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Sun Valley – America’s First Ski Resort

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Older than Vail, Jackson Hole, Aspen or Lake Tahoe, Sun Valley was America’s very first winter resort, hosting celebrities, families and skiing fanatics since 1936. We spent two autumn nights there, basking in its classic elegance.

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In 1935, Averell Harriman, the owner of the Union Pacific Railroad, had a brilliant idea to increase ridership on his western trains. A ski resort! Harriman enlisted the Austrian Count Felix Schaffgotsch to scout for locations which were close by Union Pacific stations. Schaffgotsch considered sites in Colorado and Wyoming but it wasn’t until he arrived in a small, end-of-the-line community called Ketchum, Idaho, that he fell in love.

It’s not hard to see what caught the Count’s eye. The name “Sun Valley” was invented as a marketing ploy, but this part of central Idaho does see an unfair amount of sun. Aspen trees adorn the rolling mountains, which provide both capitvating scenery and excellent skiing. Harriman wasted no time in leaping on the opportunity. Construction projects moved quicker back in the 30s, and less than a year after being “discovered”, Sun Valley was ready for business.

Harriman shrewdly marketed his resort to celebrities, even going so far as to producing a film at the resort; Sun Valley Serenade is a fun light-weight musical that stars John Payne, Sonja Henie and a young Milton Berle, and plays repeatedly on channel 67 in all the lodge’s rooms. The most famous celebrities of the day spent their vacations here; Ernest Hemingway, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, and the Kennedys were habitual guests. The resort’s reputation as a VIP-friendly escape hasn’t diminished throughout the years; today it’s common to see Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood on the slopes.

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Sun Valley might be far away from major population centers, but the isolation works to its advantage, since there are never lift lines, nor crushing crowds. Harriman built his resort to last, with a timeless grace to the rooms and facilities. We spent some time in the outdoor pool, unchanged since 1936, and visited the wonderfully retro bowling alley. For a couple morning hours, I worked in one of the lobby’s plush lounge chairs next to the fireplace, with classical music playing in the background, and a member of the staff coming by occasionally to refill my coffee. It’s not hard to understand why 75% of the resort’s guests are return visitors.

The Sun Valley Lodge is impressive enough by itself, but the facilities and recreation opportunities in the village which surround it are even better. One of the country’s few year-round outdoor ice skating rinks. Heated sidewalks. An amphitheater built from the same stone as Rome’s Colosseum. 45 holes of golf. Some of the country’s best Nordic skiing. An Olympic-sized pool. A shooting range. Wintertime sleigh rides to the Trail Creek Lodge. Miles and miles of biking and hiking trails. Tennis courts. An opera house, for Christ’s sake.

But skiing is what most visitors come for. There are two mountains at the resort: Dollar and Bald Mountain. Dollar is known as one of the best learning hills in the world, with a number of easy slopes perfect for beginners. It’s also famous for having the world’s very first chairlift. Baldy is much bigger, with 66 runs and 12 lifts. In contrast to Dollar, the slopes here are no cakewalk; the steep, blue runs of Baldy would be black at most other resorts.

We were at Sun Valley a month before ski season kicks off, which was a little sad. The resort and its surrounding village were lovely during the autumn, with the Aspen trees changing colors on the hills, but winter must be something else. So we’ve vowed to return. We often make such promises to ourselves, but this is one I plan on keeping.

Book Your Stay At The Sun Valley Lodge here
Official Website: Sun Valley Resort
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November 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm Comment (1)

Boulder and Louie Lakes

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Must Have When Hiking: GPS Handheld Device

For the last few miles on the way to the Boulder Lake Trailhead, we were following two buses. School buses. School buses full of peppy children excited for their long-awaited day out. “I can’t believe this”, I hissed at Jürgen. And, of course, they were going on the exact same hike as us. We parked, put on our boots, and then waded into the mess of screaming, happy kids. Off on our big day of pristine nature and peaceful solitude.

Boulder Lake Hike

But despite the inauspicious start, we managed to have a nice time. Quick and inexhaustible little monkeys when alone or in small groups, children slow down considerably when congregated into large herds. We passed them immediately and didn’t slacken our pace until their piercing voices had completely faded into the distance.

So we arrived at Boulder Lake in almost no time at all. It was a moderately difficult hike, through the woods, following a stream uphill, but the view of the dammed-up lake was worth the effort. Set high in a range of granite mountains, Boulder Lake was large and blessfully quiet. We paused for awhile on the ramparts and scouted for wildlife; and only continued on our way when we heard the wild pack of kids nearing behind us.

The path continued east to the unsigned trail which would take us to Louie Lake. Before setting out, it’s worth stopping at the McCall ranger station to get a detailed explanation of the route — we would never have spotted the trail if we hadn’t known exactly what to look for, and where to look for it.

I figured that, after climbing up to Boulder Lake, we were as high as we’d get for the day, but the trail to Louie Lake continued even further uphill. Luckily, the nature was so entrancing that we hardly noticed. By now, the children were a distant memory and the only signs of life were chirping birds and the occasional, curious chipmunk. The views from the highest point of the hike were incredible — the Long Valley of McCall to the west, and nothing but autumn-colored mountains to the east.

We descended until reaching Louie Lake, which was just as big and beautiful as Boulder. From here, it was another mile back to our car. It was a loop of seven miles, which took almost five hours to complete, owing for lunch and photo breaks. Strenuous, but not overly so, it made for an excellent day hike.

Location of the Boulder Lake Trailhead | Beginning of Louie Lake Trail

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September 24, 2012 at 2:33 am Comments (0)

Bald Eagle! USA! USA!!!

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American Bald Eagle T-Shirt (Novelty!)

After our moose encounter, we didn’t have to wait long for Mother Nature to rear her head once more. Minutes before we entered the Snowdown Wildlife Sanctuary outside of McCall, a bald eagle swooped down from a tree and soared over the stream in front of us.

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It was the first time I’d ever seen our national bird, and I immediately remembered the lessons of my youth. This might surprise any non-US readers, but it’s a fact that in every school across the country, American children are drilled on the proper reaction to seeing a Bald Eagle. So as it soared over my head, I jumped into the air, pumped my fist, and screamed “Home of the Brave!” Behind me, fireworks. In front, amber waves of grain.

Jürgen was impressed, I could tell.

After I had calmed down, I went straight to the internet and researched Bald Eagles. When bragging about the encounter (and, oh, did I plan on bragging), I wanted to have more to say than “eagle was pretty”. So please, friend, take a seat and allow me to dazzle you with my EagleFacts!

On average, Bald Eagles live up to twenty years. Along with Golden Eagles, they’re the largest raptor in North America, with an average adult wingspan between 5.9 and 7.5 feet. Females and males are similar in appearance, but the ladies are larger by up to 25%. They build the largest nests of any bird, and return to them year after year, continually adding material to them. These nests can reach thirteen feet in depth, and eight in width. The eagles mate for life and can fly faster than 40 miles per hour.

Bald Eagles live all over America, but are sensitive to human presence and prefer remote areas with plenty of access to rivers and lakes. This explains why they are so often found in wild, remote Idaho. They mainly eat fish (which they rip apart with their talons), but will attack and eat anything they can manage, including raccoons, small reptiles and geese. They’re not preyed upon in the wild, and so are considered apex predators.

First a moose, and now a Bald Eagle. And all within our first few weeks in Idaho. We’d spot Bald Eagles a few more times during our stay, but I’ll never forget that first encounter.

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Updated!!! We spotted a Bald Eagle Couple near Driggs!

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Landing Bald Eagle

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September 23, 2012 at 3:58 pm Comments (0)