I’ve traveled across the U.S. and abroad for snowboarding as part of my job and have holed up in just about every type of mountain town you could imagine. A few have come close to taking the top spot over the years; Telluride, Bend, Park City, to name a few. But one town has remained at the top of my list since I first visited back in 2014: Sun Valley, Idaho.
It is by no means an easy place to get to. In good weather, it’s about a two-hour, forty-five-minute drive from the Boise airport; from the Twin Falls airport, it’s about a two-hour drive. Because of its layout — flights can only take off and land in one direction — flights into the Sun Valley airport are routinely canceled or diverted. But its remote nature is what has helped the Sun Valley and Ketchum, Idaho area hold its unmolested charm for the past 138 years.
By most accounts, Sun Valley is a standard mountain town. There’s a solid outdoor gear shop, a locals’-favorite cafe, a handful of tourist-driven restaurants and an off-the-beaten-path cheap beer and wing spot. There are also a handful of high-end resort hotels that cater more towards the one percent. So far, any number of mountain towns would fit that description. But what sets Sun Valley apart is something less easily quantified; the vibe. Yes, it’s a little bit cliche and yes, it’s slightly overwrought to say that the vibe is what sets Sun Valley apart from other mountain towns, but it’s true. Sun Valley is neither cliche nor overwrought. If you took the heavy tourist traffic out of Jackson, Wyoming, or the pretentious air out of Aspen, Colorado, or even the general Coloradoness out of Telluride, you’d get pretty close to the vibe of Sun Valley. In a sense, it’s a locals town where even the tourists feel like locals.