Today, the Sun Valley Resort encompasses two ski mountains, five day lodges, a shopping village, an inn, apartments, numerous restaurants and two outstanding golf courses. But there is no doubt that its central focus is still the Sun Valley Lodge, which opened in 1936 as America’s first destination ski resort.
Despite its pedigree and special location, I have never felt comfortable recommending the lodge. Until recently, the accommodations, especially the baths, were small and outdated, and the service could be unpredictable. So when I heard of plans to gut the hotel and rebuild it, I was ambivalent. The lodge desperately needed a makeover, but how could one tear down a place with so much history — such as the room where Hemingway wrote most of “For Whom the Bell Tolls”?
The resort reopened in June after the comprehensive 10-month renovation. As I entered the driveway, I experienced a sense of relief. Everything looked much the same; even the swans were still there, cruising serenely across the pond. To the right, however, was a grand new spa extension with a dedicated entrance. We were greeted by a friendly doorman, eager for us to see what awaited inside.
Hallways on either side are still lined with black-and-white celebrity photographs, many from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The lobby is much lighter than before, with large windows, and doors that lead to terraces overlooking the ice skating rink. The Duchin Room (now called Duchin Lounge), formerly a dark albeit cozy bar, is now open to the lobby and has an outdoor seating area. And Gretchen’s restaurant, which used to be a casual breakfast spot, is more formal, has expanded onto a terrace and is open all day. Hallways on either side are still lined with black-and-white celebrity photographs, many from the Golden Age of Hollywood; and ski champion memorabilia is, as before, prominently displayed in a showcase.
The front desk staff, who seemed to be predominantly European, clearly shared the doorman’s excitement about the renovations. Our Lodge King Suite proved to be extremely spacious, with windows overlooking the ice rink and a refined contemporary aesthetic. A wood wall with a see-through gas fireplace partially separated a sitting area and a spacious bedroom. A custom maple writing desk caught our eye, as did a kitchenette with mini-refrigerator, sink and Keurig machine. The large granite bath provided a double vanity, dressing area, walk-in shower and soaking tub. The most desirable rooms are the five Lodge Terrace Suites and the five Lodge Celebrity Suites — named for the lodge’s founder, Averell Harriman, and regular guests Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway and Olympic skating champion Sonja Henie. These are more spacious and have more clearly defined separations between sitting and sleeping areas. All lodgings feature pull-out couches. The new-look lodge now has 94 rooms, down from the original 148, allowing for these vastly superior accommodations.
We headed to Gretchen’s for dinner, a bit skeptical that it could replace the traditional Sun Valley Lodge Dining Room, which was eliminated in the redesign. However, I was impressed by both my lobster Caesar and locally sourced Kobe rib eye steak with roasted forest mushrooms and potato-and-broccoli-rabe hash. And the service proved much more professional and polished than before. (Adjacent to the lodge in the Sun Valley village, you will still find the Austrian-inspired Konditorei and The Ram, a classic steakhouse.)
The resort now conforms to 21st-century standards of luxury, but still retains a historic atmosphere and a feeling of glamour.
The next morning, we went on a tour. The famous circular heated pool is now augmented by a hot tub, a fire pit, an expanded heated deck and a poolside café. The views of Bald Mountain’s ski runs from the pool are as beautiful as ever, and it was not difficult to imagine myself relaxing in the warm water after an invigorating day on the slopes. Nearby, there is now a magnificent 20,000-square-foot spa with a large fitness area. Elsewhere, I was pleased to find that the bowling alley had not been overlooked during the renovations. The ’50s-inspired space, with six full-length lanes, now features a bar area, a casual menu and an expanded game room.
Overall, the reinvented Sun Valley Lodge is a triumphant success. The resort now conforms to 21st-century standards of luxury, but still retains a historic atmosphere and a feeling of glamour.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The large and stylish new rooms; the spacious baths; the spectacular new spa.
DISLIKE: The loss of the Sun Valley Lodge Dining Room.
GOOD TO KNOW: Only the Sun Valley Lodge has been renovated, so do not book a room at the nearby Sun Valley Inn.
Sun Valley Lodge 95 Lodge King Suite, $440; Celebrity Suite, $720. 1 Sun Valley Road, Sun Valley, Idaho. (208) 622-4111.