff is a schooner of domestic. Meanwhile, outside, those starry night skies are dazzling enough to be a contender for America’s first official Dark Sky Reserve.
DO: Rising from Ketchum’s western edge, 9,150-foot-tall Bald Mountain centers the area’s downhill appeal: 2,000 skiable acres of pillowy vertical descent. Intimidated by Baldy’s steep blues? Find your footing on gentle Dollar Mountain, or try out the North Valley Trails System—a vast network of Nordic and snowshoe trails ranging from the family-friendly 20-mile Wood River Trail to myriad loops encircling Galena Lodge, 23 miles north in the Sawtooth National Forest. You might get lapped by a professional; Sun Valley is the US Olympic Committee’s first Nordic training site.
STAY/EAT: Renovated in 2015, Sun Valley Resort’s 1930s grand lodge (rooms from $309) boasts fireplaces, walk-in showers, and an all-weather saline pool ringed with heated Portuguese limestone. In Ketchum, the three-star Limelight Hotel (rooms from $260) opened last winter, with 99 rooms (about half of which are pet-friendly) and a community lounge with near-nightly live music. For weekday morning joe, Lizzy’s Fresh Coffee serves house roasts at the north edge of town, sandwiched between Bigwood Bread Bakery’s two cafés. Post-slope, refuel with Grumpy’s half-pound burger, or go full Hemingway at mahogany-and-brick Warfield Distillery, where local M&N Ranch steaks pair with house-made No Return Gin (and tonics) or Warfield’s Europhilic stouts and saisons. (For big American ales, head to nearby Sawtooth Brewery.)
GOGGLES OFF: Forget skis; instead, rent wheels at Formula Sports and fat-bike a 10-mile loop at the Sun Valley Nordic Center. Quieter souls head to Big Wood River for excellent winter fly-fishing; Lost River Outfitters can guide you. And don’t forget a key perk of seasonal ski-town glitz: thrift-store steals. Try Gold Mine Thrift, Worth Repeating, and Deja Vu (208-726-1908) for new-to-you Ketchum souvenirs.
GET THERE: December direct round-trip flights from $222. alaskaair.com
Lift tickets: sunvalley.com
Insider tip: Children ages 12 and younger ski free with a stay of three or more nights at area hotels including Sun Valley Resort and the Limelight. visitsunvalley.com