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Sun Valley Resort, Idaho

Sun Valley may provide America’s perfect ski vacation

Sun Valley Ski Resort, IdahoIt has a European accent mixed with the Wild West. It is isolated, yet comfortable; rough in texture, but also refined; Austrian in tone, cowboy in spirit.

Ageless would be the one word to describe Sun Valley Village, America’s first ski resort, built in 1936 by Union Pacific tycoon Averell Harriman. It exudes restrained elegance with the traditional Sun Valley Lodge, village, steeple, horse-drawn sleighs and steaming pools. Sun Valley does low-key with perfection. In contrast, the town of Ketchum is all-American West, a flash of red brick, a slab of prime rib, a rustic cluster of small restaurants, shops, homes, condos and lodges. It’s the nearby town of Ketchum that actually curls around the broad-shouldered evergreen rise of Bald Mountain, known as Baldy to locals. Each snow ribbon dropping from the summit into the valley leads to the streets of Ketchum.

This is Hemingway country. When he wasn’t hobnobbing with the glitterati of the day, he wrote most of For Whom The Bell Tolls in the Sun Valley Lodge, where the halls are covered with photos of Hollywood celebrities who first made the place famous. Sun Valley has developed many famous winter-sport athletes: the late Gretchen Fraser, who was the first American Olympic ski champion in 1948; Christin Cooper, a 1984 silver Olympic medallist; Picabo Street, who won a silver at the 1994 Olympics and a gold in the 1998 Olympics; and Muffy Davis, 2002 three-time Paralympic silver medallist and overall World Cup Champion.

The Sun Valley Company keeps the skiing and riding as up-to-date as any in America: The resort has a large computerized snowmaking system and seven high-speed quads, including one that rises a whopping 3,144 vertical feet in 10 minutes.The recently transformed Super Pipe with its Pipe Monster groomer meet competition standards. Its day lodges have won raves from skiers and architectural awards from the ski industry. The 26,000-square-foot day lodge at Dollar Mountain now makes it extra easy for families and beginners to set up base camp.

And yet, it is the celebration of its history that makes Sun Valley stand out from the rest of America’s ski areas. If you enjoy history, stay at the Sun Valley Lodge, a beautifully preserved property with a pronounced mid-20th-century feel. The elegance of a bygone era is encountered in the details: uniformed doormen; a formal dining room; a large second-floor “drawing room” with the piano in the center, overstuffed chairs and sofas in the middle, and fireplaces at either end; and an immense “hot tub” swimming pool that dates to the early days of the resort. “Sun Valley Serenade,” a 1941 movie starring Sonja Henie and John Payne, is as corny as can be when you see it at home but it’s lots of fun to see it in Sun Valley, especially when you later try to track down the exact filming locations on the mountain and in the lodge.