When Hemingway first came to Idaho—on September 19, 1939, to be exact¬ home was Suite 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge. “Glamour House,” he nicknamed it, and so it remains. The Sun Valley Resort is the granddaddy of U.S. ski resorts, the first in the nation, founded by W. Averell Harriman in 1936. Since then it has attracted the rich and famous for seasonal recreation: golf, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, swimming, tennis ice-skating and skiing.
The chic yet cozy Sun Valley Lodge has been updated and remodeled many times and, in fact, the resort just finished another monumental overhaul. You’ll find 108 new and much larger guestrooms, a 20,000-square-foot destination spa, a world class fitness center and yoga studio, a glass enclosed outdoor pool and pool café and re-appointed restaurants, lounges and lobbies.
When I visited in the fall of 2015, I found my room, officially a Lodge Terrace Suite, pleasingly posh. Such a shame I only changed my clothes and slept there. I was awed by the huge king size bed, over-sized spa-like marble bathroom with walk-in shower and soaking tub, a sitting room and a glassed-in fireplace that divided the serene space. Naturally, I turned it on to treat myself to the ambiance of a crackling fire, if only for a few minutes. The mood created called for honeymooners.
In the morning, I perused the lobby and smiled at the celebrity wall of fame photos from past decades. Sun Valley has always featured an Olympic ice rink (even in summer), and notables like Peggy Fleming, Dick Button and newer stars like Michele Kwan have performed or taught there. As you might expect, the dining options run from elegant to relaxed. Even the resort gift shop is much more than just a place to buy monogrammed hotel robes or sundries.
The complex is set amid manicured, peaceful grounds where swans glide across a lake near the entrance, where walkers and joggers find illuminated pathways, and the nearby mountains beckon outdoor enthusiasts. Deluxe villas and cottages dot the property known as The Village. I enjoyed strolling around the glorious fall foliage, something a Floridian misses.
The little town of Ketchum is within walking distance, a combination of European and the Wild West flavor. Begun in the 1880s as a silver mining town, Ketchum now booms year round with upscale boutique hotels, some in the chalet style; small family-owned restaurants; sporting goods stores (think kayaks and moose heads on the walls); high-end gourmet grocery shops and numerous bars and watering holes. (Remember, Hemingway lived here.)
Foodies frequent Ketchum. The Sun Valley Harvest Festival brings food and wine aficionados to town every September. I ate the most incredible dinner of Wagyu filet from Snake River Farms in the Ketchum Grill. The meat cut like butter and melted in my mouth.
To celebrate the area’s Hollywood heritage, the Sun Valley Film Festival launched in March 2012 and became an immediate success. Heading into the fifth year in 2016, the Festival presents world premieres, networking dinners, forums and discussion groups and lively parties. USA Today named Sun Valley one of the Top 10 “Greatest Places for a Fabulous Film Festival.” You never know who you will run into during the Film Fest but don’t make a fuss. Locals never do.
The primary reason for my visit was to attend the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, an event that grew from the annual movement of sheep grazing in the high summer pastures to lower areas in the fall. The path happens to pass through Ketchum, so residents created a celebration.
I love photography and wanted to shoot some pictures of the sheep in the natural setting. So I arose early and climbed a mountain outside of town, in the Wood River Valley. The sheep herders would bring the flock of about 1,500 animals over the mountain pass and later parade them through town. Many folks, especially those of us with cameras, anxiously waited for the first glimpse. No sheep. Eventually, we got word that the herd changed their route and were already below, just off the road. Aren’t sheep supposed to follow?
The onlookers and photographers scurried down and despite the snafus, I captured the rush of fur as bleating ba-bah sounds filled the air. What a wondrous spectacle! Gentle creatures of all sizes swarmed together, mostly dirty white in color, but I was told they add one black sheep for every ten white (to aid counting). Sheepdogs circled round keeping the rambunctious flock moving in unison, and herders on horseback or on foot shouted and whipped red flags in the air to encourage all. You might not think that a bunch of lambs could be so exciting, but I swear the sight raised my fur.
We returned to the van and drove into Ketchum for the festivities. Talk about hometown spirit, the parade featured local boy and girl scout troops, local clubs, Basque and Peruvian dancers, Highland bagpipers, horseback regiments and the bishop and a local priest standing in the middle of the madness to bless the herd. Oh my!
Hilarity broke out when the final group of sheep refused to move forward and a few ornery critters from the previous pack broke away, turned around and ran back through town toward those assembled. Quirky Americana at its best. This multi-day festival, as fantastic as its location, includes lamb cooking lessons, fiber/knitting/dyeing classes, a Sheep Folklife Fair and sheepdog trials. Put it on your calendar (early to mid-October) and head to Idaho.
I almost forgot to mention the luscious lamb barbecue that follows the parade. Foodies, this one’s for you, and in fact, I discovered that Idaho is one fabulous foodie fling.
To Get to Sun Valley: It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Boise.
In Ski season, daily non-stop Flights to Sun Valley from San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.