Covid certainly changed things for all of us, but notably for the town of Sun Valley, aka a “Zoom Town,” it brought lots of remote workers looking to enjoy all the splendors of the area that were previously limited to short vacations. With so many new folks in town, we at Visit Sun Valley wanted to create a helpful zoom town guide for how to do things the “local” way. It’s a delicate balance that keeps Sun Valley a great place to live.
Sun Valley Culture
When coming from a big city or even just a town bigger than ours, it’s easy to forget that what was once common practice in your life is frowned upon here. Our small town prides itself on a slower pace of living, where errands might take longer because you ran into old friends in the grocery store, where you might pull over to help someone with a flat tire on the side of the road, where a car honk doesn’t mean you’re angry, but means you saw someone you knew walking on the sidewalk.
It’s easy to get frustrated with this slower pace—especially if you actually have somewhere to be—but remember that this is why you moved here in the first place. Learn to enjoy these new aspects of small-town living. On powder days, it’s common for many businesses to be closed so everyone can enjoy a few runs in the morning. You may get stuck behind a car that’s stopped in the middle of the road while they talk to someone who’s run up to them.
Mail is delivered to the post office and as such, things can get pretty hectic, especially around the holidays. Use that time to socialize with your new neighbors! All of these quirks make small town living what it is, so slow down, loosen up, make a new friend, be kind. It’ll go a long way!
Driving, Snow, Parking, Flying
One of the areas most notably different in our small town is transportation. When driving in downtown, it’s important to go slower and take notice of bikers, pedestrians, other cars, even animals. We have lots of crosswalks here which may differ from where you come from. We only have a few traffic lights, a lot of four-way stops, and plenty of intersections without any stop signs, so it’s up to individuals to drive safely and be alert while going over our slow roads. Be patient, be friendly, and let people merge. Stop fully at stop signs and let pedestrians cross.
Winter in Ketchum is what so many winter sports enthusiasts moved here for—as the saying goes, “come for the winters, stay for the summers.” But all that snow that makes for epic powder days on the mountain can make for messy, even dangerous, days in town.
Tips for Winter Driving
While Ketchum does their best to deploy snowplows as soon as possible on big snow days, there are times the roads will be pretty treacherous.
- When driving on slick roads, make sure to go extra slow and to put extra distance between yourself and other cars.
- If someone slams on the brakes, you want to avoid sliding right into them. Give yourself extra time to get where you need to go, especially since you might need to scrape snow off your car or start it early to warm up.
- Invest in a good snow scraper!
- If you plan to live here full-time, you might want to invest in a car with front wheel drive or 4-wheel drive—at the very least, invest in some snow tires. Even just driving through Ketchum on unplowed roads can get pretty dicey and you’ll find yourself regretting driving your nice sports car when it gets stuck in a snowbank.
On dirt roads, take it slower than usual (even slower than the speed limit listed perhaps); animals pop onto these, bumpy roads make for riskier driving, and driving too fast kicks up a lot of dust not enjoyed by those driving behind you or who live there.
If it’s dark, no matter what type of road you’re driving—dirt road, highway, neighborhood—look out for wildlife. If you’re driving and see wildlife close to or on the road, flash your brights twice to the next car to let them know!
Talking or texting on your cell phone while driving is also not only dangerous, but illegal here. Avoid getting a $100 ticket and save the texting for later.
One of the great things about living here is how close most things are and the ability to just leave your car at home! This becomes especially valuable during the busy seasons when parking can be a nightmare. The Wood River Trail a.k.a. the bike path connects over 20 miles of the Wood River Valley making biking to work or to run errands a breeze. Mountain Rides busses run every 30-60 minutes in spots throughout town and up and down the Valley—and it’s free! Or just let yourself walk through town, exploring all your new home has to offer.
Snow season in Ketchum is “officially” Nov 1 through May 1 meaning that cars must be off the street between 2am and 7am during this time to make sure snowplows can do their job in the event of snow. Cars left are towed and ticketed, so make sure to park in one of Ketchum’s designated overnight parking areas. And while we all hate getting in a cold car in winter, Ketchum has a three-minute maximum idling ordinance, violation of which will get you a $25 ticket.
Flying directly into and out of Sun Valley has never been easier, with nonstop flights into and out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, and Salt Lake.
Winter air travel has improved as well thanks to a Federal Aviation Administration–approved instrument approach procedure for Friedman Memorial Airport which allows pilots to make precise landings in low-visibility conditions. However, there are occasional instances where flying into and out of Sun Valley can be delayed. Friedman has a winter diversion program in place where flights that are unable to land or takeoff in Sun Valley instead use the nearby airports in Twin Falls or Boise.
Mountain weather can be quite unpredictable, so make sure to check for alerts from your airline or to call the SUN Winter Operations Hotline 4-6 hours before your flight to confirm whether you are diverted.
Shopping & Dining
Part of the world-class amenities Sun Valley has to offer are shopping and dining that rival that of any city. We love to support our local stores and hope you will too! While many stores and restaurants strive to be open as many days as possible, our local service industry is taxed by all the newcomers to town and as such may be closed more days than usual. Be patient and call ahead to see if a business is open.
- Most restaurants stop serving food by 9:30 or 10pm here so if you’re looking for late-night eats, don’t expect a full-service meal.
- Make reservations at restaurants well in advance and be sure to tip your servers well.
- Many in our area depend on restaurant jobs and the accompany tips (bartenders included). During the busy seasons, many shops and restaurants will be quite crowded.
When Ketchum Atkinson’s (local grocery store) is too chaotic, head to one of the many other grocery stores in our Valley: Village Market (Ketchum), Atkinson’s in Hailey and Bellevue, Albertson’s (Hailey), Grocery Outlet Bargain Market (Hailey), and Natural Grocers (Hailey).
With so many new people in town eager to explore the great outdoors here, it’s more important than ever to be good stewards of the land while also respecting each other and having fun. Skiing and snowboarding on Baldy is one of the biggest winter draws here and as such, is often busy, even in slower weeks. Busy or not, it’s important to practice good mountain etiquette like looking uphill before taking off down a run, going slower on the easy groomer runs, or letting someone know you’re passing them on a cat track. There are two base areas to access Baldy from: Warm Springs Lodge and River Run Lodge. Parking is available at both, though there is more on the River Run side. Buses run to both sides of the mountain and connect each other.
If backcountry skiing or snowboarding is more your style, make sure you have all the safety equipment and knowledge before heading into unknown territory. Taking avalanche classes and buying equipment like a beacon, probe, and shovel are all basic requirements before anyone can think of heading into Idaho’s backcountry. Once those are under your belt, plan your trip with a partner and check the local avalanche report for a good idea of where’s safe to go that day.
For Nordic (cross-country) skiers, there are tons of winter trails to explore from the bike path to Galena Lodge to the Sun Valley Nordic Center. Be aware, the North Valley Trails, Croy Nordic Trails, and Alturas Lake system all require passes. Resources for snowshoeing are similar, but check out our post here for a full guide to snowshoeing in the area. If skiing with your dog, it must be under voice control at all times. Make sure to pick up your dog poop as well; bags and trash cans are available at most dog-friendly trailheads. And don’t leave the poop bag on the side of the trail for someone else to pick up!
If all these sports don’t strike your fancy, try fly fishing—not just for the summer! When temps are over 40 degrees, winter fishing can be great fun, especially since there are less people. Get tips on winter fly fishing in our guide here.
Remote Working Resources
If you’re working remotely but not a fan of sitting at home, there are plenty of good spots in town to post up for the day. Coffee shops or other public spots work for short-term, but be conscientious that you don’t turn one cup of coffee into an eight-hour stint at a table. The Visitor Center/Starbuck’s has many tables and free wifi and makes for a centrally located spot to work. The Community Library has free wifi, computers to use, and printing capabilities. If you find yourself missing having your own workspace, try the Ketchum Works building, a community workspace that offers spots available by the hour, day, week, or month with no membership required.
Families new to the area might be unaware of all the amazing children’s programming the Valley has to offer. In the winter season, put your kid on the snow by enrolling them in the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s (SVSEF) ski or snowboard teams. The Rotarun ski area in Hailey also offers programs for those who can’t make the commute to Ketchum for skiing. Our local YMCA offers an after-school kids club as well as swim team and climbing team. Sun Valley Resort offers a winter camp for kids that includes snowshoeing, ice skating, sledding, and more. The BCRD also offers an after-school program.
As new members of our community, we’d love for you to get involved! Involvement can look different for everyone: making friends, volunteering (see here for opportunities), getting a part-time job in the community, coaching, dining or shopping locally, or just exploring our great arts and culture.
Thank you for coming to Sun Valley. We hope you’ll help us to maintain the culture and keep this place special. We hope you’ll stick around.