Packing for a stay at the new Hotel Ketchum, I didn’t take any ski gear. My mission was to explore beyond the slopes. Sure, the skiing and snowboarding is great in Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho. Even when Mother Nature doesn’t produce abundant snow, they’ve got what is quite possibly the world’s best snow-making equipment.
Nevertheless, for a day spent off the mountain, downtown Ketchum (two miles from Sun Valley Resort and one mile from the River Run Gondola) packs in a lot besides powdery slopes.
Ketchum in One Word
“Unprecedented,” is what a local says about her home town in just one word. Others describe this place as “timeless,” “vibrant,” “magic,” and “breathtaking.” Visitors can get insights into “An Ideal Day in Ketchum as Imagined by Seven Locals” in a neat little guide distributed as a special edition of The Ketchum Guide. One contributor says, “I came here to ski but I’ve stayed for the community, culture, and endless adventure.” Ending the day sitting around a huge campfire looking up at the constellations makes it easy to see why these folks are so captivated.
Ketchum for Astro-Tourism
The City of Ketchum is an official International Dark Sky Community – only the 11th in the U.S. – noted for its exceptional window on the universe. Wow. Even more remarkable, America’s first-ever designation of a dark sky region was awarded in December 2017 to Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, a mostly remote 1,416-square-mile area that includes Ketchum and Sun Valley.
Talk about a community effort…just to fulfill the requirements, residents had to enact a dark sky ordinance to totally limit light pollution. They’ve installed shields on exterior light fixtures and restrictions on holiday lighting after dark.
By all means, bring a flashlight but make sure it has a red light option because white ones are taboo. Your reward is mesmerizing – billions of stars, shooting stars, even swirls of interstellar dust clouds.
Go to Idaho to marvel at the sight of our own Milky Way galaxy in the deeply darkened night sky. (Eighty percent of Americans can no longer even see it.) The other 11 Certified IDA International Dark Sky Reserves are not nearly as handy because they’re in places like New Zealand and Snowdonia, Wales.
Trailing of the Sheep Festival
Sure…there are annual jazz, music, film, wellness festivals in Ketchum and Sun Valley. A population of around 4,200 (and that’s both towns combined) supports more festivals than cities many times larger. There simply couldn’t be anywhere else with a Trailing of the Sheep Festival, right?
No better introduction to the event could be made than chatting over a bowl of soul at Java on Fourth with Carol Waller, Advisory Council member and an early visionary for the festival more than 20 years ago. Carol shares the back story.
Who knew? It seems that in Idaho a century ago, sheep were far more numerous than humans. In 1918, there were about 2.65 million of them and about one-sixth as many of us. As a major sheep center, Ketchum was second only to Sydney, Australia. Times changed and things changed, but mountain sheep are still there. And they’re still led in a trail down from the higher elevations to the valley before the snow falls.
The story of sheep and their importance to the economy in the Wood River Valley of southwestern Idaho is best told by local historians connected to the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. (Better still, come to Ketchum and find out firsthand.)
Mark your calendar for October 10-14, 2018. You’ll want to be there when 1,500 sheep parade through downtown Main Street. This is no reenactment…this is Ketchum, Idaho living history.
No wonder the “best festival” awards are piled high for this event. For five days, a robust schedule has every imaginable activity involving sheep: shearing demonstrations, wool dyeing classes, knitting instruction, folklore fair, photography outing, history exhibition, film screening, storytelling, chef demos, farm-to-table lamb fest, even a sheepherders ball.
More Fabulous Festivals
Sun Valley Wellness Festival: June 29 – July 2, 2018. While many wellness events are in their infancy, SVWF is the adult in the niche; it turns 21 this year. Keep an eye out for the 2018 program speakers and workshops across all four days.
Sun Valley Center for the Arts 37th Annual Wine Auction: July 19-21, 2018. A three-day extravaganza of wine, food, and culture is so much fun that it’s had a 37-year run raising funds to support year-round arts and education programs for adults, youth and families.
Sun Valley Writers’ Conference: July 21-24, 2018. Hail to the power of the pen and the one-time home of Ernest Hemingway. The conference that was founded in 1995 is now considered to be the best literary festival in the U.S. About 1,000 attend this four-day meeting of the minds that is studded with Pulitzer Prize-winning presenters.
Sun Valley Summer Symphony: July 29-Aug. 23, 2018. Since 1985, exceptional, free, world-class outdoor concerts got 50,000 people annually give this festival unmistakeable status in the North American classical music scene.
Wagon Days: Labor Day Weekend. Celebrate the days before cars or railroads reached Ketchum. Spectators gather on Main Street for the largest, non-motorized parade in the Pacific Northwest now in its 61st year. Join cowboy poets, Basque dancers and meandering musicians after a pancake breakfast in Town Square and before the free concert.
Sun Valley Film Festival: Founded in 2012, the 2018 festival was held in mid-March. Sign up online to become a festival insider for the SBFF 2019 information as soon as it becomes available.
Catch the Sun Valley Art Scene
On the morning of the ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new Hotel Ketchum, it was precisely zero degrees Fahrenheit on Main Street. I bundled up to leave the coziness of coffee by the lobby fireside for the short walk over to Gilman Contemporary where owner L’Anne Gilman filled me in on the local art scene.
Nine art galleries are the backbone of a sophisticated local art scene. Each year Sun Valley Gallery Association hosts seven free gallery walks during exhibition openings at all nine member galleries.
The doors are flung open and everyone is invited to appreciate exhibitions of newly installed art while mingling and enjoying a glass of wine with gallery owners, artists, members of the community and visitors from out of town.
While admiring the art at Gilman Contemporary, I discovered a new love for artist Laura Schiff Bean and her incredible portraits of elegant gowns on floating on monochromatic backdrops that beg a closer look.
Need funky stuff for your walls? Art of a different sort is found at Antique Alley, where the assorted mish-mash in the front garden is matched by masses of treasures for sale inside. Browse to your heart’s content.
Did You Know?
Ernest Hemingway loved it here. He lived here, wrote here, hunted and fished here, died here, and is buried here. Find his final resting place in Ketchum Cemetery, only a half-mile from the Hotel Ketchum. It’s the flat slab gravestone under pine trees, often adorned with half-smoked cigars, empty bourbon bottles and notes from admiring fans.
Getting to Sun Valley/Ketchum
Seven major cities now have nonstop flights into Friedman Memorial Airport, just 12 miles away.
Where to Stay
Hotel Ketchum: Fun, vintage Idaho potato sacks make a statement, mounted and displayed in the high-ceilinged sitting room with fireplace off the lobby. Framed on another wall, Marilyn Monroe wears hers. There’s nothing too serious going on at Ketchum’s newest hotel. This becomes clear from the catchy welcome text message you’ll receive prior to arrival.
On Main Street, the newest hotel in town incorporates The Hangout, a lively bar where locals and hotel guests mingle. It’s so convivial, you may forget to check out Ketchum’s vibrant dining scene.
Come for happy hour, Wednesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Hotel Ketchum delivers a sense of place with a sense of humor. Alongside tributes to the state’s most famous crop and ski culture, there’s a cheerful acknowledgement to the mountain sheep theme throughout the hotel, which unabashedly states, “We Can’t Wait to Sleep With You.” “Lucky ewe,” that is.
Frills come with an affordably priced accommodation, to wit:
- Gear garage
- Free parking
- Outdoor heated pool & hot tub
- Fitness center
- Free, fast wi-fi (yay!)
- Free continental breakfast
- Coin-operated guest laundry
And, there’s more good stuff coming in fall 2018 – a coffee shop pouring Equator brand and a restaurant.
600 N. Main Street
Ketchum, ID 83340