The first destination ski resort in the United States, and still among the most famous, Sun Valley was developed by Union Pacific railroad tycoon Averell Harriman. In 1936 Harriman built a large mock-Tyrolean chalet, the Sun Valley Lodge (1 Sun Valley Rd., 208/622-4111 or 800/786-8259, $339 and up), and began to cultivate Sun Valley’s exclusive reputation—reinforced to this day by high prices for lift tickets (over $100 a day) and five-star facilities, including golf courses, tennis courts, and gourmet restaurants. Though Colorado’s Vail and other resorts now compete for the top-dollar trade, Sun Valley still attracts well-heeled clientele, if the private jets parked at the local airport are any indication.
While the resort itself isn’t huge, Sun Valley has come to stand for the larger area, including the towns of Ketchum and Hailey and much of the nearby wilderness, much of which is surprisingly barren and treeless—ideal for skiing, perhaps, though not jaw-dropping beautiful. Besides skiers in winter, Sun Valley also draws golfers and mountain bikers in summer and fall, not to mention anglers, who rate the Big Wood River as one of the nation’s best trout-fishing streams.