Favorite Holiday Traditions Old and New

The holidays in Sun Valley are unique. From the snow-covered peaks (and ski runs!) that surround the Wood River Valley, to the old-fashioned charm of the Sun Valley Village and the decidedly European feel of the Resort, Christmas in Sun Valley is straight out of a beloved picture book.

I have spent more than 30 Christmases in Sun Valley and while I certainly appreciate all that the Resort does to keep current (our amazing snowmaking and grooming, the gorgeous Lodge remodel, The Spa, and new Village Station to name just a few), I equally appreciate long-standing holiday traditions that bring continuity to each year. Though everyone has their favorite traditions and events without which Christmas would just not be Christmas, here are my top picks:

1. Christmas Eve Ice Show

Way before my daughters became figure skaters, I spent many a Christmas Eve at the Sun Valley Lodge watching the free and fabulous Ice Show. Whether the snow is falling hard as it has in recent years, or the night is clear and filled with stars, bundling up and gathering around the outdoor ice rink to enjoy both professional and local skaters is a unique Sun Valley experience. Then, as the years passed and all of my children skated in the show, this event came to define Christmas for our family. The camaraderie of the cast, the beauty of the costumes, the thrill of watching the crowd gather – that, for us, is Christmas. Whether you attend the Ice Show every year, or this is your first time, there is always something new to appreciate. This season’s “Skating in a Winter Wonderland” will be a feast for the eyes and ears, featuring professional soloists, wonderful holiday music, and great new lighting. Bring lots of layers, a blanket to sit on on the bleachers, grab a hot chocolate or a hot toddy, and enjoy. Be sure to stick around for another amazing Sun Valley tradition: the Torchlight Parade and fireworks show. Immediately following the Ice Show, the consummate professionals from the Sun Valley SnowSports School serpentine down Dollar Mountain, torches in hand, creating a beautiful spectacle of light on the mountain. A top-notch fireworks show follows to usher Christmas in. (During your stay, be sure to also take a few turns on the outdoor rink yourself! It is the largest year-round outdoor rink in the country a beautiful place to skate.)

The spectacular Christmas Eve Ice Show is a longstanding and popular Sun Valley holiday tradition. It’s easy to see why.

2. Tree Lighting Ceremony

Imagine yourself surrounded by thousands of sparkling lights and the beautiful harmonies of the Sun Valley Carolers as you count down with the large gathering of spectators: 5-4-3-2-1! At one, the traditional Sun Valley Christmas tree also sparkles to life, ushering in the magical season. The night of the Tree Lighting is one that is fun for the whole family in Sun Valley. In addition to the main event, artists are hard at work creating wondrous designs from ice – from trees, to suns, to a huge throne children just love to sit on. Hot cocoa and cookies are in abundance, every tree in the Village glimmers with light, and spirits are merry and bright. This year, the fun begins at 5:30 p.m. on December 16, following a day of activities at the Village including an Open Air Market and the Winter Wonderland scavenger hunt.

Sun Valley’s Tree Lighting Ceremony and Winter Wonderland celebration is a joy for the whole family

3. High Tea at the Lodge

Though this is one of our new traditions, it is also one of my favorites. Over the holiday season, the Sun Valley Lodge transforms its solarium into a setting straight out of London’s Ritz, except with my better views! Our family reserves a large table at one of the seatings to indulge in tea sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and jam, pastries, a large selection of tea, and even a champagne toast. The food is delightful, as is the setting. Raise a glass, and perhaps your pinkie finger, to one of world’s most civilized traditions. This year, high tea will be served on December 21, 23 at both 1 and 3 p.m.  Reservations are required and can be secured by calling 208-622-2097.

If a spot of tea would make your holiday merry and bright, be sure to enjoy the opulent version served at the Lodge during the holidays

4. Fondue

Stabbing a soft piece of bread and dunking it into delicious liquid cheese – there are almost no words. After a day on the hill, on the trails, or just about town, there is nothing better than indulging in a bubbling pot of fondue. Sun Valley has numerous options to get your fondue on: The Ram Restaurant serves both a traditional and a connoisseur fondue menu, The Ram Bistro offers both cheese and chocolate fondue (don’t get me started…), and, of course, the iconic Roundhouse Restaurant on Bald Mountain features fondue at lunch whilst taking a break from the great skiing or riding, or après ski with a glass of wine! Remember, at Roundhouse, you can always download on the gondola, so go ahead and enjoy!

5. Sleigh Rides to Trail Creek Cabin

A horse drawn sleigh ride beneath a star-filled or snow-filled nighttime sky is simply magic. From the warm, rough blankets that you tuck around your legs, to the rhythm of the sleigh as it traverses a trail through aspen groves and along Trail Creek, this Sun Valley tradition is simply not to be missed. And, in this case, getting there truly is only part of the fun. The ride ends at the historic and charming Trail Creek Cabin where you will be met by a roaring fire and probably a talented accordion player. Dinner is served piping hot and family style in the cozy room. A return sleigh ride to the Sun Valley Inn is usually a bit quieter than the ride out as you admire the beautiful environs surrounded by friends and family, content and sated. Sleigh rides are offered throughout the holiday season and include a four-course prix fixe menu. For reservations, please call 208-622-2135.

Giddy up, let’s go! A sleigh ride to dinner at the historic Trail Creek Cabin is a unique, festive Sun Valley experience.

6. A Meal at Roundhouse

Roundhouse Restaurant is a jewel perched about two-thirds of the way up Bald Mountain. It is one-of-a-kind with jaw dropping views and ambiance to spare. Large wraparound windows look out over the Wood River Valley’s surrounding majestic mountain ranges while a huge fireplace is the centerpiece of the round restaurant (hence the name…).  Whether you ski in for lunch or après ski, or make a reservation for the amazing six-course prix Fixe dinner, you will not forget this experience. To me, a dinner at Roundhouse is especially special.  The whole experience – from boarding the gondola and tucking blankets around your lap, to marveling at the sparkling lights of Ketchum below and feeling a million miles away from hectic everyday life – is something to savor. For dinner reservations, please call 208-622-2012.

7. Skiing, skiing, and more skiing

If you’ve made plans to visit Sun Valley in the winter, chances are skiing and riding are on the top of your list of reasons you came. For good reason! Sun Valley is famous for Bald Mountain’s consistent, steep vertical, making top-to-bottom runs some of the most exhilarating you will probably ever take. We are also famous for excellent snowmaking, outstanding grooming, and an unbeatable mountain culture. From the “yellow jacket” guest services members who welcome you to the hill, to our amazing Ski Patrol, SnowSports instructors, and wonderful staff at the day lodges (not to mention the equally wonderful food!), your time on the mountain will be first-class. Add in Dollar Mountain’s excellent combination of more gentle runs for newer skiers and boarders, as well as a shred-ready terrain park, and the whole family will stay challenged and happy whether you are here for five days or five years! Many families build their holiday traditions around skiing Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day, with the timing of heading to the lifts of equal import to other activities. Growing up, we always skied Christmas Day once gifts were unwrapped and we always wore a bright bow on our helmets!

A meal enjoyed two-thirds up Bald Mountain tastes especially delicious. During the holiday season, ski in for lunch or après ski or book a very special six course evening meal, accessed by gondola

8. Après Ski at River Run

If you like gathering with friends, raising a glass to an epic day on the mountain, celebrating the holidays, and grooving to great live music, add après ski at River Run Lodge to your must-do holiday list. The vibe at River Run is friendly and welcoming and when bands play (which is often), the party heats up as the lifts wind down. Pull up a stool at “Mahogany Ridge,” compare best runs of the day with friends old and new, and, if you want to really act like a local, get out on that dance floor, ski boots and all! For a full list of upcoming bands, please click HERE.

9. The Sun Valley Carolers

Harken back to another era and delight in some beautiful harmonies with the annual visit of the Sun Valley Carolers to the Village, Lodge, and Inn. This talented group, decked out in fancy Victorian garb, serenades hotel guests, diners at Resort restaurants, and at special events like the Tree Lighting Ceremony and Christmas Eve Ice Show throughout the holiday season. Crooning holiday favorites and sometimes even accompanied by handbells, the carolers are sure to elicit smiles and appreciation. The group will perform daily throughout the Village from December 16 to the 26th.

Enjoy a bountiful, delicious meal and the chance to whisper in Santa’s ear at a special holiday brunch at the Sun Valley Club.  “Santa, I’ve been very good this year …”

10. Brunch with Santa

Brunch with Santa is fun for children of all ages (and their parents, grandparents, and extended family members, too!). It is merry, indeed, to indulge in a bountiful brunch stocked with favorites for every palate, while Santa invites the little ones to whisper their wishes in his ear. There is live holiday music, beautiful décor and kid-friendly and traditional dishes at this favorite event. This special meal takes place at the Sun Valley Club on December 23 and 24 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 208-622-2919.

My list barely scratches the surface of the myriad holiday offerings taking place throughout December and into the New Year. Yours may include a family snowshoe or cross country ski, that first hot cookie fresh from the oven at Warm Springs Lodge, the annual Christmas Concert, sledding down Penny Hill, wrapping the latest new ski or snowboard equipment or outfit for the perfect gift, bowling at the Sun Valley Lodge, watching Sun Valley Serenade, enjoying a beer with friends at Lookout Lodge, browsing the trunk shows throughout the Village … the list goes on and on.

Every visitor to Sun Valley creates their own special holiday traditions, all of which bring joy to their world!

This winter, Sun Valley celebrates its 81st birthday, and it just keeps getting better and better. Holidays in Sun Valley are a long-standing and beloved tradition for so many. Be sure to find out why and create your own top 10 list this December!

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