Vail travel feature: Sun Valley, Idaho, stirs the soul |

Vail travel feature: Sun Valley, Idaho, stirs the soul

Betty Ann Woodland
Special to the Daily
Legendary writer and director Oliver Stone answers questions at a moderated coffee talk at the Sun Valley Film Festival. Academy Award winner Stone was honored with the festival’s Lifetime Vision Award for his contributions, which have changed the cinematic landscape.
Betty Ann Woodland | Special to the Daily |

If you go …

Learn more about Sun Valley lodging, dining, shopping, attractions and events at For more information about Ketchum, visit

After spring break for Eagle County Schools and the offseason hiatus for many, locals who ventured out of town are sure to return to the Vail Valley with stories of adventures and new experiences. A change of scenery is always refreshing and invigorating.

In March, I flew to beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho, to join a group of friends for some skiing and mischief, along with a stint at the Sun Valley Film Festival. We had an amazing time getting familiar with a new environment and enjoying the hospitality of others.

Sun Valley Film Festival

Sun Valley, Idaho, has been welcoming the film industry since it became America’s first ski resort in 1936. To celebrate the area’s Hollywood heritage and bring it into the 21st century, the inaugural Sun Valley Film Festival was launched in 2012 and became an immediate success (

The event continues to build upon that success, with more than 60 films, including world premieres, networking dinners, unique panels, passionate discussions and fantastic parties. There were more than 3,500 festivalgoers, bringing together industry insiders and movie lovers in celebration of filmmaking for five festive days in the beautiful mountains and valleys of Idaho.

A highlight for yours truly — besides skiing new terrain with friends on a bluebird day and watching paragliders catching upslope thermals — was meeting filmmaker Oliver Stone. It was after his candid Coffee Talk, where the director spoke intimately about Vietnam, spirituality and his career, that I met him.

He looked into my eyes and said, “I know you.”

A bit taken aback, I eventually shook my head, saying, “No, but I get it … sometimes you just feel like you know a person.” Then, instinctively, without thinking about it, I said, “I have heard that you are a practicing Buddhist and I would like you to have this bracelet.”

That said, I slipped a beaded wooden bracelet off my wrist and onto the wrist of the iconic director, who has produced a plethora of films including “Born on the Fourth of July”, “JFK,” “Platoon” and “Wall Street.” I simply said that it was a pleasure meeting him, and that was all that needed to be said.

Stone was originally a writer, having written his first novel at the young age of 19. After he spent time in Vietnam, was injured twice and was awarded two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star, he became more visually oriented.

“Once you’re in the jungle, you change your attitude about life,” he said, “There’s nothing cerebral about it.”

When asked about the differences between writing and editing, directing and producing, he compared it to being a host at a special social function.

“It is a gigantic social contract that you enter into,” Stone said. Stone’s films have often reached wide, international audiences and have significant cultural impact. He was awarded the Sun Valley Film Festival’s 2016 Lifetime Vision Award.

Shoutout to Starbucks

George and Jane Rizzo own the warm and welcoming Ketchum Town Center Starbucks coffee house, just down the road from Sun Valley in the nearby town of Ketchum. They have renovated the space into a place-to-be social hub type of experience.

The space boasts high ceilings, natural lighting, cool log accents, cozy sitting areas, an information center and a nearby special events meeting room named for Ernest Hemingway. All this, and the proprietors are the nicest, most down-to-earth parents of competitive mogul skier Luke Rizzo.

After supplying endless cups of coffee for Sun Valley Film Festival-goers, George and Jane rushed back to their Starbucks store, said hello to the masses (George should be the mayor of the town) and then headed to the ski hill to see their son train for mogul competitions. Sound familiar? These are our type of mountain people. Definitely a must-see-and-sip stop in Sun Valley — they even serve libations.

Hemingway in the house

Hemingway embraced local nature and nightspots with a vigor matched only by some of his fictional characters and maybe by a few modern-day Ketchum locals.

Hemingway’s time in Sun Valley began in 1939, when he came to the area after Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman invited Hemingway and other celebrities to Sun Valley. In the fall of 1939, he finished his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” He worked on it while staying in Suite 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge.

Throughout time, Hemingway became associated with Sun Valley and spent many vacations there, hunting, fishing and writing. He and his wife purchased a home in Ketchum in the late 1950s. The Nature Conservancy ( owns Hemingway’s last home, which has recently been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, generating international media attention during the past several years.

Though the home is closed to public tours, the Hemingway mystique retains a powerful hold on many people, and according to the Nature Conservancy, more tourists to Ketchum request information for the Hemingway house than any other site in town.

There were so many memorable experiences to share, so let’s do a quick Mark Bricklin-type of rundown … I met actor Bruce Dern (daughter Laura Dern was the mother of Reese Witherspoon in the film “Wild”) … Sun Valley Lodge’s Gretchen’s restaurant was simply divine; loved the Maine lobster Caesar salad and the chef brought us specialty dishes that wowed the crowd … there were remembrances of Ernest Hemingway throughout town … and so much more that you will have to visit the place yourselves to experience it firsthand.

Betty Ann Woodland is a longtime local who covers social events and soirees of all kinds. She also ventures away from the Vail Valley on occasion and writes travel features. Reach her at

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