Top 10 Sun Valley Holiday Traditions

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While the biggest winter draw is alpine skiing, Sun Valley has no shortage of other activities. Here are my favorites:

1. Taking a sleigh ride to Trail Creek Cabin.

Sleigh ride from Sun Valley Inn to <i>Trail Creek Cabin</i> - Courtesy of Sun Valley Resort © Kevin SymsThis tradition has been around since 1937. A horse-drawn sleigh carries diners through the snow from the Sun Valley Inn to a charming log cabin restaurant situated beside Trail Creek for a family-style feast. Sleighs leave Wednesday through Saturday from December to March (nightly during the Christmas holiday and Presidents’ Day week), depending on the snow conditions. The ride lasts about half an hour. Make reservations through the Sun Valley Recreation Center, (208) 622-2135.

2. Dining at The Roundhouse.

Sleigh ride from Sun Valley Inn to <i>Trail Creek Cabin</i> - Courtesy of Sun Valley Resort © Kevin SymsAt 7,700 feet, The Roundhouse is midway up Bald Mountain’s River Run side and is accessed by a gondola (or from a ski run). Built in 1939 by Sun Valley’s founder, Union Pacific Railroad Chairman Averell Harriman, today it offers fine dining with inspiring views. Open for lunch every day, or for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Averell’s bar downstairs is one of my favorite places for après-ski.

3. Watching “Sun Valley Serenade.”

Poster for the 1941 film “Sun Valley Serenade” - © Captain.ken/WikipediaWhile the Sun Valley Opera House mostly shows first-run movies, sometimes you can catch an early complimentary showing of the 1941 film “Sun Valley Serenade,” starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, Glenn Miller, Milton Berle and Lynn Bari. You can enjoy wine and beer in this theater, too. This classic movie also airs 24 hours a day in rooms at the Sun Valley Lodge!

4. Nordic skiing (or snowshoeing) to the Hemingway Memorial.

The Hemingway Memorial - © altimae/Wikimedia CommonsErnest Hemingway came to Sun Valley for the first time in 1939 and took his life in Ketchum in 1961. His simple memorial lies about a mile-and-a-half on a groomed trail from the Sun Valley Club Nordic center. The bronze bust of Hemingway and an accompanying plaque were dedicated in 1966. The inscription is a fragment of a eulogy he wrote for a friend, Gene Van Guilder, a publicist for Sun Valley Resort, but it also clearly reflects Hemingway’s own sensibility:

Best of all he loved the fall 

the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
leaves floating on the trout streams
and above the hills 

the high blue windless skies
…now he will be a part of them forever. 


After the trek back, the Sun Valley Club is an ideal place to relax with a hot toddy.

5. Bundling up to see the Torchlight Parade.

Torchlight parade fireworks - Courtesy of Visit Sun Valley © Tory Taglio PhotographyIf you happen to be in Sun Valley on Christmas Eve, don’t miss the magical bright-red stream created by ski instructors holding torches as they descend the slopes of Dollar Mountain in the dark. The parade’s grand finale is a fireworks display.

6. Listening to the Sun Valley Carolers.

Sun Valley Carolers - Courtesy of Sun Valley Resort © Kevin SymsThese traditional carolers, decked out in Dickens-era attire, wander through the resort and village throughout December. I like to stop for an espresso and a strudel at the charming Konditorei in the Sun Valley Village while I wait for them to stroll by.

7. Dining under a full moon at Galena Lodge.

Galena Lodge - Courtesy of Visit Sun Valley © Dev KhalsaThroughout the winter, you can dine under the moonlight at Galena Lodge, a community-owned day lodge 23 miles north of Ketchum in the Boulder Mountains. I like to take a quick snowshoe on its groomed trails to build up an appetite — which doesn’t take long at 7,290 feet above sea level. More adventurous souls can even trek to a yurt and stay overnight. Galena Lodge is also open in the daytime all winter for snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and excellent cuisine. It is well worth the drive at any time of year.

8. Mingling with the locals.

<i>Pioneer Saloon<i> in downtown Ketchum - Courtesy of Visit Sun Valley © Tory TaglioThere are two local hangouts I like to revisit, where the residents are friendly and eager to chat. At Grumpy’s restaurant in Ketchum, I grab a schooner of beer and a burger, and sit on the deck, weather permitting. Turn left from Main Street onto Warm Springs Road, and you will see a sign that reads “Sorry We’re Open.” I also enjoy waiting for my table in the crowd at The Pioneer Saloon (no reservations allowed). An old-style cowboy bar with game mounts and dark-wood seating nooks, The Pioneer is assuredly not fine dining, but it serves a reliably tasty prime rib with an enormous baked potato.

9. Joining a gallery walk.

Ochi Gallery in Ketchum - Courtesy of Visit Sun ValleyThis monthly event hosted by the Sun Valley Gallery Association includes wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres, as participants stroll from gallery to gallery in downtown Ketchum, meeting artists and contemplating the works on display.

10. Shopping in Ketchum.

I like to set aside one day for exploring this scenic, frontier-like town, starting with a “Bowl of Soul” mocha and a sour cream-raspberry muffin at Java on Fourth, or if I’m extra-hungry, an omelet at The Kneadery, a favorite of locals and celebrities alike. Afterward, I enjoy walking the easily navigable streets to find unique winter clothing at shops such as Sturtevants, Silver Creek Outfitters, The Elephant’s Perch and Sheepskin Coat Factory.

Ketchum street scene - Courtesy of Visit Sun Valley © Tory Taglio
<i>Java on Fourth</i> - Courtesy of Visit Sun Valley © Tory Taglio
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