Inaugurated in 1936, Sun Valley was created and financed by the Union Pacific Railroad Company as a showcase Western mountain destination resort to promote its transnational train services. Designed to attract American high society, Hollywood stars and celebrities, it set a benchmark for top-quality mountain resort facilities and services; the first ever chairlifts in the world were specially designed and installed here for its opening ski season.
The resort succeeded in attracting its target market of rich and famous visitors, and continues to do so, welcoming many stars of stage and screen, high-profile politicians, captains of industry, renowned artists and celebrated writers; Ernest Hemingway was a resident here for many years, and is believed to have completed writing For Whom The Bell Tolls here during one of his early stays at the resort in 1939.
Facilities and services at the prime Sun Valley Village are generally first class, with luxury accommodation and high-quality amenities; a wider selection of lodging options, shopping and leisure attractions are also available nearby in and around Ketchum town.
The resort's Dollar/Elkhorn ski area sits next to Sun Valley Village, whilst the separate larger Bald Mountain ski area rises on the far side of Ketchum.
Dollar/Elkhorn was the first zone to be developed as a ski area at Sun Valley; ideal for beginners and novices, it consists predominately of gentle green-graded trails on the open slopes of the treeless, sun-catching, Dollar Mountain, with home-run pistes to Sun Valley Village's base area. On the far side of this mountain, away from the beginners' slopes, the Elkhorn sector offers a few steeper runs which are perfect for confidence building for progressing novices.
Sun Valley's principal ski area is the separate Bald Mountain area that sits on the opposite (south-western) side of Ketchum town; the closest access point from Sun Valley Village is at River Run base area, the distance between these two points being just under three kilometres by road. All base areas are linked by free ski-bus service, which also serves Sun Valley Village and downtown Ketchum.
Bald Mountain, aka Baldy to locals, is often cited as having the most ideal top-to-bottom slope gradients in the USA, earning it high ratings from keen intermediate skiers and snowboarders who appreciate the fast non-stop descents it delivers, with no tedious flat sections.
Extending across four distinct ridges, Bald Mountain ski area mostly consists of enjoyable tree-lined intermediate runs that make the most of the mountain's celebrated consistent gradient; some of the best fall-line descents are to be found in the northern sector, dropping down to another base-area access point called Warm Springs.
Here, and elsewhere across the mountain, advanced skiers and riders will find a number of enjoyable steep pitches together with some mogul fields; the most challenging descents are to be found in the open bowls off the uppermost ridge from Bald Mountain peak, where a series of steep chutes keep all but the most demanding of experts on their toes.
For Nordic ski enthusiasts, more than 40km of cross-country ski trails are available at Sun Valley's Nordic Ski Centre at the Sun Valley Club, with circuits pisted for both skate-style and classic-style cross-country skiing.
Off the slopes and apres ski
The Sun Valley Inn and the Sun Valley Lodge both have heated leisure pools; circular in form and enclosed against the elements they both resemble huge hot tubs, the Sun Valley Lodge facility even offers a pool-side cocktail bar service during pre-dinner apres-ski hours. The Sun Valley Lodge also has a day-spa and beauty salon.
Alternative activities available locally include snow-tubing, snowshoe trekking and ice skating at two ice rinks, one indoor, one outdoor; ten-pin bowling is also available at a six-lane alley housed in Sun Valley Lodge.
Horse-drawn sleigh rides are another popular activity, and can be booked to include a romantic dinner at Trail Creek Cabin. Dining at any of the resort's many top-notch restaurants is typically the most popular way of spending the evening in Sun Valley; there are also plenty of mid-range and casual eateries too, particularly in downtown Ketchum.
Apres ski and nightlife is generally quite reserved and seldom raucous here; afternoons at the River Run Plaza are often animated with live music, whilst Apple's Bar at Warm Springs base area is one of the liveliest apres-ski hangouts. At Sun Valley Village, the classy Duchin Lounge at Sun Valley Lodge is the prime nightspot, renowned for its regular live jazz sessions and late(ish) dancing.
Downtown Ketchum has a nice selection of friendly laid-back bars and lounges, most of which serve good food too.
Bars and clubs