A Ski Weekend In Sun Valley on a Budget 

Sun Valley is notoriously expensive, but there are ways to enjoy it without breaking the bank

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Hayden Seder

Ketchum is by no means a cheap town, but the locals know how to find the cheap thrills, from food for under $10 to free entertainment. So if a weekend hitting the slopes in Sun Valley seems pricey, read on for how to score lodging, meals, lift tickets and more without breaking the bank.

Where to Stay

Some hotels are less expensive than others. Hotel Ketchum runs about $133/night and offers 30% off through Dec. 19 and up to 20% for any stays booked in winter. The Tamarack Lodge offers the same deals and a night's stay there will run $98-$209. The Best Western Kentwood Lodge is around $150/night and the Best Western Tyrolean, steps away from Bald Mountain, is about $134/night.

While Sun Valley Resort lodging is generally in the high-price range, it does offer specials like 20% off for Epic Pass holders or the "Basin Package," which offers Bogus Basin or Snowbasin pass-holders a rate at the Sun Valley Lodge of $159/night between Dec. 1 and 21.

If you're thinking of staying in Hailey, the town 10 miles south of Ketchum, the hotel rates aren't much cheaper and you'll do more driving. The Wood River Inn & Suites runs about $124/night, the AmericInn $127/night and the Airport Inn $145/night. There are AirBNBs aplenty, which cost as little as $68/night.

Where to Eat

For the cheapest route, stock up on groceries before heading to Ketchum, but there are several amazing eateries in town that won't make your wallet cry. For breakfast, try Java on Fourth, the original Java location, for breakfast basics and the famous Bowl of Soul. At lunch, there's a spot for everything: For burgers, check out Lefty's, a mellow sports/bar pub; for sandwiches, head to Johnny G's Subshack; for wraps, check out local favorite Wrap City and try the famous Chinese Chicken Salad wrap; for burritos and tacos, head to KB's for American-style Mexican or La Cabanita for the real deal; and for pizza, grab a slice from Wiseguy Pizza Pie.

click to enlarge HAYDEN SEDER
  • Hayden Seder

On the Mountain

Bald Mountain is the reason to visit Sun Valley in the winter in the first place. It's pricey, but a few tips can make a weekend of skiing more affordable. Buy lift tickets online in advance and save up to 20%. Passes during the December holidays can cost up to $155 for one day, but the beginning of December lift tickets are $86/day. Half-day tickets are even cheaper.

Consider one of the less-committal pass options. The Early/Late passes run $399 and give riders unlimited access until Dec. 13 and after March 20. College students can get a full, unlimited season pass for $429.

Once a year, Sun Valley Resort partners with the Fly Sun Valley Alliance for Ski for Air Service Day, typically at the end of January, offering $50 full-day lift tickets plus half off demos/rental, and 50% off lodging at partnering businesses.

Food-wise, brown bagging it is the cheapest option once you're on the slopes, but if you're not feeling cold sandwiches, try Irving's hot dog stand at Warm Springs base, a Ketchum institution where hot dogs run between $3.50 for a basic and $4.50 for one with kraut or chili on it. It's no-frills but delicious. Food at the lodges—Warm Springs, River Run and Seattle Ridge—gets expensive fast, but the Lookout Lodge at the top has cheap tacos.


After a long day on the slopes, Ketchum loves to après. There's often music at both the Warm Springs and River Run lodges, and the bars stay open until about 6 p.m. or whenever the last person stumbles out in their ski boots. The Warm Springs side is also home to Apple's, a great spot for burgers and pitchers of beer. Head into Ketchum to visit notorious local establishment Grumpy's, a working-man's watering hole with a menu of burgers and beer—try a schooner, a full 32-ounce beer for $9.

What to Do

Assuming your après didn't turn into dinner, there's some time to kill in the late afternoon. Check out if there's a hot tub or hot pool at your lodging. If not, poach one (not recommended during daylight hours) or ask a local for directions to one of the nearby hot springs.

For a slice of the cultural scene, The Community Library has lots of free events, from lectures to workshops and more. A gallery walk takes place one Friday a month, and is a great way to see some art and get some free drinks in the process. If trivia is your game, check out free trivia at Sawtooth Brewery in Ketchum on Tuesday nights or at Hotel Ketchum on Wednesday nights. The Sun Valley Center for the Arts also often has free events, like guided exhibitions at its Center and lectures.

Enjoy the Night Life

After dinner at one of the aforementioned places, make like a local and hit the only bars in town: the Cellar Pub, the Casino and Whiskey Jacques. Whiskeys offers cheap music most nights as well as Dollar Night on Sundays and Wednesdays which will cost $5 to get into but then drinks are $1 the rest of the night. Most nights of going out start at the Cellar Pub which has cheap drinks as well as good bartenders, shuffleboard, a few video games, and a giant chair out front where locals and tourists alike stop for a "chair pic." All nights end at the Casino, a cash-only bar where the drink to order is a "hamtini" aka a Hamm's beer with a lime in it.

Other Tips for Dirtbags

-Both the Community Library and the Visitor's Center (home to Starbucks as well) have free WIFI.

-A day pass to the local YMCA is $16 for adults, and will give you all-day access to showers, free coffee, workout classes and equipment, the pool, rock climbing and often other events like movie screenings.

-Hemingway's grave is located in Ketchum, and is a fun sight to see and tell your friends you've been to; make like the locals and leave an offering to Hemingway in the form of a bottle of whiskey.


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