A Ski Weekend In Sun Valley on a Budget

Ketchum is by no means a cheap town; the majority of businesses cater to those with expendable incomes flying in for a weekend of skiing. But the locals know how to find the cheap thrills in town from a delicious bite for less than $10 to free sources of entertainment.

By: Hayden Seder + Save to a List

So if a weekend hitting the slopes in Sun Valley seems out of your price range, read on for how to score lodging, meals, lift tickets, and more without breaking the bank.

Where to Stay

If you’re inclined to go the hotel route, there are several in town that are cheaper options than the others though still not necessarily “cheap” by any means. Hotel Ketchum runs about $133/night and offers 30% off “secret season” aka anytime from December 1 through December 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 depending on when you book this winter. The Best Western Kentwood Lodge is around $150/night and the Best Western Tyrolean, which is literally just steps away from the River Run side of Bald Mountain, is about $134/night. Many hotels in the area offer special limited-time combo deals for hotel lodging and ski passes so checking websites and signing up for emails isn’t a bad idea.

While Sun Valley Resort lodging is generally in the high-price range, they do 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 (typically over $400/night) from Dec 1 through Dec 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’s an abundant Airbnb scene in town and a spot can cost as little as $68/night. 

Where to Eat

For the cheapest route, stock up on groceries before heading to Ketchum (the grocery stores are notoriously expensive) and live off of PB&Js and Top Ramen for the weekend. But if you’d like to live a little—hey, you’re on vacation, right?—then 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 a delicious 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 which offers a range of subs and $1 cans of Bud, Coors, and Coors Light aka “the coldest draft in town”; 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 Cabañita for the real deal; and for pizza, grab a slice from Wise Guy’s Pizza.

On the Mountain

Bald Mountain, the reason to visit Sun Valley in the winter in the first place. It’s true that lift ticket prices are higher than ever at many resorts nation-wide, including Sun Valley, but a few tips can make a weekend of skiing slightly affordable. On Sun Valley Resort’s website, lift tickets are available in advance which will save you up to 20%. A calendar of dates also shows you the prices for those days so you can buy when it’s cheaper; for instance, lift tickets 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 start at 12:30 and are cheaper.

If you plan to come up to Sun Valley more than once, consider one of the less committal pass options. The Early/Late pass runs at $399 and gives riders unlimited access until December 13 and after March 20. College students can get a full, unlimited season pass for just $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. This day offers $50 full-day lift tickets plus 50% off demos/rental and 50% off lodging at participating businesses.

If you plan to spend a full day on the mountain, you’ll need to eat at some point. Once again, bringing your own is the cheapest option but if you have a little spending money, try Irving’s hot dog stand at Warm Springs base, a Ketchum institution where a hot dog runs between $3.50 for a basic and $4.50 for kraut or chili on it. It’s no frills but delicious. Food at the lodges—Warm Springs, River Run, and Seattle Ridge—gets pretty pricey but the Lookout Lodge at the top offers cheap tacos. $3 gets you all you want on a taco and cans of beer run for $3 so two tacos and a beer is only $9.

Après

After a long day on the slopes, Ketchum loves to après. If you’re still on the mountain, there’s often music at both Warm Springs and River Run Lodge and the bars there stay open until about 6pm or whenever the last person stumbles out in their ski boots. The Warm Springs side is also home to Apple’s, just a few steps from the mountain and a great spot for burgers and pitchers of beer.

Or head into Ketchum to visit notorious local establishment Grumpy’s, a working man’s watering hole offering a simple menu of burgers and beer—try a schooner, a full 32oz of beer for $9.

What to Do

Assuming your après didn’t turn into dinner, there’s some time to kill in the late afternoon. Depending on your lodging, check out if there’s a hot tub or hot pool. If not, you can always head to one of the local hot springs (or ask a local for directions—they may or may not give them to you).

If you’re feeling of a mind for some culture, The Community Library has a host of free events from lectures to workshops and other great events. 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 from guided exhibitions at their Center to lectures and more.

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

  • If you’re looking for wifi but don’t want to pay to sit somewhere and use it, both the Community Library and the Visitor’s Center (home to Starbucks as well) have free WIFI available to all
  • 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 community 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

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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