The vacation destination of the rich and famous since its founding, Sun Valley has attracted Hollywood stars such as Gregory Peck and Lucille Ball as well as many world-famous politicians and royalty, from U.S. President Harry Truman to King Abdullah II of Jordan.
The resort, which was founded in 1936 as America’s first destination ski resort, is now a year-round playground for guests who love outdoor pursuits, from fly fishing, hiking and mountain biking to horseback riding, tennis and golf.
Sun Valley is Best Known For Its World-Class Skiing
Of course, Sun Valley may best be known for its more than 2,000 skiable acres and it is considered among the best ski destinations in the world. In 2017, Sun Valley Resort was voted the second best Overall Resort in North America in SKI Magazine’s Annual Readers’ Poll—for the second time in three years. The rankings are a reflection of the ski area’s commitment to excellent grooming, superior guest experiences, unique and historic charm, and lack of lift lines. The resort also earned the top place ranking for its lifts and was runner-up in the grooming, service and character categories.
The resort has two mountains—Bald (often referred to as “Baldy”) and Dollar. Bald Mountain has perfect-pitch vertical from peak to base, and is all downhill. The mountain offers themed Adventure Trails for kids and 55 acres of glade ski and boarding terrain. There are runs for all levels of skiers, from beginners to experts. Baldy is known for its consistent pitch and lack of lift lines, and is considered to be one of the world’s finest ski mountains. Its twelve chair lifts that include high-speed quads, offer an uphill lift capacity of 23,680 per hour, yet there is an average of only 3,500 skiers per day. In other words, there are no lift lines. This month, the U.S. Alpine Championships featuring many of the country’s best ski racers, will take place on the mountain.
Dollar, the resort’s other downhill ski and snowboard area, is one of the country’s best mountains for first time skiers as well as expert skiers and riders. The perfect place to learn downhill skiing and snowboarding, Dollar offers seven terrain parks and beginner-friendly slopes. Its flow-style terrain parks and progressive features both inspire and challenge all levels of skiers. Dollar has two high-speed quads, six lifts and 628 feet of vertical on a treeless face.
An innovative skiing and snowboarding program, called “Terrain-that-Teaches™”, was designed by Sun Valley SnowSports. The program engages early learners of all ages in a fun and playful environment. Remarkably, Sun Valley visitors also have the opportunity to ski with one of Sun Valley’s legendary ski instructors who are available for private lessons. Many of these highly qualified instructors have experience training World Cup and Olympic competition athletes.
Sun Valley’s Nordic Center offers more than 200 kilometers of networked trails that link the south valley to the north as well as several spur Nordic track networks, making it one of the most expansive and convenient trail systems in the country. Sun Valley is such a Nordic mecca that the U.S. Olympic Committee designated it the country’s first Nordic Olympic Training Site and Paralympic Training Site for the world’s best athletes. The center also offers snowshoeing and “fat biking”. Also called snow biking, it involves an off-road bicycle with oversized tires that are designed for low ground pressure to enable riding on snow-covered trails. Ski and snowshoe equipment for all ages, as well as fat bikes, are available for rent at the Nordic Shop in the Sun Valley Club.
Sun Valley offers a variety of luxurious accommodations, from luxurious rooms and suites in its historic Lodge to its more moderately priced Inn and stand-alone cottages. The Lodge, which was completely remodeled in 2015 offers 108 remodeled rooms with spacious bathrooms that feature walk-in showers and separate tubs. The Lodge also added new suites that showcase five celebrities who spent time vacationing at Sun Valley. One suite pays homage to Sun Valley’s founding father, Averell Harriman, while the others honor Marilyn Monroe, Sonia Henie, Ernest Hemingway and Clint Eastwood. Suites feature classic photography of these celebrities that came from the Sun Valley archives. Celebrity Suites are expansive and include a sitting room with a fireplace, a living room with a flat screen HD TV, bedroom and a large bathroom with a walk-in shower and soaking tub.
The Sun Valley Inn, which opened its doors in 1937, offers gracious European-inspired dècor with the finest fabrics, carpeting and wall coverings. The Inn has 105 guest rooms, of which 25 were recently renovated while the remainder of the rooms are scheduled to be remodeled this year.
There are also eight different cottages available to rent, each with its own charm and unique details. Ranging from two bedrooms to seven, the cottages are located near the Sun Valley Lodge.
Sun Valley Resorts’ Wide Range of Activities and Amenities
The resort offers plenty of amenities and activities which keeps its guests of every age entertained, regardless of the weather. The Lodge houses a 20,000 square foot destination spa that boasts 15 treatment rooms, including several equipped for couples. Here, you will find saunas, steam rooms, multiple relaxation rooms and beautifully appointed changing rooms. The Lodge’s Game Room room has a variety of arcade games, billiard and Foosball tables, a snack bar and six bowling lanes. The Lodge and Inn have state-of-the art fitness centers and heated outdoor swimming pools with whirlpools and the resort also boasts one of the only outdoor ice skating rinks that is open year round and is free of charge for guests (with a nominal fee for skate rentals).
Sun Valley Golf
Sun Valley’s 18-hole championship golf course, Trail Creek, was recently ranked by Golf Digest as one of the top 75 resort courses in North America. Open to the public, the 6,968 yard course was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. There’s also an alpine links–style nine-hole course called White Clouds that offers 3,600 yards of play and 360-degree views of the Wood River Valley. The club also offers a 25-acre practice facility and an 18-hole putting course. Inside the club house, there is a virtual golf simulator where up to four golfers at a time can choose from a number of world-class courses to sharpen their short game, long game or putting. Down the road, is a second 18-hole course available to guests called Elkhorn Golf Course that is also part of the Sun Valley Resort.
Sun Valley Resort’s Cultural Offerings
Sun Valley offers an impressive amount of culture, too, including a summer symphony concert series that’s free of charge and summer ballet performances. The resort’s Opera House, which seats over 300 people, features state-of-the-art projection technology and frequently offers first-run movies playing when live performances aren’t being offered. And every March, the Sun Valley Film Festival, an annual destination film festival, brings together filmmakers, industry insiders, actors and special guests from around the world. This year, the festival honored Academy Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, actress Kate Bosworth and rising star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who starred in Aquaman.
Dining at Sun Valley
There is a wide variety of dining options at the resort, both on and off the mountain, that will please every guest. When skiing on Bald mountain, be sure to have lunch at the historic Roundhouse near the Roundhouse Express gondola. This mid-mountain restaurant offers cheese fondue, salads, hearty soups, and sandwiches. Down at the lodge, the resort’s original restaurant, The Ram, which dates back to 1937, is the oldest, continuously operated restaurant in the area. It features live music on many evenings.
Another exceptional dining experiences is at Trail Creek Cabin, a rustic, early Western cabin that was the private hunting lodge of Sun Valley’s original owner Averill Harriman. Built in 1937, this mountain-style log cabin-turned-restaurant is located next to the rushing waters of Trail Creek and offers stunning views of Bald Mountain. Trail Creek Cabin was frequented by Ernest Hemingway, who spent his final years living in the Sun Valley area.
The Sun Valley Club, which serves as a luxurious Nordic and snowshoe center during the winter season and a golf clubhouse in the summer, offers a restaurant that serves delicious soups, sandwiches, salads, pot pies and paninis. The large dining room features an oversized fireplace and a wraparound terrace that offers stunning views of Bald Mountain, Dollar Mountain and the 18-hole Sawtooth Putting Course.
Sun Valley also offers a small village between the Inn and Lodge that offers a number of boutiques. Here, you will find clothing, gifts, jewelry, and sports equipment. There’s also a post office, a bank and a European-style coffeehouse called Konditorei with an array of desserts and Austrian-style pastries that is open for breakfast, lunch, and Sunday brunch. Conveniently, guests can charge just about everything to their room, from ski passes and equipment rentals to restaurant charges, golf fees and shop purchases.
Sun Valley is served by Hailey’s Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN), which is located 14 miles from the resort and is easily accessed from such airports as San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Chicago, and Denver. All Sun Valley Resort guests receive complimentary roundtrip airport transportation.
Carrie Coolidge is Co-Editor of Pursuitist and is based in Manhattan. From 2009 to 2011, Carrie served as Co-Editor of Luxist, the luxury lifestyle website at AOL where she ran the Luxist Awards, a program that honored the very best in fine living. From 1996 to 2009, Carrie was a Staff Writer at Forbes magazine, where she covered real estate, personal finance and the insurance industry, among other areas. Carrie is also the author of six books, including "The Business of America is Business". Follow her on Twitter: @carriecoolidge