I’ve written about Sun Valley before a few times from top foodie picks and the Sun Valley Lodge to skiing and photo walks, and yet I still haven’t been to this natural beauty or had a view of Bald Mountain in the summer time. Otherwise known as Baldy, it has one of the higher summits of the Smoky Mountains, all of which are part of the Sawtooth National Forest.
Each Spring, I head to Sun Valley for an annual conference called DENT where rich conversations happen around technology, science and innovation. Within the mix of innovation, there’s an element of passion for a myriad of things, including arts, education, sports, sustainability and doing the right thing to make society a better place. It seems fitting that Sun Valley should be the home of such an event, where its main town of Ketchum attracts skiers, adventure enthusiasts, artists, hikers and “turn-the-world upside down” seekers.
Unlike last year, Sun Valley was blessed with snow this season, including a nice pour a few days before I arrived. The views are spectacular, so much so, that it’s rare that you’d make a turn regardless of what trail you’re on, and not be faced with pure beauty.
I was keen to test out my Helly Hansen gear this year since it arrived not long before my trip and I knew I wouldn’t have a chance until next season…and so I broke out the oh so stunning white Bellissimo ski pants and the vibrant purple Double Motion Stretch Jacket. Bravo – I love their active wear!
Spring skiing is bliss, especially in Sun Valley, where you get those crisp blue mountain skis so prevalent in America’s west. Of course after two runs, I realized I would have been better off in a jacket shell given the 50 something temperatures and warm sunshine. And so, I skied with the jacket open and couldn’t have been happier.
Even though it was a Sunday when I first hit the trails, the lift waits were short and the mountain not crowded. They offered plenty of options from well-groomed trails to those with fluffy white powder you could break in yourself. For families, take note that there’s a 26,000-square-foot family center with everything from lessons to rentals to lockers.
They boast four main lodges: River Run Day Lodge, which is at the base of Baldy, which is essentially a mini village of everything ski and ride related, Warm Springs, also at the base of Baldy which features one of the West’s most famous Idaho potato bars, Seattle Ridge which is at 8,800 square feet along the Seattle Ridge area of Baldy, it boasts jaw-dropping views of the surrounding Wood River Valley and Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge, which I’ve never visited yet. It is family-friendly with a European twist. Located within easy walking distance of the village, Carol’s is a good spot for breakfast or lunch, either inside or on the heated patio.
The nice thing was that they still had me in the system so I was fitted that much faster and on the slopes on no time. I’ve only skied Sun Valley in the Spring but it’s been a joyous experience both times. They have thirteen chairlifts and 65 varied runs. Dollar Mountain features two new high-speed quads, a full-featured terrain park with 76 rails, North America’s largest super pipe, and the Wundercarpet, an effortless uphill transporter. Additionally, they have themed Adventure Trails for kids, with 30 acres of glade ski and boarding terrain.
If you stay at the Sun Valley Lodge or Inn (owned by the same folks and a mere five minute walk through the village from each other), a great choice for families, you may opt to eat on-site however there are plenty of great restaurants in downtown Ketchum and they offer a complimentary shuttle back and forth, so you can take in the best of what the town has to offer.
I did a fairly extensive round-up of restaurants a couple of visits ago — see my top 12 picks, many of which are still favorites of locals. It includes eateries that locals love as much today as they did in 2014, such as Globus, Enoteca and Ketchum Grill, still on East Avenue (three of my favorites). A real stand-out this year goes to a quaint restaurant called Vintage, which has been around for awhile. Located in a restored historic cabin, all the tables are in one small room, seating only 20 in total. You’ll want to make a reservation well in advance to ensure availability when planning your trip. Inside, its tables all have white table clothes and face a wall-to-wall wine case, and one of their outstanding bottle selections is sure to pair perfectly with whatever you order.
Since I was there with a group, we had a pre-set menu, which included an incredibly fresh Burrata salad, which included smoked tomatoes, watercress balsamic caviar and basil oil. Simple, but it lingered on my mind well after the meal.
They specialize in upscale peasant food using locally farmed sources for all their seafood, meat and poultry. Some more classic menu items include crispy skin roast duckling and Cajun oysters, but also more hearty options like Organic Naturally Raised pecan crusted chicken breast with roasted tomato chutney and Dijonnaise sauce, accompanied by Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and Italian roasted veggies.
My favorite? The Beef Tenderloin, which is oh so tender. They serve it with Idaho twice baked potatoes with three cheese roasted wild mushrooms and grilled asparagus, laced with a red wine syrup. I asked for no potatoes and double the veggies to keep it on the healthy side, a smart choice given the portions.
A relatively newbie in town is a place called Warfield Distillery & Brewery on North Main Street. My favorite part about the restaurant is its authentic brick wall behind the bar, which faces nearly every seat in the place. Imagine a wide array of liquors, spirits and wines jutting out from antiquated brick while you sit and sip your favorite libation on a leisurely evening out on the town. Booths take up most of the middle of the restaurant whereas the tables that line the walls have soft cushion-covered benches and pillow throws.
Photo credit: www.conradgarner.com.
How’s this for a creative choice you don’t have that often? The Handmade Pierogi is a smoked mash that combines potatoes, sauerkraut, housemade cheese, caramelized onions and brussel leaves – wow, right?
Then, there’s their beet salad, which is served with spicy pecan, mustard greens, arugla, citrus and a shallot dressing. I could have had two of these – the spicy pecan mixed with the sharpness of the citrus and shallots was memorable.
And, since you’re in Idaho, why not try the Elk? They have a scrumptious Elk Carpaccio which was served with green citrus granita, toasted juniper and blackberry vinaigrette. Bravo!
Perfectly positioned in the heart of downtown Ketchum, you could dine here and walk to any of the nearby bars for a late night drink or take in a game of pool at dive bar The Casino, ID Grumpy’s or The Cellar Pub.
Konditorei and the Elkhorn Clubhouse are worth mentioning also — fabulous chocolate and traditional joint for drinking and dining respectfully. Elkhorn is even better during warmer months since you can grab a table on the patio and take in the pristine Dollar Mountain view surrounded by the Elkhorn golf course. They do signature plates like legendary crab cakes, lamb sliders, sandwiches and salads, but have great desserts as well.
Photo credit: SunValley.com.
While there was plenty of snow on the ground while I was there in March and it wasn’t quite the season for the same kinds of hikes you could do in the middle of summer season, there are plenty of trails to take in with or without a family in tow in the immediate area, as long as you have a decent pair of hiking boots that can withstand wet mush.
There are a few choices within a stone’s throw of the main town, especially for a moderate walk. Big Wood River and Warm Springs Creek runs through the town and into more rural areas, both quite pretty to take in by foot or bike. There’s a bike path for warmer days that is fairly central.
The Sawtooth Mountains boast some of the best alpine granite in the country, with rock-climbing, hiking, and backpacking treks leading to 10,000 foot peaks or pristine alpine lakes. For the adventurous among you, try Bald Mountain Trail which goes to 3,200 feet and is over five miles long.
A great choice with kids in tow is a trail head that leads to the well known Baker Lake, which is about a 9-10 mile drive out a dirt road and the round-trip walk will take you to about 846 feet. If fishing is your thing, bring a pole — the lakeside path is nicknamed “Fisherman’s Trail”, a great reminder that there’s plenty of fish in the lake.
Photo credit: Pinterest
Proctor Mountain is a more moderate hike that goes to 1,600 feet over around 4.5-miles. The views are spectacular and while you won’t get the benefit wildflowers in the spring, if you’re there in the summer, you’ll want a camera to capture those vivid colors.
Photo credit: Reddit
Speaking of summer since Spring is already here, I learned about the Wellness Festival from May 27-30, 2016, an event Sun Valley throws every year, which focuses on wellness, mindfulness and consciousness.