Ketchum and Sun Valley are in a weather forecasting dead-zone in the rural mountains of Idaho. The one thing you’ll notice first with locals is the backseat of their cars are ready for both an Everest expedition and a day at the beach. As someone enmeshed in the very fabric of Sun Valley, Matt Gorby (or “Gorby” as he’s know to many locals) is as good as anyone to help break down the intricacies of the weather in our unique town. Ketchum’s favorite bartender and all-around mensch, Gorby, moved to Ketchum from the east coast 27 years ago. Since then, he can be found bartending at The Casino, doing graphic design, drinking coffee at Starbucks, starring in the area’s plays, announcing the Wagon Days parade, or simply being a family man to his wife and daughter.
How would you describe the weather in our area?
Matt: You know what they say about the weather here: if you don’t like it, wait 5 minutes because it’s going to change. The fact of the matter is, it’s life in the mountains; you don’t know what you’re going to get. Weather makes a right turn at you all the time and you’re not expecting it.
You’re also talking to the guy that never wears pants. I only wear pants if I have to go to court and only if I’m guilty. I wear shorts 365 days a year; I wore pants to church on Christmas Eve one time and everyone freaked out. And I’ve never been cold in this town. I’m not going snowshoeing or downhill skiing in shorts, but I go for a walk every day. I come to Starbucks and get a 20-ounce latte, I walk up to the golf course on Sun Valley Road and get a 16-ounce latte at Konditorei and I walk back to Starbucks. I’ve been doing it for 1,271 days in a row without missing a day.
Timmy Appleton [owner of Apples Bar & Grill who passed away a few years ago] used to say that we live in a donut—it’s Sun Valley for a reason, there’s weather all around us. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked a mile out of town and the weather is completely different than in town. I’ve been in Starbucks where it’s pouring down rain on one side and sunny looking out the other. You can’t trust the weather, no matter what anybody says. You can have all four seasons in one day here. It could be 85 degrees during the day, and it’ll be 45 degrees at night. It fluctuates so much and that’s just downtown Ketchum—I’m not talking about if you go up north.
Would you say people talk about the weather a lot in Ketchum?
Matt: Yeah, they say “An inch in town is a foot on top of the mountain,” or “It’s raining—but we need the rain.” Nobody ever says we DON’T need the rain. Golfers want rain in the spring so the greens will stay green longer, but they also want to play golf in the spring because they’ve been jonesing to play. No matter how bad YOU think the weather is, somebody’s having a good time in that weather. At least we get to b**ch about different weathers, but can you imagine living somewhere like Palm Desert?
Do you have a weather app of choice?
Matt: I have my watch and I just use the weather app from there. But I never look two days down the road because I know it’s going to change. And I love all weather. It’s one of the reasons why we live in a place that has four seasons—albeit the winter season is very long and the summer season is very short.
Matt: During summer we generally get most days of sunshine and it’s beautiful all summer long and you pray for clouds when you’re out hiking. You want a little reprieve from that sun. When I first moved here, my sister said, “You have to wear sunscreen.” And I said, “Why?” and she goes, “Because we’re closer to the sun.” I said, “The sun is 93 million miles away, I don’t think a couple thousand feet is going to make that big of a difference.” But boy was I wrong. So I have sunscreen in my bag, in my car, and at my house. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Sunscreen is a big thing here. Expect to see snow on all the trails up north until roughly August. I’ve done some hikes up north in the summer where I trudged through snow and the lakes were frozen solid.
- Summer storms often roll in in the afternoons so plan your outdoor excursions for early in the day
- Always bring sunscreen, a rain jacket, and some kind of layer when heading outdoors—the weather can switch at the drop of a hat! (I have been snowed on at the Fourth of July Rodeo.)
- While it may be hot outside, most bodies of water like rivers and lakes won’t warm up until about the end of July. And alpine lakes, like the kind you might hike to, are always going to be pretty darn cold so be prepared for your post hike ice bath.
- Temperatures will only be above 85 degrees for a week or two in the summer so don’t worry about not having air conditioning.
- Ketchum is on the edge of a desert climate meaning that even if it’s hot during the day, the nights are cold so always bring warm layers for nighttime outings!
One of the most beautiful seasons in the Sun Valley area you can get the full spectrum of colors from freshly snowcapped peaks to the fiery leaves on the trees down by the river.
- Fall can be a fairly predictable time of year with the season choosing two paths. Either being on the warm side (if it’s Indian Summer) or crisp and cool setting up the perfect sweater and coffee weather.
- Early snows have been known to hit in September though so always checking ahead and being prepared is important.
- Like any other transitionary time of year, bring layers that are easy to either add or remove.
Matt: Depending on the year, it’s going to be consistent. If it’s a snowy year, it’s going to consistently snow a ton. If it’s a non-snowy year, it’s not. That’s yearly dependent. Back in New England, if it snowed everybody was grumbling. Out here when it snows, people are very excited. Most people are jumping for joy. I find people enjoy snow way more here than where I grew up in Connecticut.
The first snow fall, you see tons of people driving and forgetting inertia—something in motion stays in motion. Getting stuck is just part of winter here. I got a jeep a few years ago with four-wheel drive and I had to get it fixed. While I was getting it fixed, they gave me another jeep, but I didn’t know you could buy a jeep that wasn’t four-wheel drive. I backed it into this spot on a hill and got stuck, but luckily a nice guy had a tow cable and popped me right out. We’re willing to help out everybody here. Always be prepared to stop and help somebody get out of a snow ditch. I keep a little avalanche shovel in my truck just in case.
- Powder days and bluebird days are great, but winter in Sun Valley are usually dry and sunny. Although it may be sunny the temperatures can still get down in the negatives in early January.
- Pack some hand and foot warmers for the mountain adventures
- Pack insulated boots with tread for walking on snow and ice.
- Mittens/gloves, hats, and scarves are great for helping keep warm, even if you’re not outside for long.
- If it snows more than four inches, expect most of the town to be going on the mountain meaning that some businesses will have different hours and the lift line will be long in the morning.
- Snow can often divert airplanes flying into and out of the Sun Valley airport so always check for weather diversions.
Matt: Spring is the wild card. You have no idea what you’re going to get; that’s when it changes from one day being a 70-degree day and having the top down in your convertible and the next day you’re gonna need your snow tires back on. You have no idea, so that’s the time you have to prepare. And if you’re going anywhere, you can always take something off, but if you don’t have it you can’t put it on. I like to look at how the clouds are moving because storms come so fast out here. You can generally tell if it’s going to be rainy if it’s an updraft, so if you see all the undersides of the leaves on the trees, you know it’s going to rain on you. But it really doesn’t hurt anybody. A little rain never hurt anybody. And it doesn’t rain a lot. If I get rained on, I get rained on. If I get snowed on, I get snowed on. This time of year, I usually have a little bag in my car if I go for a walk off the beaten path; it’s got some extra water, extra food, and a rain slicker. I’m prepared because you don’t know what you’re going to get into.
- Spring is a mixed bag so make sure to pack a little of everything! Trails tend to be muddy or possibly still snowy so good hiking boots are a must if you plan to get outdoors. Light layers that can be added or removed are perfect for unpredictable spring weather, especially a rain coat!
- If you have a car, keep a towel inside for wiping off muddy kids or dogs or just to keep seats clean!
- While the snow may melt in town during the spring, areas up north or outside of town may still be snowy and hard to get to. Always check that roads and trails are open.