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Sun Valley Rising

America’s first ski resort is still one of the finest places for a winter escape, with luxuries and adventures on and off the slopes for the whole family.

There are worse places to be snowed-in than Sun Valley. For one, the Idaho ski resort is utterly breathtaking when blanketed beneath a thick cloak of white, whether you take it all in from the top of Bald Mountain or from a cozy fireside perch in Ketchum. The quaint village is as much a part of the appeal as the area’s mountainous terrain—both of which drew Averell Harriman to establish the United States’ first ski resort there in 1936. The Union Pacific Railroad chairman created the destination in the image of Europe’s most storied ski retreats, building Swiss-style chalets in a charming, walkable town center that would bring powder-loving Americans from all over the country to his snowy paradise.

In many ways, Sun Valley still feels like that erstwhile escape of yesteryear. The legendary destination holds an important place in the annals of global ski history for a multitude of reasons: It became the home of the world’s first chairlift in 1936. Clark Gable, Ingrid Bergman, and Ernest Hemingway were all regulars on its mountains. And both the fog-resistant ski goggle and Powder magazine were founded there. And today, wherever you go, you’ll find an appropriately hearty dose of nostalgia that pays homage to those glory days.

Cold Springs Big Bowl | photo courtesy of Sun Valley Resort
Mountaintop dining at Roundhouse | photo courtesy of Sun Valley Resort

But even with its glittering past, Sun Valley remains laidback and unpretentious—just like its patrons, who will tell you that the friendliness you encounter everywhere is as genuine as it is infectious. You can even sense it on the slopes, where there’s a perfect terrain for every skill level: Beginners and families can conquer Dollar Mountain’s gentler slopes, while 3,400-foot Bald Mountain’s was made for those with a need for speed. (This season, Baldy, as it’s called by locals, even unveiled 380 acres of new terrain.)

Still, swishing down the slopes is only the beginning of the enduring allure of Sun Valley. Off skis, you’ll find this little resort packs a big punch, with dozens of restaurants, shops, and nightlife offerings. Here’s an insider’s guide to the best of them.

Where to Shop, Eat, and Drink in Sun Valley

Pre-Ski Breakfast: Kondotorei Embracing Sun Valley’s European influences, this bakery will transport your taste buds to the Old World, serving Austrian pastries, buttermilk biscuits and schnitzel, and hot cocoa in a chalet-style cafe. Return in the afternoon to sample the great selection of biere, including a number of craft pilsners and lagers from Germany.

Mountaintop Dining: Roundhouse America’s first on-mountain restaurant opened in 1939, and it’s still a sight for sore eyes after a day on the slopes. Located midway up Bald Mountain at 7,700 feet, it will warm your soul and your stomach, with Swiss fondue and Irish Coffee on the menu and staghorn chandeliers and a roaring fireplace in the cozy mountain-view dining room.

Caffeine Break: Maude’s Coffee & Clothes Care to pair that organic latte with some avocado toast—or perhaps a vintage denim jacket? Why not! Maude’s multidisciplinary cafe plus thrift shop might lure you in with the smell of fragrant coffee (all roasted locally) but it will keep you shopping long after the first sip with its curated selection of hand-knit sweaters, prairie dresses, and loungewear. For some fuel for the slopes, grab a fresh banana walnut muffin; and for a look that will impress off the slopes, pick up a kimono-style jacket or lacy slip dress.

Local’s Après-Ski Spot: Grumpy’s Sun Valley is the rare American ski resort where locals and tourists happily rub elbows, trade stories, and toast brews with one another. Sidle up to the bar at this favorite haunt and share a burger and a beer with the friendly residents—and if you really want to fit in, upgrade your pint to a 32-ounce “schooner.”

Retail Therapy: Independent Goods The essence of Americana is encapsulated in the art, jewelry, and even candles at this local shop championing independent artisans and Sun Valley’s classic vintage aesthetic. Browse Idaho native Diane Stewart-Heiner’s bracelets and rings forged from antique bronze nails; pick up a few soy candles poured into vintage tins; or grab a souvenir from IG’s own proprietary collection of T-shirts and bandanas.

Old-School Fine-Dining: Michel’s Christiana You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Ernest Hemingway had a standing table at this upscale Ketchum restaurant known by locals as “the Christy.” Established in 1959 by former Olympic Alpine Ski coach Michel Rudigoz, the establishment feels like a step back into a more elegant (and decidedly more French) time, serving bistro classics like escargot bourguignon and paté in the fancy dining room, along with an extensive French wine list in the wood-paneled Olympic Bar.

New-School Culinary Favorite: The Covey Another mecca of high culinary art, the Covey is to New American food what the Christy is to old-fashioned French. Run by Ketchum local Jesse Sheue, who cut his teeth in well-regarded kitchens throughout Southern California, the cozy restaurant is known for its hearth-cooked seasonal dishes, homemade pastas, and hyper-local protein like pheasant and elk. Like the menu, the artwork on display in the dining room changes regularly, thanks to local gallery Lipton Fine Arts, which has lent to Sheue original works from world-famous artists including Marc Chagall and Alexander Calder.

Where to Stay in Sun Valley

Exclusive Resorts’ residences at Les Saisons are located in the heart of Ketchum, at the base of Dollar Mountain, and within walking distance of the area’s best restaurants and shops. Recently renovated, the three-bedroom units are spacious and cozy, with all the comforts of home, including fully stocked kitchens, fireplaces, media rooms, and laundry rooms. Les Saisons also features a fitness center, spa, ski lockers, and a rooftop pool.