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Sun Valley, Idaho Travel Guide
 
Last Updated: Nov-08-2011, Hits: 3,717, Rating: 0, Reviews: 0, Votes: 0 Bookmark and Share
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Sun Valley, Idaho Travel Guide Restaurants (41)
Hotels and Lodging (14)
Bars and Nightlife (13)
Attractions (27)
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Stanley, Idaho Travel Guide
 
Location: North America
Geography: Mountains, Forest
Vacation Type: Family, Romantic, Adventure, Cosmopolitan
Popularity: Moderate Tourism
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Skiing, Golfing, Scenery, Camping, Ecotourism, Fishing, Hiking, Shopping, Rafting

Note: This travel guide covers the towns of Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Hailey.

Facts and Stats:
Sun Valley Population: 1,483
Ketchum Population: 3,376
Hailey Population: 8,075
Elevation (Ketchum): 5,920 ft
Country Dialing Code: +1
Area Code: 208
Languages: English
Electricity: 110V
Currency: U.S. Dollar
Time Zone: Mountain (MST) UTC-7/UTC-6 (Summer)
Current Time:

Introduction:
Sun Valley is best known as a destination ski resort often frequented by the rich and famous, however, there is much more going on here. The quaint town of Ketchum just 1 mile away from Sun Valley serves as the apres-ski locale for Bald Mountain as well as the gateway to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and other Wood River Valley communities.

This area, commonly referred to collectively as Sun Valley, is made up of several communities as follows:
  • Sun Valley - Sun Valley has the distinction of being the first destination ski resort in the U.S. The Sun Valley resort, catering to the rich and famous, offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. Winter recreation includes skiing and Bald Mountain (AKA Baldy), heli-skiing, cross-country skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, ice skating and more. Summer activities include fishing, tennis, golf, horseback riding, hiking, biking, and much more. Regardless of the season, the resort provides a wealth of amenities including dining, shopping, pools, spa services, etc.
  • Elkhorn - To the southeast of the Sun Valley Resort is a separate community called Elkhorn which has its own shopping/hotel/condo complex, although it is technically a part of the city of Sun Valley. Elkhorn was initially developed during the late 1960s and 1970s, and offers easy access to the treeless Dollar mountain, a separate ski area best suited for beginner skiers.
  • Ketchum - The town of Ketchum is located a mile south of Sun Valley Resort at the base of Baldy. Often referred to collectively as Sun Valley, Ketchum is actually a distinct Aspen-like town that provides alternative lodging options to the resort, a wealth of bars of and restaurants, and other visitor services such as ski rentals, tour guides, shopping, art galleries, and business services. Ketchum (along with Hailey) is also where many of the Sun Valley Resort employees live.
  • Hailey - The town of Hailey, located 12 miles southeast of Ketchum, is larger than Ketchum and Sun Valley combined. Hailey is home to the Friedman Memorial Airport which services tourist flights to the area.
Geography:
Located in Blaine County in the middle of central Idaho, Sun Valley and neighboring communities are located in the shadows of several impressive mountain ranges. The most discussed and visited of these is the picturesque Sawtooth Mountain Range. This range is part of the Rocky Mountains and has more than 40 peaks over 10,000 feet. These peaks contain over 300 alpine lakes. The image below shows the mountain ranges surrounding the Sun Valley Area.


The area spanning the towns of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue is referred to as the Wood River Valley after the Big Wood River that flows through them. The Warm Springs Creek and Trail Creek empty into the Big Wood River near Ketchum, and collectively, they provide much of the excellent stream fishing in the area.

Brief History:
Although archaeological evidence indicates that Native American peoples (Shoshone and Bannock) were making use of the valley’s natural resources at least 10,000 years ago, the modern history of the Sun Valley area begins in the towns of Ketchum and Hailey. Although trappers and mountain men passed through the area, it was still occupied by the Native Americans. It wasn’t until the Bannock War and the Sheepeater campaigns of 1878 and 1879 ended with the removal of the local natives to the Fort Hall reservation, that prospectors began to drift into the Wood River Valley.

2 men are largely responsible for establishing roots here. John Hailey and his companions built the first structures in Hailey in 1879 while, during the same year, David Ketchum built the first structure in Ketchum. The 1880's brought a mining boom to the valley and it became one of the wealthiest mining districts in the northwest. The boom continued when the Oregon Shortline railroad reached Ketchum in 1884, however, the ore veins quickly dried up by the mid 1890's and the area lost most of its population.

Ketchum managed to hang on thanks to the rail service, but the town didn't fully come back until a new industry came about. Beginning in the late 1800's, sheepherders drove their sheep into the valley, and by 1920, Ketchum had become the largest sheep shipping station in the U.S. and the 2nd largest in the world (Sydney, Australia was the largest).

In 1935, Count Felix Schaffgotsch, under the hire of Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman, set out in search of the perfect spot to develop the United States' first destination ski resort like those found in Switzerland and Austria. The Count toured Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Yosemite, the San Bernardino Mountains, Zion, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Wasatch Mountains, Pocatello, Jackson Hole, and Grand Targhee areas, but none of them met is specifications. After several months of searching, the count was on his way back to New York when an Union Pacific official suggested that he check out Ketchum. After visiting the area, he wired his boss saying, "This combines more delightful features than any place I have ever seen in Switzerland, Austria or the U.S. for a winter resort." Days later, 4300 acres of land that would become Sun Valley Resort were purchased. After only 1.5 million dollars and 7 months of construction, the resort was opened in the winter of 1936. That same year, the world's first chair lifts were built on Dollar and Proctor mountains. Development of Bald Mountain began in 1938 and 3 chair lifts were installed in 1939.

Sun Valley instantly became popular with celebrities. Author Ernest Hemingway completed For Whom the Bell Tolls while staying in suite 206 of the Lodge in the fall of 1939. After committing suicide, he was buried in the Ketchum cemetery. Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper and many others were regular visitors.

During WWII, the resort was closed and turned into a convalescent hospital for the navy. The resort was reopened in 1946. Noted skiing filmmaker Warren Miller arrived shortly after and later began producing his movies.

Rail service was discontinued to Ketchum in 1964, and that November, the resort was sold to the Janss Investment Company headed by Bill Janss, a former Olympic ski team member. Janss made a number of major improvements to the resort and mountain, and by 1977 Janss was running low on funds. He entered into negotiations to sell the resort to the Walt Disney Company. While the negotiations with Disney stalled, Earl Holding, a Utah businessman, learned of the situation through a small article in The Wall Street Journal and contacted Janss and arranged for a meeting. For around $12 million, Holding purchased Sun Valley through his company, Sinclair Oil, which operates the Little America Hotels & Resorts. Under Holding's stewardship, many more improvements have been made and Sun Valley remains a world class skiing destination.

People & Culture:
While Sun Valley was designed for the rich and famous, the growth of Ketchum has created plenty of opportunities for families, nature lovers, ski bums, and everybody in between to enjoy what the valley has to offer. That hasn't changed the fact that celebrities still flock here. John Kerry, Candace Bergen, Clint Eastwood, Robin Williams, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Clint Eastwood, to name a few, are regular visitors. Many celebrities own property and businesses here as well.

The high profile clientele has created an arts scene that offers a variety of opportunities through over thirty presenting organizations. Local, regional and nationally known artists are represented through gallery exhibitions, concerts, theater productions, dance productions, film festivals, lectures, opera and symphonic performances. Many claim that the arts scene here rivals that of most big cities.

The Sun Valley area tends to be one of the most politically liberal areas in predominantly conservative Idaho.

Food & Nightlife:
Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey all have a number of excellent restaurants to choose from. Sun Valley Resort has several restaurants, however, Ketchum and Hailey have some of the best restaurants around, many of them focusing on Pacific Northwest Cuisine. Common entrees include lamb, steak, salmon and trout.

Most of the nightlife is in Ketchum and it is quite healthy with many establishments staying open until 2am. For more information, see the Bars & Nightlife section of this guide.

Money & Costs:
Sun Valley Resort is on the expensive side, however, more affordable accomodations can be found in Ketchum. For those that don't need immediate access to the mountain, even less expensive lodging can be located in Hailey.

Ski lift tickets are on par with other ski areas. At the time of this writing Baldy is $62 for an adult full day.

Access to money is no problem as there are a number of major banks and plenty of ATMs around.

Tipping in restaurants and cabs follows the U.S. standard of 15-20%.

Getting There & Around:
If you plan to fly to Sun Valley, you will arrive at the Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN) in Hailey. The airport is currently serviced by Sky West Airlines (Delta). Those of means often fly in by charter jet; Gulfstreams are a common site at the airport. Another option is to fly into the Boise airport and drive 3 hours.

Sun Valley Resort and some of the other accomodations offer shuttle service from the airport which also has Avis and Hertz rental cars. There are also a number of private taxi and limo companies to choose from.

It is entirely possible to get around without a rental car. If you are staying in Ketchum, the town is very walkable and during the summer, bicycles can be rented as well. If you are here during the winter months or need to get to one of the other Wood River Valley towns, Mountain Rides Transportation Authority offers free bus service between Sun Valley, Elkhorn, Ketchum, Warm Springs, Hailey and Bellevue.

A car would be a good idea during the warmer months for exploring the surrounding Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Weather:
Despite the evergreen forest, the Wood River Valley actually has a 4 season high-desert climate. With an average humidity of only 30%, and 15 inches of precipitation per year, the northern latitude creates long days, with 15 hours of sunshine in the summer. Dry sunny summers and mild sunny winters gave the resort community its well-deserved name. Winters are very cold with an annual snowfall of 150 inches. Below are the current conditions.


The table below shows the average high and low temperatures.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg High 32 36 44 53 62 71 81 80 70 57 42 31
Avg Low 8 10 19 27 34 40 45 43 35 28 17 8
Precipitation 2.10" 1.82" 1.68" 1.25" 1.76" 1.49" 0.64" 0.67" 0.91" 1.37" 1.73" 2.61"

Tips & Additional Information:
  • Redfish Lake is an hour north of Ketchum and is well worth the visit. Visit our Stanley, Idaho travel guide for more information.
  • Bald Mountain has the largest automated snow making system in the world.
  • Bald Mountain has virtually no lift lines due to their lift capacity.
  • Baldy has two access points; River Run Plaza and Warm Springs Day Lodge. See the mountain map on Sun Valley's website for more information.
  • During the summer months, Sun Valley Resort offers ice shows featuring many of the world's best skaters.





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