Queen of the Rockies: America’s Classic Ski Destination
Before there was Vail or Aspen or Telluride, there was Sun Valley, America’s original ski destination, created in 1936 by statesman Averell Harriman and today still considered the nation’s finest. At the time, Harriman was chairman of the board of Union Pacific Railroad, and created the resort as a way to fill his trains during the off-season winter months.
He built its centerpiece, the luxurious Sun Valley Lodge, to encourage extended stays. From its infancy, the resort attracted a celebrity crowd (Norma Shearer married her ski instructor here), with the area’s rugged Sawtooth Mountains (forty-two of whose peaks reach at least 10,000 feet) filling in easily whenever the Alps just seemed too far to go for the weekend. Today, the celebs arrive by private jet, and the world’s speediest lifts and largest snowmaking system have picked up where the world’s first alpine chairlift left off (cost back then: 25 cents).
The 80-percent sunshine rate and laidback, small-town atmosphere remain the same, though, allowing Sun Valley to retain its numero uno status among the country’s ski spots. The resort’s main ski mountain, the world-class peak affectionately known as Baldy, boasts a 3,400-foot vertical drop; of its sixty-five steep runs, 45 percent are intermediate level. The area also offers the country’s best Nordic/cross-country skiing, and is just as popular as a playground destination in summer.
Much of the après-ski action takes place down the road in the old mining town of Ketchum, first put on the map when Ernest Hemingway set up camp here in 1939. His love of the area helped promote the top-rate fishing, hunting, riding, and hiking that the Big Wood River Valley promises during summer months.
Papa’s still present, in more ways than one: He was buried here in 1961. His spirit lingers on at the classy and historic Pioneer Saloon, still the place for 32-once prime ribs and Idaho’s best potatoes.