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The Fab 5: Winter Family Activities in Sun Valley

Mike McKenna's picture
Mike McKenna

With apologies to Michigan basketball fans from the early ‘90s, the best Fab 5 you’ll ever find is right here in America’s Original Destination Mountain town, Sun Valley, Idaho. That’s especially so if you’ve got an active family and like to do really cool and memorable stuff together. If you prefer to just sit on the couch and play video games, the couches are nice here, too.  But they seem a lot softer after you’ve spent the day doing something you’ll always remember, like shredding fresh tracks in the backcountry, ice skating under the stars, catching an Olympic hopeful or a wild trout leaping high into the air, and finishing it all up with an outdoor swim while it’s snowing. To help, here are 5 fabulous Winter Activities for your family that are unique to Sun Valley, Idaho.

1: Go Heli Skiing

Most folks know that Sun Valley is the home of the world’s first chairlift and may know we’re also the home of the first American (male or female) to win an Olympic medal in skiing, Gretchen Fraser. She took the silver home to Idaho in 1948.

But most people don’t know that Sun Valley is also home of the first heli-skiing outfitter in the country.

Inspired by a trip to Canada, and by the snow-covered Idaho wilderness that surrounds Sun Valley, Bill Janss, then owner of Sun Valley and an avid backcountry skier, founded Sun Valley Heli Ski (SVHS) in 1966.

SVHS was issued the first U.S. Forest Service heli ski permit in the country and is still lucky enough to lay claim to the largest permit in the lower 48 states. Their skiable terrain includes three mountain ranges (Smoky, Boulder and Pioneers) and covers more than 750,000 acres.

The general rule is if you can ski Baldy, you can ski anything. SVHS's has access to 750,000 acres of terrain across three mountain rangersin its permit area.

“We go to some pretty incredibly beautiful country,” said Pat Deal, SVHS’s lead guide. The kind of country that makes for great memories and the kind of family photos that really make your holiday cards jump out from the crowd.

 

2: Hit the Ice

ice skating at the Sun Valley Resort  ice skating at the Sun Valley Resort

In some ways, it’s always winter in Sun Valley. The Sun Valley Outdoor Ice Rink behind the historic lodge is one of the only year-round, outdoor rinks in the nation. With Baldy in the background it’s pretty fun to carve up the same ice that some of the world’s best figure skaters perform on each summer. One of the best parts of skating at the Sun Valley rink is that the Lodge is a just a few yards away. So it’s a short stroll for a hot chocolate, or something that makes us parents feel toasty from the Duchin Lounge while the kids go bowling downstairs.

For the more home-grown ice skating experience, head to the Christina Potter's Outdoor Ice Rink located a few blocks from downtown Ketchum. While this non-refridgerated rink is subject to weather conditions, it delivers a truly authentic experience when everything aligns. Take advantage of FREE skates, sticks, pucks and helmets during their 9-5 Monday - Sunday operations. Again, this is all weather permitting. Check the City of Ketchum site for more information

If hockey is more your style, they Outdoor Rink rents hockey-style skates and the popular local semi-pro team, the Sun Valley Suns, play teams from other ski towns most weekend evenings throughout the winter at the new Hailey Ice rink.

 

3: Go Swimming Outside While it’s Snowing

Most kids love to go swimming, and if they get to swim outside while it’s snowing, all the better. The two heated, circular outdoor pools at the Sun Valley Resort are tough to top, especially if you’ve spent the day chasing adventure.

The views from the pools at both the freshly-remodeled Resort as well as the historic pool at the Sun Valley Inn are why people have been coming to soak in them since the 1930s. Both pools even have bar and food service and offer day passes to the public.

Another great option is Zenergy. This spot has a salt water, indoor-outdoor pool with equally spectacular views of Bald Mountain. 

 

4: Hit the Terrain Park

Sun Valley Terrain Park on Dollar Mountain

There once was a time when only birds soared above Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge, but nowadays, skiers and snowboarders go to heights that seem to defy gravity.

Every day during the season, experienced winter sports athletes put on impressive shows at the Terrain Parks at Dollar, while the inexperienced have a blast on the more user-friendly options.

The best part about the shows is that they’re free to watch—even when Dollar is hosting a contest. They’re also easy to see from inside the dining hall of the lodge or on its lovely sun deck.

The terrain options at Dollar are ideal for families, especially terrain park fans. There’s something for everyone, from the free Magic Carpet for newbies, to a wide variety of mini-parks that are fun for anyone from groms to grown-ups. Of course, we grown-ups should be a careful about trying to defy gravity, or even have a minor disagreement with it.

But even us dads can have fun hitting some of the boxes, before we hit up some of the local brews as a reward.

 

5: Have a Fishing & Skiing Double Header

Winter Fly Fishing on the Big Wood River in Ketchum, Idaho

It’s easy to hit the slopes of Baldy or Dollar Mountain, or the nearly endless miles of groomed Nordic trails, and still sneak in an adventure in the melted snow.  

The Big Wood River runs right past the River Run Lodge at the base of the slopes. The Big Wood offers some of the best winter fly fishing in the West. Much of the groomed Wood River Trail follows and occasionally crosses the river. Several fisherman access points can be reached fairly easily, although it may require snowshoes to get to the water.

The legendary Blue Ribbon waters of Silver Creek are also just a short drive from Sun Valley and open through much of the winter. Ketchum offers a couple of world-class fishing shops to get you dialed in or set up with a guide. Both Silver Creek Outfitters and Lost River Outfitters are on Main Street and the river is never very far away.

Neither is the mountain or the trail or the hot tub or a ridiculously tasty restaurant or that really comfy couch that you’ll thoroughly enjoy after chasing down one of the Fab 5 Fun unique family adventures in Sun Valley.

 

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