Click into central Idaho’s legendary ski zone and cultural epicenter
Many alpine destinations in the West will hook you up with demo skis, a stylish hotel room, and a crackling fire, but few do it with the panache of Sun Valley, Idaho. The idyllic valley in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains has been welcoming the rich and famous (along with plenty of regular folks) since Sun Valley Resort opened in 1936. The area’s towns have earned a reputation for being low-key celebrity hideouts (at one time for Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper, and, more recently, for Bruce Springsteen, Jodie Foster, and Tom Hanks). But it’s getting ever more enticing for the sort of person who doesn’t have a personal chef (or their own private slope). The most recent hotel arrivals are smart without feeling exclusive, and new breweries, design shops, and performance venues are adding lively places to hang with the crowd. Mostly here for the powder? There’s exciting news on that front too.
Courtesy of the Warfield Distillery & Brewery
It’s no surprise that visitors here tend to crave something classic (Manhattans!) or Western (tequila shots!) when raising a glass at a bar where golden-era Hollywood stars and renegades once drank. The three-year-old Warfield Distillery & Brewery (warfielddistillery.com) in downtown Ketchum, by contrast, gives the valley a very 21st-century watering hole: ebony booths, exposed brick walls, and gleaming copper piping. Beers like a frisky saison and a strapping Scottish ale meet cocktails emphasizing the distillery’s whistle-clean vodka and gin. Upscale pub dishes, such as chef Sean Temple’s duck confit drumsticks, cap the experience.
Holly Bornemeier/Courtesy of Sun Valley Center
A Big Little Arts Hub
For such a small community—the entire county has just 22,000 permanent residents—the area’s creative output is impressive. Much of the thanks goes to Sun Valley Center for the Arts (sunvalleycenter.org), Idaho’s largest arts organization, which brings in phenomenal exhibitions, outdoor installations, music, dance, film, and lectures. The nonprofit expanded further last year, when actor Bruce Willis gifted it with the painstakingly restored Liberty Theater in Hailey, a neon art deco dream that’s home to the Company of Fools drama group. For the 2018-2019 season, they’re putting on The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Dec 12–30), adapted from Kate DiCamillo’s charming novel about a china rabbit. Meanwhile, the Argyros Performing Arts Center (theargyros.org), is a recently opened, $15 million venue in downtown Ketchum. The central theater, designed by San Francisco–based performance-space gurus at Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, combines clean visuals with a next-gen digital acoustics system from Meyer Sound. The Sun Valley Summer Symphony (svsummersymphony.org) will take it for a spin in February 2019, when the orchestra kicks off its first-ever Winter Festival with both new and classic works.
Fun, amped-up base camp or whimsical boutique getaway? Ketchum has landed one of each.
Ray Gadd/Courtesy of the Limelight Hotel
From $315; limelighthotels.com/ketchum
OPENED: December 2016
VIBE: Vivid splashes of purple and lime, flat screens tuned to sports, and performances from live bands drive an energetic scene for families and groups.
ROOMS: Big windows create light-filled spaces, some with fireplaces and views of Bald Mountain, all with sleek kitchenettes for prepping snacks.
HOT SPOT: A steaming outdoor pool always heated to a comfortable 94°.
Ray Gadd/Courtesy of Hotel Ketchum
From $179; hotelketchum.com
OPENED: December 2017
VIBE: A former motel recast as a modernist outpost that exudes mountain glam. There’s a hot tub and heated outdoor pool, plus snowshoes to borrow for nearby jaunts.
ROOMS: Spare and cozy, with wood floors, plaid headboards, and local art playing up Idaho’s sheep-ranching heritage.
HOT SPOT: The Hangout, a happy hour magnet with Idaho beers and Northwest wines.
Dylan Crossman, Courtesy of Sun Valley Resort
Lay Down First Tracks
Something huge is brewing at Sun Valley Resort’s Bald Mountain ski area (sunvalley.com). By late 2019, the resort plans to open a pristine 380-acre parcel, expanding its accessible terrain by almost 20 percent. A new lift will provide access to a wide-open expanse with glades and vertical runs aimed at stronger skiers and snowboarders, including a formerly off-limits spot that local rope-ducking scofflaws refer to as the Turkey Bowl. Anxious to see it for yourself? Advanced skiers can sign up this season for free guided tours led by a ski patroller and be among the first to carve a path down the slopes.
Kevin Syms/Courtesy of Sun Valley Resort
Take a design-forward day trip that starts in Hailey and loops through Ketchum to get a taste of the area’s laid-back luxuries.
9 A.M. Power up with gluten-free muffins and locally roasted espresso at the cute little Black Owl Coffee (blackowlcoffee208.com) in Hailey.
Ray Gadd/Courtesy of Red Door Home + Design
10 A.M. Whether you’re in a buying mood or just looking, hit Red Door Home + Design (reddoordesignhouse.com) on Hailey’s North Main Street. It’s a trove of contemporary mountain home furnishings—like an eye-catching raw brass accent table by Four Hands—and gifts that range from botanically etched Roost glassware to Siberian cypress candles from Kobo.
12 P.M. Drive to Ketchum and stop in at Friesen Gallery (friesengallery.com), where Andria Friesen keeps the valley in touch with innovative contemporary art. An exhibition of Tom Lieber’s abstract paintings and Lila Roo Lieber’s ceremonial garments made from discarded plastic opens December 28, 2018.
Kevin Syms/Courtesy of Sun Valley Resort
1:30 P.M. Whether you’re skiing or not, take the gondola up the flank of Bald Mountain to The Roundhouse (sunvalley.com/dining) and warm up with fondue by the fire while snapping wintry landscapes through the windows.
4 P.M. Our favorite indulgence? An Alpine Arnica Soak at the serene Spa at Sun Valley (sunvalley.com/the-spa), featuring a fragrant blend of mountain meadow herbs.
6 P.M. After a Calico Jack or a gimlet at the Sun Valley Lodge’s classic Duchin Lounge (sunvalley.com/dining), where a coterie of Old Hollywood stars once hung out, duck into the nearby Sun Valley Inn to dine at The Ram (sunvalley.com/dining). It’s been here since 1937 and just reopened with an elegant new wood-clad interior. The Heritage Menu lets you relive the hearty mountain cuisine of decades past through dishes like Hungarian goulash (1966) and pork schnitzel (1982).