THE FIRST MODERN SKIER TO SPEND three perfect days in Sun Valley, Idaho, was Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch. In 1936, diplomatically destined Averell Harriman, the president of Union Pacific Railroad, commissioned Schaffgotsch to search for what could become the American West’s version of the popular Swiss winter sports center St. Moritz. Schaffgotsch hoped to discover a meteorological Rubik’s Cube: a perfect mix of freezing but not frigid temperatures and deep but not impassable or unskiable snow. He was looking for a place where indigo skies framed each day and powerful storms ruled the night. And he wanted it all surrounded by towering mountains. Last, this perfectly powdery place should have an authentic Western town.
Author Andrew Slough Photography Sally Gall
DAY THREE / Rise with dawn’s first light, order a room service breakfast, and check for clear skies: You’ve booked a day of untracked deep powder backcountry skiing with Sun Valley Heli Ski Guides. (If the copters are grounded, skip the room service and plan to be at Bald Mountain at 8:30 a.m. for first tracks.) Your heliskiing adventure is a chance to study the surrounding mountains, valleys, and rivers—first from the security of a Bell 407 helicopter and then from inside your own cloud of blowing crystalline snow. Head guide and Olympic skier Pete Patterson welcomes all levels of skiers to the backcountry.
When you’ve had your fill of fun, wind down your days of downhill, Nordic, and heliskiing with a stop at the Konditorei for a pastry. Then head back to the Sun Valley Lodge Spa for a relaxing, by now almost mandatory, massage.
When you’re feeling refreshed, stretch a little more of the stiffness out of your legs with an easy stroll eastward out Trail Creek. Pause in the cool evening air to contemplate lingering for another week, a month, or the rest of your life. Follow the small path toward Trail Creek to read the dedication on the Hemingway memorial, a final exclamation point to a romantic history of literati, movie stars, and ordinary ski bums who were drawn to this magical valley. Though he didn’t intend it to, the writer’s simple rhyme, “Best of all he loved the fall,” evokes Sun Valley’s year-round allure.
Dress is coat and tie for dinner in the Lodge Dining Room. Try Chef Wamsley’s phenomenal sautéed à la minute medallion of elk with port and plum sauce. By the end of the meal, you’ll be looking back over exactly the kind of experience that has put Sun Valley on every skier’s map. It’s the perfect place for anyone to spend three memorable winter days.
Andrew Slough has lived in Sun Valley for 30 years. As the author of The Traveling Skier, he has skied all over the world. But, he confesses, Sun Valley’s serenade always lures him home.
Sun Valley is often referred to as a mountain desert. Precipitation is modest, but enough snow falls to make skiers happy. Seasonal snowfall averages about 115 inches. With an average snowfall of 16 inches, November kicks off the ski season. Strong Pacific cold fronts become more frequent in the northern Rockies, providing the majority of significant snows. January and February bring the most snow, with each month averaging 2 feet of fresh powder. Summers are pleasant, with mild days and cool nights, although occasional hot spells can push highs into the lower 90s.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more Sun Valley climatological details, visit weather.com.
You’ll want to rent a car. Shuttles can be arranged at the lodge’s concierge desk (Tel: 208-622-2907). Ketchum Area Rapid Transit buses (Tel: 208-726-4638 or kart-sunvalley.com) are ideal for in-town errands. Ride Sun Valley’s vintage yellow school buses from Sun Valley Lodge to new River Run Lodge or Warm Springs Lodge at the base of Bald Mountain.
A Local Color (160 4th Street West, Ketchum; Tel: 208-726-2788) Kids can paint their own pottery.
B Ketchum YMCA (101 Saddle Road; Tel: 208-727-9622; woodriverymca.org) The new facility includes an aquatics center and a climbing canyon for kids.