Their beards are thick and twisted, resting on their chests.
Beanies cover unruly hair. Shoulders are broad; hands etched with decades of toil.
The men roar with deep laughter and slam glasses of beer down on the timber tabletop. A glass breaks, cutting one of the men’s hands. He glances at the blood, then smears it across his checked shirt and orders another round from a buxom blonde.
That’s what I imagine, at least, as I stand at the doors of The Pioneer Saloon in Ketchum, Idaho.
The locals rave about this place, a watering hole of the descendants of the lead and silver miners, and sheep farmers who once called this wild west town home.
I sit at a corner table and dine on the smallest steak available (170g) and a giant “loaded” Idaho spud. As I soak in the scene (think mounted moose heads and timber furniture), I think about the history of the town.
Ketchum, named after local trapper David Ketchum, was a base for lead and silver production for about a decade in the 1880s. When mining waned, sheep herders moved through the area, and by the 1920s, Ketchum was a significant hub for transporting the livestock.
After Sun Valley was developed in 1936, Ketchum attracted the attention of celebrities, including Gary Cooper, an American actor whose film credits include the 1952 western High Noon. US author Ernest Hemingway was also lured here, and was buried in the local cemetery. The biggest star to become an honorary local, and probably the most fitting, is Clint Eastwood – a long-time visitor of Sun Valley, just up the road.
It’s easy to imagine “Blondie” walking the sidewalks of Ketchum with a swagger, and pulling up a stool at places like The Pioneer Saloon. He even filmed Pale Rider in mountains nearby.
“Sun Valley has a magic to it,” Clinton writes in the book The Sun Valley Story, by Van Gordon Sauter.
“When you are there you feel as if you’ve escaped to a hidden paradise, an extraordinary place that not very many people know about.”
When people refer to Sun Valley, they’re talking about the general area in the shadow of the remote Smoky Mountains. This area encompasses Ketchum and Sun Valley Resort, as well as Bald Mountain (the actual ski resort) and Dollar Mountain (a smaller ski resort catering to snowboarders and families).
It can be confusing when you first arrive, but the community is so small and well-connected that it doesn’t take long to learn it all.
At the end of a day skiing or boarding on Baldy (as the locals say), you jump aboard one of the regular free buses back to Ketchum.
There, still in your boots and outerwear, you can enjoy a fine apres session at one of the pubs that give Ketchum its gritty character. Outside America’s ski season, it’s easy to imagine these places filled with the hikers, horse riders and fishermen that are drawn here by the beauty of the natural landscape.
Along with The Pioneer Saloon, which has been around since the 1940s, there is a handful of bars and saloons lining Main Street. Despite their Hollywood-like appearance, they’re not for any film set.
The allure of Ketchum and the Sun Valley area is that it’s more “real” than other US ski resorts and wild west towns.
As Eastwood says: “It’s a place where real people live and work. And play.”
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Ketchum is in Idaho, about 24km from Friedman Memorial Airport in the small town of Hailey. The airport is serviced by SkyWest and Alaska Air.
United Airlines flies a daily direct service from Melbourne and Sydney to San Francisco, with convenient connections onwards to Sun Valley/Ketchum. For flight prices and availability, call 131 777 or visit united广西桑拿,/au.
STAYING THERE: The perfect place to stay at is Sun Valley Lodge. This historic hotel is beautifully designed, with old-world charm but modern amenities. It has a day spa, outdoor heated pools, sauna, bowling alley and indoor and outdoor iceskating rinks. For details, go to sunvalley广西桑拿,.
PLAYING THERE: The Sun Valley area is great for outdoor enthusiasts, with skiing and snowboarding in winter on Bald and Dollar mountains, as well as ice skating. Outside of winter there is horse riding, fishing, tennis, golf and hiking. For more, check out visitidaho南宁夜生活, and realamerica广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,.
* The writer travelled as a guest of The Real America and United Airlines.