In search of authenticity, take some turns in the tracks of Hemingway, Gable, and Bergman.

Last season, it dawned on me: top American ski resorts had developed an eerie homogeny. It wasnt the terrain—that was as nuanced as ever. It was the arrival of splashy restaurants imported from Los Angeles and Miami, some cheerily charging $42 plate of pasta. The evaporation of bar menus, that mountain town staple for affordable small plates offered during happy hour. And the quiet closure of family-run businesses to make way for global luxury brands. The result was clear. The uptick in flashiness invited a sameness that eroded the towns locals-live-here charm.

An outlier is soulful, Smoky-rimmed Sun ValleyAmericas first destination ski resort which has only changed hands only three times since it was founded in 1936, is owned by the Holding family who has flatly refused to glitzify their Sawtooth Mountains perch. Sun Valley has no five-star hotels, no fancy, no Chanel boutique, and no ski concierges to shuttle gear to and from the mountains. Old school charm abounds, from quaint pull carts to transport ski gear from the shuttle to the gondola to on-mountain eateries that are rife with vintage mementos and a style best described as anti-alpine minimalist. Thanks to a hillside ordinance” to protect views, wildlife, and natural features of the landscape, youll encounter no private on-mountain mansions (a few structures were built pre-regulation era) since building on Ketchums hillsides, and ridgelines with more than 25% grade are restricted. 

Sun Valley lodge at night

This absence of ostentation mixed with a vibrant, engaged community imbues this mountain town with a rare strain of alpine fairy dust.  “There is a lot of wealth out here, but rich people and celebrities want just to ski and blend in. Drew Barrymore shops here and Carole King pops in to donate clothing. Nobody pays any attention,” explains Craig Barry, Managing Director of The Gold Mine, a thrift store selling everything from skis to Moncler sweaters, to the benefit of Ketchums The Community LibraryThat Ketchum champions its small, independent businesses is why Jacob and Tara Frehlings groovy coffee and fashion shop Maudes Coffee and Clothes and dozens of shops and cafés such as Rickshaw, Raspberries, Vintage, and Cookbook can thrive. Being an entrepreneur in a place that is passionate about promoting local businesses is a joy,” explains Cassie Abel, founder of the Sun Valley-based activewear company for women, Wild Rye.

Celebrity culture? Here, Ernest Hemingway carries more sway than any Housewife-of or bold-faced diva thanks to a genius public relations move by the Sun Valley Lodge GM in 1939. When Steve Hannagan invited the machismo author for an all-expenses-paid vacation in exchange for photos of Papa at work (he edited For Whom the Bell Tolls” from room 206 where it is rumored that he shot a duck for interrupting his workflow with too-loud quacking) and living his celebrated outdoorsman life (mallard shooting at Silver Creek, hunting elk in the Pahsimeroi Valley, fishing along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, and other action-rich pursuits) it helped to put Sun Valley, Idaho on the map

Flyover Sun Valley Winter-0010

In Sun Valley, legacy is king, so it is not surprising that Hemingways haunts remain popular. Theres The Ram, still serving heritage dinners” featuring dishes from the restaurants 80-plus years (lamb from 1941, Hungarian goulash from 1966, pork schnitzel from 1982) complemented by live piano playing; the wood-paneled, lively Duchin Lounge (both within the Sun Valley Lodge) for whiz-bang, Idaho-inspired cocktails like Pioneer Cabin, a blend of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Carpano Antica, Averna Amaro, Frangelico, and orange bitters. Hemingway had a standing table at The Christiana (now Michels Christiana, owned by Michel Rudigoz, former coach to the U.S. Womens Ski Team) has changed little. Its classic French fare and killer martinis continue to delight diners who gather ’round time-worn leather banquettes beneath historic ski photo-studded walls.

Convivial conversation cannot be serviced and the Pioneer Saloon is still the convivial wild west watering hole of yore. A birchbark canoe hangs from the ceiling alongside deer, elk, and bison trophies peering down at guests. Pride of place is reserved for Hemingway1953 Winchester Model 21 twelve-gauge shotgun.

Hats off to Sun Valley where standout skiing and a quintessential mountain town endure, without a single Stetson-clad influencer to be spied in the sights.