Base Camps: The Lookout

A salute to Sun Valley’s glorious on-mountain watering hole and taco bar.
Lookout Lodge Party

As a reckless, broke-ass youth, I experimented with all manners of budget mountain sustenance: pocket PB-and-J, ketchup-packet tomato soup, Clif bars, and cup-o-soups. Though cost-effective, these options never seemed to cure the hunger pangs of a good day on the hill. My hollow stomach always let me know I was cutting a few corners.

Now that I’m somewhat gainfully employed, I like to splurge a bit on my on-hill eats, but $16 lodge burgers make me ill. I’m also a big supporter establishments with character that serve up tasty and affordable mountain fare, which is why The Lookout at Sun Valley, Idaho, is one of my favorite on-hill spots in the country. 

The Lookout has that musty, old, brown-bag lodge feel that one comes to miss in the modern era of white-tablecloth mountain dining and extravagant chalets. The one-story, flat-roofed building on the summit of Baldy Mountain is a stark contrast to Sun Valley’s other lavish lodges. But what it lacks in luxury, it easily makes up in personality. It’s the on-mountain meeting point for just about every hoodlum that calls Idaho’s Wood River Valley home. At any one point during the day, there are usually a few dozen folks in the Lookout that have skied Sun Valley for 30 to 40 years mixed in with an equal amount of younger faces. It’s the site of extended après and late-season parties. And as of this year, it’s also home to a damn fine taco bar where $3 gets you a heaping pile of pork barbacoa, chili-roasted chicken, or beef al pastor wrapped up with all the accoutrements and topped off with a serve-yourself salsa bar. Tall cans of beer ring out at the low-low price of $3 so a legitimately filling lunch—two tacos and a beer—will only set you back $9. It’s fricking brilliant.

For regular folks, skiing can be a high-dollar proposition these days, which is why funky, rootsy, and genuine on-mountain establishments like The Lookout should be celebrated. There aren’t a whole heck of a lot of them left.

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Bald Mountain’s shady north face is named after the hot springs-fed creek that runs through the base area. The signature run, Warm Springs, is one of the classic groomer descents in the country. If you can’t have fun on Warm Springs, you need a fresh tune and a ski lesson. This is not the place to slide a turn or suck at skiing. Few things compare to over 3,000 vertical feet of high-speed GS turns down this alley. Your legs will tremble and your lips will quiver with a strange mix of terror, excitement, and exhaustion. Warm Springs will make you remember that like powder, carving is pretty damn exhilarating. Plus, if you luck out with a fat storm with southwest flow, The Burn, the sidecountry zone created by the 2007 Castle Rock wildfire just off Warm Spring’s western boundary, is some of the best powder skiing in the country.

Secrets to Skiing Sun Valley

It’s a simple existence in Sun Valley, Idaho. Ski, party, repeat. But combine a demanding mountain with celebrity sightings and seemingly bottomless schooners of beer, and spending time at America’s most storied ski resort is anything but easy. Here’s a guide to doing it right.

Sun Valley has a wealth of restaurants, both fine dining for a romantic date and casual family-friendly hotspots.  To play it fancy, visit the Lodge Dining Room.  For a hearty prime rib, go to the Pioneer Saloon.  Look no further than Il Naso for an urban Italian experience.  To spend quality time with your family overlooking the ice rink, head to Gretchen's.

Sun Valley

Sun Valley’s terrain—ranging from high-speed rippers to wide-open bowls—never gets old.

Reggie Crist in Sun Valley

Inside Line: Sun Valley, ID

Sun Valley oozes history. In 1936, it debuted the world’s first chairlift and became a full-fledged destination resort, drawing visitors like Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and Louis Armstrong. And in 1946, Warren Miller started making ski movies there. Today, Sun Valley’s the home of ski-film stars Zach and Reggie Crist and the premier heli-ski outfitter in Idaho. But the real reason it’s a resort for the ages: Sun Valley’s terrain—ranging from high-speed rippers to wide-open bowls—never gets old.

Idaho cashed in this past week, with Silver Mountain getting 4" this past week and other resorts receiving even more.Photo Courtesy of Silver Mountain

Silver Mountain

With only 20 percent of the mountain geared toward beginners, Silver Mountain is your own private, snow-shellacked Idaho.