Sun Valley: This winter explore Hemingway’s haunts and the allure of this Idaho oasis
Sun Valley has been a tastemakers town and Hollywood haunt since 1939 when Union Pacific Railroad Chairman Averell Harriman invited Hemingway, Hollywood stars and tip-top financial and political powerhouses like the Kennedy’s to this tiny Northwestern town. That legacy still holds today as many of the guests strolling on Main Street hail from both coasts, from Hollywood and New York and local west coast posts such as Seattle and San Francisco.
It’s a very unique scene in Sun Valley as there’s a sophisticated yet understated slice of rustic elegance. It’s unlike anywhere else. People aren’t showing you their wares as is done in The Hampton’s and Hollywood. Everybody is somebody so nobody needs to prove it. It’s that understated grace that has kept the haves, not the have not’s pouring in to the tiny mountain town for several decades. It’s rich in tradition.
Walking in to the Sun Valley Inn, an iconic hideaway since 1938, I overheard an older gentlemen say, “We were at Jane’s house earlier.” He meant Fonda as that too was woven in. Those words swirled around while the celebrated images of yesteryear adorned the long hotel walls. From Hemingway to Reagan to Cary Grant, Lucille Ball and fellow funny friends Jerry Lewis and Bing Crosby, they all had well documented and photographed holidays full of fun in Sun Valley.
While perusing the sales rack early on a Saturday morning, in one of the many athletic shops in town, I overheard quips like, “When we were biking with Lance last summer,” and they were the women, young Moms that made Hollywood hot bodies look flabby. Besides money and blue blood-ers, everyone is in insanely great shape. Not your basic fit level of fitness. They are sick, super-sonic, AARP card carrying triathlete types.
In Sun Valley age is not an excuse, it’s an opportunity. I’m told the 50 and 60 year old women in town are in the best shape as the kids are gone. So, their focus is fitness. I met an energetic elderly guy in the gym in his eighties who was actively competing in triathlons. I ignored him and got a well needed massage at Zynergy Spa. To say I needed to step up my game didn’t even come close to what needed to go down in that town.
Triathlete’s aside, anyone would love the vibe in Sun Valley. The clever manipulated move of the railroad back in the day still makes sense today. There was a method to that madness. It was never a beach town, so it need not compete. It’s a small town where they built a ski resort, the first of its kind, a destination ski resort in North America. It was designed to mirror the major, tony resorts of Europe. To top their Euro counterpart, Sun Valley installed the first ever ski lift. The rest is Hollywood and hob nob history.
So, if you want a slice of this good life, more cool and casual than say Aspen or Telluride, then this is your ticket. The place is jumping all winter long. The likes of Arnold and Maria are likely to swish by as is Demi and company. Bill Gates attends an annual meeting in the Valley and when the symphony puts on free concerts in town Yo Yo Ma plays. That’s Sun Valley. This isn’t Real Housewives. It’s the real deal. The upper crusted go there as unlike their Colorado counterparts, in Sun Valley you, your fame and your fortunes are left alone. That kind of class is hard to come by. It’s a chance to exhale.
I hit the stunner this summer. If looking to head in this winter, expect a wonderland of fun. Flights, if not private, arrive in to the tiny Friedman Memorial Airport in Hayley, which feels like a friend’s garage. You’ll practically trip over the Hertz counter upon arrival. Within minutes you’ll be driving through Hayley heading to Ketchum. It’s that easy.
Naturally you’ll check in to The Sun Valley Lodge where the idyllic Northern European village on the grounds is both authentic and picturesque. With or without an après ski, head to the Duchin Lounge in the evening for lodge ambiance, jazz and warm winter cocktails.
If the weather is right, take advantage of Fly Sun Valley Para Gliding. Proprietor Check Smith is world renown as it was he who brought the sport to the states. The cast of characters that work for him and or the regulars (including young local women) are equally as impressive and entertaining.
They will walk you through the intricate process, engaging you in flight versus the Kiwi approach where they tell you to jump off the mountain, which I did. Chuck and my Mountain mate Tim were far more detailed. It’s truly the best way to see the city and it remains one of the top spots in the US and the world to get your glide on. So go!
You’ll leave with s series of in-flight pix and videos that are sure to impress yourself and others. If still craving some in flight fun, hit the slopes. Sun Valley’s Lodge measures in at 5,290. Bald Mountain has a summit of 9,150, 65 runs and 14 lifts including an eight person gondola. You’ll be high flying in no time.
For a smoother ride in the spring and summer season it’s all about the river raft. The River Company in Stanley is the best in the business. You’ll hit the river with a few other boats in tow with an eclectic rafting crew that spans from, “When I was working with Mother Teresa,“ to “On my last trip to Antarctica,” to, “When we were river rafting in The Grand Canyon with heads of state and those behind the global finances…” That’s Sun Valley. That’s countered with precocious kids next to you in the raft that make you realize you’re not the bad ass you thought you were.
Late season, the ride is a quiet one, but ambient none the less filled with stunning scenery and a river view of Carol King’s house. If you are looking for death defying spins, head out in May. Low (August) means slow, high (May) means a wild ride. Regardless, the fresh food a la family picnic style served mid ride on a riverbank is a slice of Idaho heaven. It will have you singing Kumbaya on the inside.
On the ride back to town stop at Red Fish Lake where the water looks like the Caribbean up to your waist. As you wage your disbelief, the scene will be scored with a local bluegrass band and paired with one dollar soft ice cream cones. You’ll feel properly spoiled in an Idaho way, slightly subtle, seductive way.
In between action adventure and social activity be sure to squeeze in some retail therapy. Start at Burnsie’s store. It’s worth it for a visit with Burnsie alone. She’s a statuesque blond who is full of fun and a wee bit of mischief. I was told by a local that she is one of the colorful characters in town. I’d have to agree. She’s a trip, an ex-stylist who cut her fashion teeth on the sets of big Hollywood blockbusters. She’s got the inside skinny on everyone and she has fun, fitness driven fashion similar to what you would see in L.A., if you want a break from the North Face front.
If you’re a label slave, Elle Rose has every big name in business and a well dresses staff that sports it. For true blue vintage vixens Déjà vu may be one of the best vintage stores on the planet. This place is to die for! If you’re looking to turn every head at your next fete with an edgy vintage spin, this is your in. Be prepared to pay for it. The clothes are from another time, but the prices are very current.
For Sun Valley eats head to local culinary queen Cristina’s Restaurant and Bakery. It’s easy to overload on her decadent breads, but save room for her home made pastas and burrata cheese. Pick up her cookbook if you want to try her Tuscan style at home.
Finally for art angles, Sun Valley’s galleries are unrivaled. For such a small town they offer big international art that is so exclusive and cutting edge many celebs and hoteliers, Steve Wynn being one of many, buy their art for personal and professional reasons in Sun Valley. Check out Frederic Boloix’s one room gallery full of Picasso’s Matisse and Chagall and Cuban artist Gustavo Acosta’s large cityscapes of Havana and Mexico City.
Up the street you can slip in to long time gallery owner Gail Severn’s Gallery. I was absolutely struck by Hung Liu’s original black and white photos taken in Mao’s time. The photos inspired a series of colorful paintings. This Chinese artist, photographer and teacher managed to sneak in some 50 or so odd pictures while she was supposed to be photographing Mao himself at a time when freedom, creativity and independence was limited if not non-existent, especially for women.
Liu discovered the long lost photos only a year and a half ago. Interestingly each of her female subjects is anything but a victim. All woman and the girls exude an air of strength and independence, clearly shared with the photographer. The showing is simply stunning!
That’s Sun Valley.
EAT: Cristina’s Restaurant & Bakery — CristinasofSunValley.com
FLEX: If you are looking for rest and relaxation or yet another angle of exercise, head to Zenergy Spa & Health Club at Thunder zenergyatthunderspring.com
Blogger Bio: Karen Loftus is a Multi Media Maven. She's an International Comedian, Writer, Travel & Lifestyle Editor and Globetrotting Photographer covering the good life on The Global Road. After globetrotting through The Middle East, Europe and Asia, entertaining Expats, execs, the US troops abroad and theater savvy audiences around the globe at international theaters and comedy festivals, award winning playwright and international comedian Loftus took a break from touring, slipping in to journalism, putting on the page what she once delivered onstage. As a journalist, Loftus found her definitive niche in travel writing, covering the luxury lifestyle and vino trends in travel and culinary and cocktail tourism. It was a coming home as her Irish grandparents ran a speakeasy, distilled their own spirits and ran many a famous pub. This fashion forward foodie takes great risks and goes to extreme journalistic measures on the global road, parasailing, surfing, bungee jumping, four tracking and canyoning in search of the story. Today Karen's vibrant tales can be seen in 40 different regional, national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. In between her travels Karen still flexes her funny bone and will take up touring again in 2011. Her passion project Body Comedy where she uses humor to heal is hitting the Global Road. Karen’s worked with several thousand people over the years, from prisoners to teen prostitutes and women and children who have experienced abuse on the body. She’s been featured in several documentaries, MS Magazine & MSNBC. Comedy Central has been a supporter of the US program for seven years. Karen’s is taking her Body Comedy program and heading to Kenya in November to work with orphans and young entrepreneurial woman. A TV show is in development based on The Body Comedy Project. Stay tuned. For more info: www.karenloftus.net You can follow Karen on Twitter @LAKArenLoftu
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