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24-HOURS IN SUN VALLEY? MAKE THAT 48! - James Cove, Sun Valley, Idaho
Monday March 13, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

The PlanetSKI road trip leaves the resort of Jackson Hole and heads to Sun Valley. We ended up staying for twice as long as planned as we hit the powder (again) and dived into US skiing history.

March 3rd and 4th - Day 25 and 26.

More than 5 hours of driving and 250 miles may seem like a long way to go for a day's skiing but on a North America road trip it seems perfectly normal.

The journey becomes an integral part of the experience.

And so it was as we left the resort of Jackson Hole - it had been the highlight of the 4-week road trip as I have detailed earlier.

Jackson Hole - what a place!

Leaving JacksonLeaving Jackson















Leaving JacksonLeaving Jackson
















And now it's over to Sun Valley.

The journey itself proved some of the most spectacular scenery of the trip so far.

And here are a couple of videos of the road between Idaho Falls and Ketchum where we stayed the night before skiing Sun Valley.

We stayed in the new Limelight Hotel - sister hotel the one I had been at in Aspen earlier on the trip.  See here for details on my time in Aspen.

Now I don't tend to write much about hotels and where I'm putting my head down - but after a few nights sleeping on floors, the odd spare room in a mate's house and a couple of budget rooms in places The Limelight was a treat.

The Limelight is new to Ketcham, the town where most people stay as they ski the slopes of Sun Valley.

Outside The LimelightOutside The Limelight
















Inside The LimelightInside The Limelight
















Inside The LimelightInside The Limelight
















But more influential to our trip are the staff.

Meet 62-year old Nigel Whittington who works for Guest Services at the hotel.

Nigel Whittington, Sun ValleyNigel Whittington, Sun Valley
















He was born in Handsworth in Birmingham.

He left to go travelling in 1984 and never returned.

"I met the most beautiful woman in the word we ended up here in 190 and have never left," he told me.  "We still married and I love her just as much as when we first met."

I told him of our journey and how we were only planning one night in Sun Valley and then heading of to Grand Targhee.

"You are doing what?!" he said.  "One day here is absurd you must stay longer".

So Katie and I did.

It was our best decision of this part of the trip and here's why:

We met another member of staff, Bert Witsil.

Bert Witsil at workBert Witsil at work
















He asked us to join him for a ski the next day.

"Common I'll show you round," he said cheerily.

The next day we didn't recognise him out of his work clothes and in his ski gear.

Bert Witsil at playBert Witsil at play




















He was a fabulous telemark skier and we uttley ripped up the resort - the groomers, the moguls, the steep and then into the trees.

Into the treesInto the trees
















It was a quick stop for a snack - we missed lunch as we wanted to ski and I noticed a poster on the walls.

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"Did this place really have the first chairlify ever built," I enquired.

"Sure and it is still here. You ought to pop along and see it after skiing," said Bert.

2-hours later the modern lifts in Sun Valley had stopped and I was looking at the first chairlift ever built.

It was beautiful.

Sun Valley, IdahoSun Valley, Idaho
















Sun Valley, IdahoSun Valley, Idaho
















Sun Valley, IdahoSun Valley, Idaho
















The resort of Sun Vally is also the first resort built in North America after the Union Pacific Railroad constructed the resort and opened it in 1936. 

At the time most people either walked up the slopes or used rudimentary rope tows to pull them up the hill.

The management asked the Union Pacific engineers to come up with a better was to get people up the hill and one bright spark remembered how they load bananas on to the ships from the docks in Panama.

A steel rope was set up with hooks on and the bananas we put on the hooks.

He thought that instead of hook they could use chairs. 

And the first chairlift  was thus created.

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Sun Valley is steeped in skiing history and no more so than the Sun Valley Lodge.

Sun Valley, IdahoSun Valley, Idaho
















Sun Valley, IdahoSun Valley, Idaho
















It became the haunt of Hollywood film stars as they took the train from Los Angeles. 

It has remained so to this day and a corridor remembers many of them.

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Hollywood starsHollywood stars
















Hollywood starsHollywood stars
















Hollywood starsHollywood stars
















Hollywood starsHollywood stars
















But its past is also something of an albatross around its neck and some loclas complain the resort look back to its glory days too much and should invest in its future with new infrastructure and a more agressive marketing and promotional camapaigns.

There are rumours of a takeover by another household name resort - watch this space.

Saturday March 4th - Day 26

An abandoned nuclear town, alien landscapes and life on the road. One of the best days of the PlanetSKI North America road trip didn't involve skiing. Idaho to Wyoming...

In my opinion there are 3 rules you should be guided by on a long ski road trip:

1.     Have a plan but change it at will and always go where the wind takes you.

2.     Don't worry about anything as the Lord will provide.

3.     Choose a good partner to travel and ski with.

All three came into play today.

The plan had been to head to Big Sky in Montana but instead Katie and I found ourselves heading from Sun Valley in Idaho back to Wyoming to visit the ski resort of Grand Targhee.

"Grand Targhee gets the most snow of anywhere I know and it has been puking it down this season," said Bert Witsil as we skied the trees in a base of 10ft of snow in Sun Valley on Friday (see below for details of one of the best ski days of the entire trip).

"Oh, and you should check out Craters of the Moon and the city of Atomic on the way," he added.

Atomic City turned out to have a population of 29 and was certainly the strangest place we have visited.

I'm travelling this leg of my 4-week road trip with PlanetSKI's senior news reporter, Katie Bamber.

Katie needed no persuasion to ditch all plans and head off in another direction altogether. 

She also knows how to ski.

On the slopesOn the slopes
















Now rather stupidly I assumed Atomic City would be, er, a city.

This was the dirt road leading to it as we left the tarmac of the I-20 and it turned out that it was far from a city.

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We passed by some ramshackle buildings after a few miles and carried on.

And on.

The road got progressivley worse.

Do we turn back?

Let's see what's round the next corner.

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And over the next brow of a hill.

After 10 miles or so we cut our losses and turned round fearful the vehicle would get stuck in the sodden dirt road.

We had 4-wheel drive but it was not an off-roader and the gravel track was becoming distinctly off road.

As we drove back past the collection of ramshackle buildiings we'd passed half an hour earlier Katie noticed a sign.

"This is Atomic City!" she proclaimed and got out for a nose around.

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Atomic City was the site of the nuclear Experimental Breeder Reactor in the 1950s - the world's first electricity-generating nuclear power plant. 

Where we were standing was the first urban conurbation powered entirely on nuclear energy.

It was designed as a city and project of the future.

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But things didn't quite pan out for Atomic City and instead it has a current population of 29. 

It's a ghost town, but at least it is up in numbers from the 25 people who lived here at the time of the 2000 census.

There is one store and one bar; the store no longer sells gasoline, due to new laws concerning underground gas tanks.

Thankfully we had filled up earlier in Arco or we would have been rather stuck out here in the middle of nowhere.

The 29 people that live here occupy 17 households and there are 9 families residing in the city.

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Rather bizarrely it has a speedway track that apparently operates in the summer months.

We saw no-one.

Not a soul.

The café was closed.

Only a few deer roamed about the place.

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Earlier we had driven through Craters of the Moon on the I-20.

The landscape approaching it seemed from another world.

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Thousands of years ago molten lava under the Earth's crust broke through spewing lava across this vast area of Idaho. 

Covered in snow it was perhaps not as impressive as in the summer months but that is where a little imagination is handy.

Craters of the MoonCraters of the Moon
















And a trip to the Visitor Centre.

We parked our black SUV up against a somewhat cooler vehicle.

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There was more evidence of the huge snowfall this area has seen.

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The area had been made a National Monument in 1924 and President Calvin Coolidge described it as "a weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself."

Inside we soaked up the information about the place.

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I vowed to return one day in the summer months.

As this is what it looks like without snow.

Craters of the MoonCraters of the Moon














Now another 'rule' I have when travelling is don't have a Sat Nav and preferably leave all decent maps at home. 

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Getting lost is part of the experience and you get to meet the locals.

Plus it gives proceedings a bit of an edge.

We were travelling with a photocopied page from Where to Ski and Snowboard and the map of Salt Lake City (and wider area) provided to us by our car rental company.

We had to stop at Dave's Pubb in Tetonia to ask the way to Grand Targhee (neither on the WTSS map or the car hire one).

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"Keep going for 8 miles and then take a left at the first set of traffic light you come to. Can't miss it," said Dave.

We got talking to the locals.

"Where you guys from?" asked a lady at the bar who had clearly been sitting there for more hours than she cared to remember.

She was next to a man with his head in his hands who'd perhaps been at the bar even longer.

"Well there are five of you at the bar so let's have a show of hands," I replied.

"I either come from Sydney, Australia or London England," and carried on talking about our trip to give them further evidence to reach their decision.

It was 3-0 to Sydney with 2 abstentions (one was the man with his head in his hands).

If I am accused of being an Aussie in the US when I ask the question I have a simple retort that usually gets a smile.

"Sorry, wrong I'm from London. And which part of Canada are you from?"

They burst out laughing and wished us a safe and pleasant journey to Grand Targhee.

The other rule is that if you see a strange site that triggers your curiosity stop and ask because you won't get a second chance.

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It turns out that when kids leave High School in Arco they climb up this rock face and scratch in their date of departure.

The tradition started in 1920 and there will no doubt be a 17 in a few months time.

Also keep your eyes peeled if you fancy pawning your skis or any guns you may be travelling with.

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And shopping en route is a must. 

The best ski gloves you will ever have are fur-lined Kenco gloves that retail as $19.99.

Why do you think most of the lefties and resort workers wear them?

They are tough, warm and cheap.

Best buy on the roadBest buy on the road















The arrival a few hours later in the Tetons was spectacular:

On the roadOn the road
















On the roadOn the road
















And as we arrived in Grand Targee after our 6-hours drive there was good news and bad news.

Grand Targhee, WyomingGrand Targhee, Wyoming
















Bad news - The band at the Trap Bar had just finished and locals told us the place was rocking.

Good news - They are playing again tomorrow after skiing.  And we are staying two nights.

At least that is the plan.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news

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