March in Sun Valley is coming in like a lion with significant snowfall falling over the past week and more predicted through the weekend. The month will also not go out like the proverbial lamb, because the Toyota U.S. Alpine Championships, a world-class event, is coming to Baldy’s storied slopes from March 21 to 26. You won’t want to miss a minute of this celebration of amazing ski racing and mountain culture.
The action returns! Sun Valley last hosted the U.S. Alpine Championships in 2016. It was so great,...
What began as a small annual gathering by then Idaho senator John Peavey has evolved into one of the best fall festivals in the country. The Trailing of the Sheep Festival will celebrate its 18th anniversary the second week of October and it continues to grow in popularity—as well as activities—each year.
To find out a few keys to the success of the annual celebration of history, culture and culinary feats, I asked one of its founders and board of directors, Joan Davies
“This all started with John Peavey inviting people to come up to Ketchum for a cup of coffee and to help trail the sheep from the summer pastures,” said Joan, who is the retired program coordinator for the College of Southern Idaho among her numerous impressive local undertakings. “And now it’s grown into one of the best festivals in the West, if not the nation. It’s poetic. It’s artistic. It’s practical. It’s just terrific.”
It’s Living History
Despite what ski bums new to town might tell you, Ketchum wasn’t founded by skiers. It was founded, or at least built, on sheep. Miners first came to the valley and found some booms and busts, but sheepherders are the ones who made roots here.
By the turn of the 20th century Ketchum trailed only Sydney, Australia, as the top sheep-producing region in the world. And while the shepherds had to make room for the celebrities once the nation’s first ski resort, Sun Valley, opened in 1936, they never went away.
Each year, thousands of sheep still pass through the Wood River Valley, usually along their legal right-of-way, which also serves as the world-class bike trail system. The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which includes parading hundreds of wooly beasts through the streets of Ketchum during their fall migration to lower climes, is a real act of living history, something that’s pretty hard to find nowadays, and it’s a big part of the fest’s appeal.
“It goes back to the history of this place and keeps it alive. Sheep are really the reason why we’re all here,” Joan said of the festival. “It’s one of those rich moments in life that we need more of.”
“I guess when you think about it, this event is a whole different kind of preservation,” Joan said, about a festival that includes more than just Idaho’s history.
The five-day fest includes music, art, dancing, films, weaving and knitting techniques shared by participants of other sheep growing regions of the world. There are Scottish, Basque, Polish, Peruvian, and Native American elements throughout the festival, as well as the championship sheepdog trials.
“It draws people from all over and offers great diversity,” Joan said. “It’s a lot more than just sheep walking down the road.”
The variety of activities is one of the main reason that publications like USA Today has named the Trailing of the Sheep one the Best Fall Festivals in the nation.
While sheep are lauded for producing wool, they have also long been prized as a tasty source of protein. Over the years the festival has evolved into a foodie paradise. Each day features cooking demonstrations and meals featuring lamb raised locally.
During the nearly week-long festival, just about every restaurant in the Wood River Valley will offer lamb specials.
“A lot of people don’t realize how delicious lamb can be,” Joan said, about the mouthwatering meals some of the best chefs in land cook up each year. “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
The Trailing of the Sheep Festival runs from Wednesday October 7th through Sunday October 11th. Check out the festival’s website for a rundown of events or for more information.
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