A day (or two) in Sun Valley, Idaho
Feature photo by Kat Cannell
After a long discussion about what to include in The Snow Issue of Whalebone Magazine, it was pretty clear that this issue wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t spotlight a quintessential mountain town. Enter Sun Valley. This slice of snowy Idahoan heaven has somehow managed to stay true to its roots despite the uptick in commercial endeavors that have taken over many a small town. Roots that are clearly and deeply set in community and kindness, as can be noted by the sincerity of virtually every human you might ask for directions on the street or chat with at the local downtown dive bar. It’s especially hard not to notice that nearly every business is locally owned, again speaking volumes to what we believe to be part of that very special something every inch of the Wood River Valley seems to emulate. Keeping in mind the need to preserve this special something, we teamed up with the folks over at Visit Sun Valley, who were gracious enough to show us around their hidden gem and share a curated list of what to see, do and eat in these parts once the white fluffy stuff starts to fall.
There’s just something about a community coming together to watch a group of people with a bunch of curved sticks slide around on a sheet of ice that really screams “a good time.” And when it comes to the institution of ice hockey, the people of Sun Valley don’t mess around. If you want to get a good feel for the local spirit, snag some tickets to see a game at Campion Ice House, home of the Sun Valley Suns and some pretty sweet local rippers if we do say so ourselves. The season starts at the beginning of December and wraps up around mid-March.
Pro tip: Shoot for January to witness the annual two-game series standoff between The Suns and their rivals, Dumb and Dumber director Bobby Farrelly’s team the Gutter Snipes. Bonus points if you get a photo with the shaggin’ wagon at Sun Valley Auto Club. Hey, chicks love it.
The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve was the first International Dark Sky Reserve in the US—1,416 square miles dedicated to the preservation of the area’s starry skies for the sake of national heritage and environmental and community protection. Since Sun Valley is actually a part of the reserve itself, all you really need to do is tilt your head back a little bit to get a glimpse of the sparkling velvet swatch of the universe we call the night sky. But for prime views, we recommend heading into the mountains smack in the dead of winter when the air is crisp and the night sky is crystal clear. Your chances of actually finding the Big Dipper versus the usual furrowing of the brows and pointing to a random cluster of stars that look like they might be in a ladle-ish shape are pretty dang high. Not to mention Idaho is the number one state per capita for UFO sightings. So keep an eye out for the small green guys.
If there’s one thing you see in this city, let it be whatever exhibit this fine establishment has to offer at the time. This crew puts together one hell of a show. Their most recent one, “Sightings,” explores themes of human experiences of UFO sightings and extraterrestrial life, all the while asking not “what” do we see when we look up, but why we raise our eyes in the first place. Our kind of people over here at SVMOA.
Ski or Snowboard at Bald and Dollar Mountains
In 1936, skiing and snowboarding were changed forever when the world’s first chairlift entered into service in none other than Sun Valley. Ranked the third-best resort by SKI Magazine, it’s only natural that you check out the place that inarguably defined the quaint, cozy, pine-scented, crackling fire essence of ski lodges as we know them. Don’t let the historical nature of the lodge and resort mislead you—a new set of extra speedy six-person lifts are set to be up and running for the 2023-24 season, opening up a whole new world of runs for those that store their skis and boots permanently on their car racks the week of Thanksgiving. Hey, you never know when Jack Frost is going to make a surprise visit. Oh, and both mountains are included for IKON and Mountain Collective season pass holders, yet another excuse to make the journey to these slopes.
Taking flight from the top of Bald Mountain is one of those once-in-a-lifetime-type experiences that people get misty eyes about. Breathtaking just doesn’t cut it when trying to describe what it’s actually like to soar across the snow-covered Wood River Valley. And there’s no hiking necessary, if that might be something holding you back. Thanks to their partnership with Sun Valley Lodge and the National Forest Service, Fly Sun Valley makes use of chairlifts and gondolas to haul passengers up to the top of the mountain for flights come winter. In the words of our friends at Visit Sun Valley, “It’s the closest thing to being reincarnated as a raven dancing across the mountain thermals you’ll find in this lifetime.”
Pro tip: Dress for the weather when snow is on the ground—think snow gear, boots, gloves, goggles, the whole getup. Winter flights start around Thanksgiving and run pretty much daily (conditions permitting) until mid-April. Make sure to book one of the four daily reservation slots in advance.
This ain’t your average ice skating rink. First of all, it’s outside, which makes it about 10 times more magical than the typical monotone, indoor, freshly Zambonied rink where you had your sixth-grade birthday party. Second, it’s actually a park for most of the year—until mid-December, when it’s transformed into two acres of non-refrigerated ice, the largest rink of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Obviously, we’re here to talk about the rink, not the park because this is, in fact, The Snow Issue of Whalebone Magazine in case you’re somehow this deep and haven’t noticed yet. Entry to the rink, along with skates, helmets, pucks and sticks, are all available free of charge to anyone interested in a lot of laughter and minor-to-heavy bruising in their nether regions.
Eat & Drink
Ask any local for a knock-your-socks-off lunch spot and they’ll point you in the direction of this classic sandwich shop in downtown Ketchum. Nothing too crazy here. Just some good ole sammies, the way we like ’em. It’s a solid spot for lunch and a $1 pint after a leg-burning morning on the ski hill.
Bigwood has been a staple in the Wood River Valley for the past two decades and it’s not very hard to see why. Everything about this place is downright inviting, from their buttery oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to the rustic log cabin vibe. Located in Ketchum, Idaho, a neighboring town to Sun Valley. Everything is baked fresh with ingredients sourced from local farmers—yet another testament to the sense of community that seems to be a pillar of every establishment in Sun Valley and its surrounding areas. Breakfast is definitely the name of the game here and the breakfast bowls come highly recommended (trust us when we say they do not disappoint).
A passerby may initially stop into this low-lit, tavern-style yet somewhat upscale restaurant for the organic booze, but trust us when we say they’ll end up staying for the food. Not to say their cocktails aren’t enticing—the Better With Age somehow combines gin, sesame and nutmeg to create a concoction that tastes like a more delicious, adult version of Big League Chew. There are two other things you can’t leave without trying for dinner—the Caesar Salad (we’re positive even Cae Sal queen Molly Baz would be impressed) and the mouthwatering Whiskey Wash Brisket, which is 100 percent as good as it sounds.
The Cellar is a mountain town bar if we ever saw one. Small and dimly lit with a cozy bar and walls covered edge to edge in skiing and snowboarding history. It’s where you’ll want to start the night for a drink or two after a long day of shredding, according to the beanie and ski bib donning locals. Definitely a no frills kind of establishment if you catch our drift, so no need to change out of your base layers beforehand.
The name might be a little misleading given this place is no longer an actual casino, despite a few slots and a couple of pull tab dispensers. But it’s still one of the raddest bar scenes we’ve had the pleasure of checking out. Tons of pool tables for all to play and even a piano if you happen to be one for tickling the ivories. Behind the bar, you’ll find no shortage of fake IDs, yellowing photos and handwritten inside jokes from regulars and locals taped to the walls, like a time capsule on display.