Sun Valley, Idaho, took inspiration from Europeans when it debuted as the United States’ first destination ski resort in 1936.
It, in turn, gave the world the first ski chairlift. Union Pacific Railroad magnate W. Averell Harriman hired an Austrian count to find the best place in the United States for a ski resort that would give people a reason to ride his trains. He found that spot in this rugged Western state. Situated amid mountains covered with Douglas fir pine 480 kilometers northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, the resort lives up to its name with plenty of sunshine. It regularly wins accolades in U.S. ski magazines, which might be why Sun Valley is an official Olympic training site — one of the reasons dozens of living Olympians from around the world call it home.
Where to Hit the Slopes
Bald Mountain features 1,036 meters of vertical drop and wide-open slopes. And nearby Dollar Mountain, which can be accessed on the same lift ticket, has an Olympic-regulation super pipe plus a playground full of walls, jumps and snow-cross courses.
The nearby Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center provides 40 kilometers of manicured skate and classic ski tracks, while the Blaine County Recreation District maintains more than 200 kilometers of additional trails — 50 of them around the rustic Galena Lodge on the site of an old mining town.
Dozens of Olympians call Sun Valley home, so they can practice on incredible terrain at Bald Mountain and other spots.
What to Explore in Summer
Mountain bikers can take to more than 643 kilometers of trails winding through the scenic Boulder, Pioneer and Smoky mountains, and hikers can stroll through wildflower bouquets.
Consider playing on the water, too. Fly-fishermen cast lines into the Big Wood River, which courses through the nearby town of Ketchum. About 100 kilometers to the north, boating and paddleboard rentals are available at idyllic Redfish Lake, surrounded by the jagged Sawtooth Mountains.
Other Things to See and Do
After a day on the trail, relax and listen as the Sun Valley Summer Symphony brings together top musicians from U.S. orchestras to perform three weeks of free concerts with world-renowned talent such as Joshua Bell during late July and early August.
Ketchum’s Wagon Days Celebration the first weekend of every September brings out tall covered wagons, the kind that brought silver from nearby mountains. The wagons, drawn by 22 mules, are joined by dozens of authentic stagecoaches in the Northwest’s largest nonmotorized parade.
During the second weekend in October, 2,000 muttons waltz down Ketchum’s Main Street in a parade commemorating the migration that sheep still make from summer pastures in the mountains. The Trailing of the Sheep Festival includes Basque and Peruvian dancers, bagpipers and more.
Where to Eat and Stay
Considered one of the crown jewels of the valley, the Sun Valley Lodge, designed in 1936 by the architect who designed Yellowstone National Park’s iconic lodge, boasts suites named for Clint Eastwood and other celebrities who frequent Sun Valley.
Idaho is known for its potatoes. They bake them big at the Pioneer Saloon, an authentic western-style saloon with 1890s bullet boards and Western antiques overlooking generous cuts of prime rib, buffalo burgers and Idaho rainbow trout.
The rustic Trail Creek Cabin, once frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper, can be accessed by sleigh ride for those hankering for Rocky Mountain elk, steelhead trout and bison short ribs.