by Terry Conway
Ernest Hemingway rarely wrote about Idaho. With good reason, as it was his autumn refuge for more than two decades. Mornings found him at his Royal typewriter pounding out those short, rhythmic sentences. He hunted or fished in the afternoon.
It’s easy to see why “Papa” loved the wild beauty. Awash in fresh air and dry sunshine, the sparkling alpine paradise of Sun Valley is tucked into a corner of the Wood River Valley that includes the villages of Ketchum and Hailey, a dozen miles apart.
Sun Valley was founded by Union Pacific Railroad Chairman Averell Harriman in the winter of 1936. Harriman was determined to turn the area into a resort worthy of its majestic setting: a timeless four-story mountain lodge, a glass-enclosed pool, a innovative ice skating rink, world-class cuisine and impeccable service as well as nightly orchestra performances.
Hemingway first turned up at the Sun Valley Lodge in 1939 where he finished off “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” He nicknamed it the “Glamour House” for the string of Hollywood royalty like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Claudette Colbert and Bing Crosby who flocked to America’s first winter playground. Hemingway stayed in room 206 at no charge. Today, summer guests pay $450 per night and share the room with a bust of Papa at a typewriter.
Still home to a stable of Hollywood stars, Sun Valley and Ketchum are also splendid summer and autumn destinations with endless hiking and biking trails. Last summer a gondola silently slipped Jane and I through the lodgepole pines to the top of Bald Mountain.
We enjoyed a casual lunch on the patio of the Roundhouse perched at 7,700 feet. Built by Union Pacific to resemble a railroad switch house, its four-sided fireplace, elk antler chandeliers and exposed timber beams take you back to when it opened in 1938. You can tote your mountain bike one up in of those gondolas and step onto 28 miles of biking trails with everything from challenging uphill climbs to extreme downhill switchbacks, a fast and furious descent covering over 3,000 vertical feet.
The biggest game in town is the Sun Valley Lodge that radiates rugged elegance. The iconic resort property offers 148 French-country guestrooms and a wealth of onsite amenities including ice skating and bowling, spa treatments and an enormous outdoor 102-degree pool. A pair of swans swims in the pond out front. Behind the lodge is the picturesque year-round skating rink where we met two-time Olympic bronze medalist Kim Navarro who was gliding over the ice preparing for the Summer Ice Show.
Nearby a $40 million entertainment pavilion showcases top-flight concert performers. Steps away you find Sun Valley Village with alpine restaurants, duck ponds, boutiques and adventure sports shops. Stop by The Konditorei for breakfast (the oatmeal is amazing), pastries, espressos, and iced coffee.
Just across the road from the lodge we hiked a five-mile trail system that weaves around the new White Clouds golf course with gorgeous views of the valley. You can also saddle up for a ride up Dollar Mountain or test your marksmanship skill at the Sun Valley Gun Club.
In the early part of 20th century Ketchum was dependent on sheep and mines for its survival. Today, the arts are now an essential reason why people choose to live in and visit the Wood River Valley. At the Frederic Boloix Gallery count on seeing masters like Picasso and Matisse, as well as stunning works of the Spaniard Salustiano who uses a special red pigment– up to 60 layers– in his exquisite portraits. Kneeland Gallery showcases colorful landscapes by western artists in styles from realism to impressionism.
The Sun Valley Center for the Arts is the heart of the local cultural scene. They offer exhibitions, lectures, classes and performing arts events that touch on relevant issues and bring some of the world’s most compelling artists, writers and thinkers to their small community.
A wood-frame cottage, Ketchum Grille dates back to the town’s first boom, the silver mining industry in the 1880s. Owner/chef Scott Mason shows an artful hand with dishes like grilled Black Canyon Idaho elk, and sublimely tender duck with mountain huckleberries. Over at the Sawtooth Club their natural wood cooking imparts a variety of subtle tastes and aromas to its game, seafood and enormous steaks. With a long, welcoming bar and cozy fireside couches it is also a popular meeting place.
Blond pine woodwork, a cozy limestone fireplace in the wine bar and spacious windows framing Bald Mountain stamp Ciro’s an ideal spot to “uncork and unwind.” The cooking is as thoughtful as the stagecraft. For starters try the Neapolitan style pizza with a thin, crispy and flavorful crust. We devoured the smoked trout version. Around the corner pay a visit to a funky bookstore called Iconoclast celebrated for its first editions of Hemingway books.
A mile or so up the road from Sun Valley Lodge a cozy log cabin resides in the foothills of the Gallatin Mountain Range. Back in the day Hemingway staged star-studded parties at Trail Creek Cabin. We toasted “Hem” with a bracing gin cocktail at the bar that overlooks the onrushing creek, then savored an inspired pairing of smoked Idaho mountain trout with goat cheese and Hemingway meatloaf, a sumptuous blend of lamb and ground chuck.
Nearby, a bronze bust of Hemingway sits atop a simple rock formation in a quiet grove of trees by the tumbling creek. Papa’s eyes are fixed unwaveringly toward the horizon. It bears an epitaph that Hemingway penned for a friend killed in a hunting accident, capturing the wilderness he so adored.
Best of all he loved the fall
the leaves yellow on cottonwoods
leaves floating on trout streams
and above the hills
the high blue windless skies
…Now he will be a part of them forever