Resort Guide 2018: West #2
Want to judge a resort? Look at its residents. Sun Valley attracts real skiers. They work hard. Ski just about every (decent) day. Raise ripping kids. And then ski some more. They don’t view it as a big deal because that’s the natural rhythm of skiing’s Shangri-La: lots and lots of turns and very little attitude, which is surprising considering the celebrity lure of this place. Two undeniable draws remain the quiet confidence about its rich legacy and its classic long, elegant fall lines.
The we’re-cooler-than-you-are local vibe that can intimidate visitors at some of the big-name skier’s mountains (you know who you are) isn’t part of the culture here. Running a tight operation is, witness the No. 1 in Lifts and No. 2 in Grooming rankings, supported by “real mountain lodges that are a beautiful common ground for all skiers and boarders,” a reader applauds. Roll in the so-called soft category rankings of Character (No. 2), Service (No. 2), Lodging (No. 3), and Après and Dining (No. 4), and you’ve arrived at, well, an alpine Shangri-La. Sure, there’s a reason the resort was named Sun Valley rather than Powder Valley... but not last year, which boasted the 2nd highest snowpack in about a decade. Combine the snow with what many readers tout as “the best natural slopes in North America,” and you’ve got yourself a real vacation—or a home away from home. Plugging into the SV gestalt tends to be a soul-warming experience—whether you’re looking for it or not— and makes some readers downright poetic. “Residents are grateful to live in a time out of place, off the fast track, and we find a high frequency of open hearts.”
Forget the history. Forget the movie stars and the Gulfstream gazillionaires. Forget even—just for a moment—the über-iconic Sun Valley Lodge, with its recent spare-no-expense makeover. All those things are special parts of Sun Valley’s mystique. But there’s even more to its magic, readers say. Strip away all the clichés and it’s still a place that leaves a lasting impression on visitors and locals alike. It’s that Idaho keep-it-realness. It’s strolling the streets of Ketchum, a ski town with an unmistakable sense of place, at sunset—or carousing in its lively bars at night. It’s the vibe of the folks who live here (and can barely hide their pity for you because you don’t). It’s the spectacular scenery and wildlife. In short, you could be a non-skier and still be enchanted by Sun Valley. But that would be a shame: No one calls it a powder mecca, but readers love the skier’s-mountain feel of the slopes, with their sustained pitches and efficient lifts. “Vertical and more vertical. The only flat spot is the lift line.” And if you do catch Sun Valley on a powder day, surfing The Burn might change your life and the way you look at forest fires. “No cookie-cutter developments, no box stores, no suburbia,” says one reader. Another: “It’s the island-time of ski resorts. You’re just so blissed out being there that you stop racing the other car for the closest parking spot.”
You don’t have to be a big bowler to have fun in the Lodge’s famous basement bowling alley—cooler than ever since the hotel’s big renovation.
Upgrades and renovations of the classic Ram Restaurant and adjacent Ram Bar. And with the applauded $50 million Sun Valley Lodge relaunch be- hind ’em, a recasting of the Sun Valley Inn is underway.
Ride the gondie to the Roundhouse: elegant on-mountain dining in a timber-and-stone structure built in 1939.
Natural hot springs. The Big Wood River Valley abounds with them, and you don’t have to get naked. (It’s illegal. Phew.)
The Limelight in Ketchum opened last season and is every bit as lively as the Aspen original. The Lounge is the beating heart of the place.