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.