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Sun Valley Winter Travel Guide for Families

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My family soaked it all in: The twinkling lights on the trees, the thick layer of snow juxtaposed against the pastel lights of the sky and the luxurious heated pool. The clocktower chimed every 15 minutes, our only reminder that time here was quantified. Sure, we were in a pandemic, but after nearly 10 months of social distancing, we felt like we were finally living.  

If you could safely take a road trip to one destination in 2021, where would you go? I was asked this question when Chevy reached out to see if I’d like to test-drive their 2021 Chevy Tahoe, the best-selling full-size SUV in the United States for 19 consecutive years.

It took me five seconds to respond: Sun Valley, Idaho, America’s oldest ski resort and purveyor of the sun (250 days of it, to be exact). This playground for celebrities and powder hounds is also the ultimate family vacation that somehow maintains an uncrowded, non-touristy atmosphere.  With world-class downhill and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, ice skating, and snowmobiling, America’s First Destination Ski Resort in the Wood River Valley offers social distancing at its finest.

The First-Timers

Getting there is half the fun in the Chevy Tahoe. My family could instantly feel how spacious the 2021 Chevy Tahoe is (without feeling like we were driving a tank) and we appreciated the ease of the sliding second-row seats and the third-row option that adds 40 percent more legroom and a best-in-class cargo volume of up to 122.9 cu. ft. With teens, connectivity is of the utmost importance and the 2021 model is outfitted with a 10.2-inch touchscreen that includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, as well as an available WiFi hotspot. I loved the standard safety features that included forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, in addition to available blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts. 

It was our family’s first time in a Chevy Tahoe. Our first time not battling it out for the charging ports because they were in abundance. The first time the kids had their own heated seats and rear-seat entertainment system. And the first time that whenever they asked “are we there yet?” I could point them to their personal GPS.

It was a family vacation full of firsts…and thanks to Chevy, certainly not our lasts.

Skiing in Idaho’s Alps

Sun Valley offers a two-for-one deal: Two great mountains for the price of one. Bald Mountain boasts 3,400 vertical feet of fall line terrain and meticulously maintained expert to beginner trails.  Meanwhile, Dollar Mountain has 76 rails and a 22-foot superpipe, beginner-friendly slopes, five lifts, and 628 feet of vertical.  The resort has earned the moniker “The Alps of America” for its blend of miraculous views, European elegance and Hemingwayesque ruggedness…all this in the heart of spud-country.

With I-70’s traffic snares a distant nightmare, we got a lazy start to our Friday. We leisurely slept in and hopped on our free shuttle that transported us from the Sun Valley Inn to the base where we used our Vail Resorts Epic Passes which offers two free days of skiing at Sun Valley. It hadn’t snowed in a few weeks (a sizable dump came after we left) but with the resort’s state-of-the-art snowmaking, we took full advantage of Bald Mountain’s fast, steep terrain and legendary bowls as we gawked at the Pioneer Range’s snow-capped peaks, later warming up with Thai Emerald Curry in the River Run Day Lodge.   

In one short day, we caught a very convincing glimpse at why Sun Valley was voted the No. 1 Ski Resort 2021 by SKI Magazine.

There’s plenty to explore off the mountain as well but it’s confusing to know where Sun Valley ends and Ketchum begins. On the southwest side of Main Street, you’ll find Sun Valley Resort while the northeast side of Ketchum is home to the luxurious 148-room Sun Valley Lodge which overlooks the resort’s famed outdoor skating rink. We took a short walk from the Inn, toured the small Tyrolean village of shops and restaurants (grab an apple strudel at Konditorei) and be sure to play in the Lodge’s basement which houses a game room with (pricy) bowling, pool, and arcade games and eats. 

Nordic Town USA

If you love skinny skis, Sun Valley is the promised land with its 200+ km of groomed, networked trails, linking the south valley to the north as well as several spur Nordic track networks. The 32 km Wood River Trail is a paved multi-use path that connects Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue–perfect for biking in the summer and skiing in the winter. 

 I felt like I was living in Narnia as we pointed our Chevy Tahoe north on Highway 75 (the Sawtooth Scenic Byway), driving past an unending white landscape heralded as one of the most expansive cross-country trail systems in the nation. In fact, the US Olympic Committee designated Sun Valley the country’s first Nordic Olympic Training Site and Paralympic Training Site for the world’s best athletes so you know it’s gotta be world-class.

Our destination was Galena Lodge–just 23 miles outside of Sun Valley–but the Sawtooth National Forest’s canvas of white kept us barreling well past our stopping point. We were tempted to go as far as the hot springs in Stanley, Idaho but the heart of Nordic ski country beckoned so we reluctantly turned around.

Galena Lodge is a county-owned day lodge that offers rentals, lessons, hearty eats, Full Moon Dinners, yurt overnighters and dog-friendly snowshoe trails. We assembled our gear in the large open area where families gathered around the firepit, munched on goodies from Pearl’s food truck and enjoyed the small sledding hill.  

We split up to enjoy Galena’s 50 km of groomed trails. Jamie and Hadley did the beginner Senate Meadows Loop, a perfect introduction to the area. My son Bode is on our local Nordic team so he downgraded his acumen to tackle the intermediate-level Jenny Way with me. This was his first time skiing the deep backcountry and it was incredibly rewarding to watch his deep-dive into our own Private Idaho. 

 Seniors ruled the trail system that day and Bode marveled, “There are a lot of really fast old people out here.” Note: he was not talking about me. As I climbed to the top of a hill, he looked at me with alarm and queried, 

Do you need a break?
“No, let’s just keep going.”
“It’s just that you’re….sweating.”

Oh, to be young and able to fly up mountains like the wind but our time together at Galena is a memory I’ll treasure forever, when we were transported out of a pandemic and into the stress-defying power of nature at its finest. 

Life on the Blade

Sun Valley Lodge has one of the few year-round outdoor ice rinks in the country, as well as a full-sized indoor rink that is home of the Sun Valley Figure Skating School and the celebrated Sun Valley Ice Shows. Skate rentals are available on-site. 

While impressive, when you grow up in Canada, you are spoiled with lakes and rivers where you can skate for miles. So. Much. More. Impressive. For this reason, I am always on the lookout for skating in a natural setting (Evergreen Lake and Keystone Lake are my Colorado favorites).

Enter: Christina Potters Outdoor Ice Rink at Atkinson Park in Ketchum. A local’s secret, this expansive rink covers almost two acres, the largest non-refrigerated rink of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.  The adjacent Recreation Center is closed due to COVID so it’s BYOS (Bring Your Own Skates). Normally, skates, helmets, pucks, hockey sticks, broomball and balance assists are free for public use. 

When we arrived, only a few locals were taking slap shots against a wooden box and I couldn’t believe our socially-distanced luck. We found a hockey stick in lost-and-found and, in a flash, my kids’ Canadian roots were ignited and now they’re blaming me for not raising them on the blade. 

Believe me, this rink–and a family vacation to Sun Valley–will charm your skates right off.

Thanks to Chevy for sponsoring our trip. All opinions are my own.  The all-new 2021 starts at $49,000.

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Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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