I could vaguely make out the center line as I headed north on U.S. 93. The oxidized headlights I’d been neglecting struggled to illuminate much beyond the snow falling directly in front of my windshield, but the perilous weather provided ample motivation to make it to Ketchum, Idaho. Sure, I could have avoided the five-hour ordeal with a 50-minute Delta flight from Salt Lake City to the Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, but there’s something about a white-knuckle drive through a blizzard that gets the juices flowing for a powder day at Sun Valley.

Why, Exactly, Drive North in a Snowstorm?

Utah’s rarely wanting for snow, so it takes more than some heavy flurries to get me out on the road. But Sun Valley, home of the world’s first chairlift, is quite literally the birthplace of American resort skiing. The area has a pioneering mountain-sport legacy, and now it’s more convenient and affordable than ever for Utah skiers to experience. 

Sun Valley travel
Sun Valley­: winter sports under a summer sun.

Epic Pass holders have seven days of skiing at Sun Valley included with their 2019-2020 season pass, allowing them to venture north without buying a day ticket. Other passholders or those seeking a little variety can spring for the new $399 Sun and Snow Pass, which provides three days of skiing at Sun Valley as well as three days of skiing at their sister resort in Utah, Snowbasin.

Back to the Trip

I found refuge in the climate-controlled parking garage of the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum. The hotel’s eccentricities—my room had a View-Master stereoscope (think steampunk Instagram)—and contemporary art collection may not match Sun Valley’s sepia-toned aesthetic, but it’s a wonderfully comfortable place to spend the night. In the lounge I grabbed a cocktail and some Idaho Truffle Fries while watching live, local music—featured at Limelight every Friday through Sunday night—before turning in.

Sun Valley travel
Limelight Hotel

Limelight Hotel: 151 Main St. S, Ketchum, ID, 208-726-0888, limelighthotels.com

Hit the Slopes

I was up early to grab a quick breakfast downstairs before heading to River Run Plaza at the base of Sun Valley’s Baldy. For all their virtues, resorts in the Wasatch Mountains tend to have benches breaking up the fall line. Baldy’s defining trait is its consistent gradient over 3,400 vertical feet. I headed straight up to the top of Christmas Lift for untouched turns down Christmas Bowl and Rock Garden before heading out Lookout Lift towards Easter Bowl. When it was time for a break, I let gravity take hold down Limelight towards the Warm Springs base area.

Sun Valley travel
Mt. Baldy’s defining trait is its consistent gradient over 3,400 vertical feet.

The Warm Springs day lodge is a perfectly serviceable—luxurious even—ski lodge with excellent food. That said, I’d recommend walking right past it and going to Irving’s Red Hots. The quirky red shack on Picabo St. is anathema to profiteering ski resort developers. Less than five bucks gets you an authentic Chicago-style kraut dog and a bag of chips, and there’s a bucket of Double Bubble to help get the poppy seeds out of your teeth. Multiple ski patrollers strolling up to get lunch while in their boots reinforce the establishment’s local credibility.

Sun Valley: 1 Sun Valley Rd., Sun Valley, 800-786-8259, sunvalley.com

Irving’s Red Hots: 204 Picabo St., Ketchum, 208-720-1664


After a couple more leg-burning laps off Challenger Lift, I was ready for some rejuvenation. I headed to Zenergy Health Club and Spa. For $25, Limelight guests can get a day pass to Zenergy, which includes a gym, Pilates and yoga studios, personal trainers, spin classes, comprehensive spa treatments and more. All I wanted was a soak in the hot tub for my sore muscles and a relaxing stint in the Himalayan salt sauna and eucalyptus steam room.

A Brief Historical Aside

At its inception, Sun Valley was a ploy to get people to buy train tickets. Union Pacific Railroad Chairman W. Averell Harriman wanted to increase ridership on passenger trains in the West by capitalizing on the winter sports boom following the 1932 Winter Olympics, so he enlisted Austrian Sportsman Count Felix Von Schaffgotsch to help him find a location for a mountain resort similar to St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps. Central Idaho, with its ample snowfall and generous sunshine, was christened the place to enjoy “winter sports under a summer sun.” In the fall of 1936, U.P. engineers designed and installed the world’s first chairlifts on Dollar and Proctor Mountains, and Sun Valley, the first ski resort in the U.S., was off and running. Walls of the lodge are lined with photographs of celebrities—Bruce Willis owns property nearby. The best are those from the 30s and 40s, with Hollywood stars bundled up in wool sweaters on those long old skis.

Ready for some more traditional après, I headed to The Ram Bar at Sun Valley Village for a beer and a smoked trout plate. The Ram is steeped in a bit of history itself. One of the walls was adorned with traditional Austrian Doppelmayr Cowbells to commemorate each of Sun Valley’s lifts, and though I saw little dancing, the Hokey Pokey is said to have originated there. Fine dining abounds throughout Sun Valley and Ketchum, but I eschewed hyperbolic Yelp reviews in favor of ordering prime rib from the bar at Main Street’s famed Pioneer Saloon. You probably should too.   

Zenergy: 245 Raven Rd., Ketchum,
208-725-0595, zenergysv.com

The Ram: 1 Sun Valley Rd., Sun Valley, 208-622-2266

Pioneer Saloon: 320 N. Main St., Ketchum, 208-726-3139, pioneersaloon.com

Exit Strategy

I grabbed a couple European-style pastries and a cup of locally-roasted coffee from Konditorei Restaurant before heading back over to Baldy. I was greeted by sunshine and immaculate corduroy at the top of Challenger Lift and proceeded to run a few seemingly-endless, two-mile laps down Warm Springs. From there, it was time to steer the car back towards reality. But I’d only scratched the surface, and it is safe to say I’ll be back.

Konditorei: 1 Sun Valley Rd., Sun Valley, 208-622-2235

See more Travel content here.

[thrive_leads id='25733']