Like many ski towns, Sun Valley has a rich history in ski culture, celebrity sightings, and après-ski traditions. But unlike the Aspens, Jacksons, and Vails of the world, this resort, nestled between five mountain ranges and far from metropolitan hubs, lays claim to a few unrivaled traditions, firsts, and designations that truly set it apart from the rest.
(photo: The Community Library)
Sun Valley is home to the world’s first chairlift. Designed by James Curran of the Union Pacific Railroad, the first chairs were installed in 1936 on Dollar and Proctor mountains. Modeled after conveyor belts used to load cargo boats, the chairlift design replaced rope tows and J-bars, common transportation of that era. The chairlift put Sun Valley on the map as a the destination U.S. ski resort. You can still visit remenants of the chair currently rubbing elbows with a few of Sun Valley’s grandiose homes.
Olympic Breeding Grounds
It’s no secret that Sun Valley has bred its fair share of Olympians. Take Picabo Street, Kaitlyn Farrington, Hilary Knight, and Chase Josey for example. Sun Valley was designated as a Nordic skiing training ground and in 2015, the USOC Olympic and Paralympic Training Site designation expanded to include alpine, freestyle, freeskiing and snowboarding disciplines. The designation attracts top athletes to the valley to train and to take advantage the terrain and facilities of Sun Valley.
Dark Skies at Night
Sun Valley and Ketchum are part of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve which is the only one in the United States and one of 12 in the entire world! Eighty percent of American’s are unable to see the Milky Way at night due to light pollution. Foruntately, Sun Valley and the surrounding areas are part of the upper reaches of the remaining 20% that can actually see the stars. This Dark Sky Reserve designation basically means that we can see in an extraodinary way. It’s safe to say that the Sun Valley area stargazing is some of the best in the world.
Ketchum is also has a Dark Sky Community designation. As a Dark Sky Community, the town is committed to preserving its starry vistas, and enforces a variety of outdoor lighting ordinances (the first lighting ordinance was enacted in 1999). In addition Sun Valley is committed to educating the community about dark skies. So next time you’re camping under the twinkling Idaho stars, know you’re among the lucky few who can see the Milky Way in all of its glory.
Sun Valley is also home to one of the few year-round and outdoor ice skating rinks in the country. Boasting some of the best views of Baldy Mountain, the full-size rink is the training ground for the Sun Valley Figure Skating School, while also playing host to summer ice shows that feature Olympic gold medalists. Looking to try out your own skating skills? The rink is available to the public with daily open skate sessions. Rental skates are available.
Like many, writer Ernest Hemingway was enthralled by Wood River Valley’s beauty. After many visits, including stays at the Sun Valley Resort where he penned For Whom The Bell Tolls, Hemingway established a permanent and final residence in Sun Valley with his fourth wife, Mary, in 1959. You can visit the author’s final resting place at the Ketchum Cemetery, where his grave is flanked by two spruce trees and is often adorned with bottles of booze left by passing admirers.
An Ode to Sheep
The Wood River Valley has a long history of sheep ranching and was once one of the largest sheep shipping centers of the world. Today, sheep ranching is still active in the Wood River Valley, with many ranchers of the Peruvian descent. In 1997, local ranchers sought a way to avoid traffic jams between migrating herders and recreationists along the new bike path, which was constructed over the original herding trail. And just like that, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival was born. This fall marks the festival’s 22ndyear, herders will once again make the pilgrimage to winter pastures through Main Street in Ketchum toward Hailey. In addition to a wooly parade, the festival pays homage to the rich culture and tradition of sheep ranching and herding, educating visitors and residents on the local production of fiber and food.
Flaming Log Races
Another festival sets the Wood River Valley apart from other ski towns: the Sheep Town Drag Races. Every year, bikers of all ages and abilities gather in Hailey to light up the night sky with flaming log races. The simple one-round elimination race consists of bikers paired against each other, towing unlit logs down a marked course on Main Street. Whoever gets to the end first, wins. Those that make it through the eliminations to round 16 are rewarded with fire, and that’s when the true party starts. The local fire department is on hand to light the logs ablaze (and put out any unnecessary flames). With no rules, no entry fees, and no prizes except the glory of the win, the Sheep Town Drag Races are truly a sight to be seen.