Winter In Sun Valley Idaho for Non-Skiers

And why you should never set expectations when traveling


It sounds as ridiculous as going to a big city for a quiet getaway or visiting Jamaica even though you hate the sun, but Russell and I had an itch for a weekend trip and Sun Valley was offering to scratch. Despite the fact that it is set up quite nicely for ourdoorsy folks that particularly enjoy strapping slippery objects to their feet to travel quickly down snowy hills, there are plenty of other activities available in the A-List area.


See, Russell is a snowboarder, and I myself would prefer adult sledding if it were a thing, but neither of us was privy to the idea of forking over a boatload of cash just to haul a car full of equipment for a single day of snow-fun. Maybe it was the residual effects of being Mt. Rose Ski Pass holders for our entire young adulthood (there used to be killer student discounts, after all), but all of that sounded tiring. What we really wanted was a simple overnight jaunt with our favorite ten-pound companion. So we packed our car with a few of the fur-babe necessities, along with ample road snacks since I’m a serial front seat grazer, and headed East.

The drive east of Boise is, in a word, wonderful, once you get beyond the monotonous sagebrushed desert and start climbing in altitude. Given the time of year everything was covered in snow, but you could tell that just underneath the thick white layer were these rolling hills that are almost certainly a nice grassy green. They stretched and undulated until they finally met with a dismal grey sky; not exactly the blue and sunshine I always hope for when traveling anywhere outdoors, but the dynamics in the clouds kept them from being boring, at least.

Desolate Winter Landscape on Highway 20 from Boise to Sun Valley

Desolate Winter Landscape on Highway 20 from Boise to Sun Valley

Two and a half hours passed quickly - Pippin snuggled in my lap, with an old episode of Loveline playing softly behind Russell and my conversation - and before we knew it we were a few miles outside of Hailey. I will say that Russell and I were at first unfairly disappointed when we pulled into the city’s outer limits, but when your expectations are set on a place worthy of celebrity inhabitation, a quaint mountain town might fall short just a bit.


The closer we got to Ketchum and actual Sun Valley, though, the more we started to really see. There’s a nice little downtown area set up with high-end shops and fancy dining; there’s a ski resort that Russell (our authority on the subject) gave the prior-Tahoe-kid seal of approval; and, well, there’s a valley.


The place is small. In fact, if your sole destination is Sun Valley you had better pay good attention when you’re driving because you are very likely to drive right through without notice. It seems that the true destination is Ketchum, which is fine because we weren’t skiing anyway. But there is a gorgeous landscape and plenty of fresh air and pine trees, so regardless of activity the place begs you to be outside.   

Our experience of outside in the chilly Eastern hills of Idaho consisted of a short walk to burn-off some of Pippin’s puppy energy, and the journey between our hotel and the highly recommended La Cabañita Mex restaurant in Ketchum (I’ll just say that our opinion wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as the online reviews and leave it at that) because, well, it was cold. Seasonably so, I’ll admit, but it sort of zapped the fun out of our usual curious roaming.

In fact, Russell and I spent a good majority of our trip watching Netflix in our pet-friendly hotel room, and while it is always fun to buy a bed full of candy and binge-watch movies, it’s one of those activities that can be done nearly everywhere. Wasn’t there a reason we left the house? Weren’t we supposed to go out and see something?

Walking Pippin in the snowy east Idaho plains

Walking Pippin in the snowy east Idaho plains

The thing about Sun Valley is that we saw a lot of potential for fun, but we may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There was this killer bike path, for instance, that connects all the way from Hailey to Sun Valley that was just begging us to explore on our road bikes. There are these expansive mountains with trails that map out like veins, taunting us as they remained covered by a few feet of snow. The Sawtooth Mountains remind me of our previous stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest, it would almost be like paying homage to dig our boots into the rough granite faces. You can find some pretty decent information about Sun Valley hiking on their main site if your area newbies like we are.


The air is fresh and the terrain is beautiful, but I guess I felt like there was something lacking in the winter wonderland. Fair enough, we don’t ski and traveled to a place that is - for the most part anyway - a mecca for snow sports, we were both just left wanting more. There isn’t an inviting sense about the downtown area, as if every shop is saying “You can’t afford anything in here” before you even walk in. And in a resort town I expect pricing to be a bit high on goods and consumables in general, but when I can find a $7 rotisserie burrito and some normal grocery store prices at Ralph’s in Lake Tahoe, I’m left wondering what it is about Sun Valley that makes it so worthy of markup.

Beautiful skies over the Sun Valley Idaho ski resort mountain

Beautiful skies over the Sun Valley Idaho ski resort mountain


I guess that was just our problem; we set our expectations high and had an unfair basis of comparison. The location itself is certainly beautiful, and I can image that during the right time of year for your interest there’s plenty to do for anyone needing that mountain air fix. The drive felt less like a chore and more like a scenic ride. More often than not Russell and I find that our drive somewhere is half the fun, unplugging from reality and just talking to each other for a change, you don’t get chances like that much. They deserve to be cherished.

I won’t make a final judgment call on the Ketchum - Sun Valley part of Idaho until Russell and I have gone when the timing is right, but for right now I’ll just say it’s a pretty nice looking place to ski and I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. I know my foot will be far within my mouth when we’re out traversing the many trails and cycling our hearts out, but if you don’t do snow, Sun Valley in winter is probably not the right destination for a weekend trip.