Nestled amidst the dramatic peaks of the Rocky Mountains lies one of the most exclusive and luxurious summer camps in the world – the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference. For one week every July, the world’s financial, media and technology elite flock in their private jets to Idaho’s picturesque Sun Valley resort for a summer camp like no other.
This is no ordinary business conference. There are no name tags or scheduled breakout sessions. Instead, business deals are made on the golf course, over lavish dinners, on scenic hikes, and even on the chair lift. Relationships are built and strengthened during informal gatherings where titans of industry casually intermingle while enjoying Idaho’s natural beauty and the resort’s world-class amenities.
- Book your room early – they sell out a year in advance. Reserve a suite at the Sun Valley Lodge or splurge on a private cottage.
- Pack for outdoor activities like golfing, hiking, cycling, fishing, skeet shooting, and tennis.
- Bring your bathing suit for the heated pools and outdoor jacuzzis
- Be prepared to rub shoulders with billionaires and media moguls at sponsored social events
- Explore nearby attractions like the Sawtooth National Forest during free time
- Make reservations at the resort’s renowned restaurants months in advance
The History of Sun Valley
The invitation-only Sun Valley Conference began in 1983, dreamt up by investment bankers Herbert Allen Jr. and his father Herbert Sr. as a way to strengthen relationships between leaders in finance, media and technology. Herbert Allen Sr. had a close connection to Sun Valley, having funded the construction of the Sun Valley Lodge and the fledgling ski resort in 1936.
The idyllic setting was designed to facilitate dealmaking and networking. “It’s a place where you can meet new people in an informal setting,” Allen told the New York Times. “You’re all together with no spouses, no children, no telephone. It puts everyone on an equal social footing.”
Over the decades, the elite guest list has included Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, Tom Brokaw, Les Moonves and Oprah Winfrey. It has become the premier meeting of minds for billionaires, tech disrupters, politicians, media titans, celebrities and intellectuals.
The Sun Valley Resort is a fairytale setting spread over 3,000 acres in central Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest and River Ranch. The European-style Sun Valley Lodge and the adjacent Sun Valley Inn offer luxury rooms and lavish suites with mountain views, fine dining, an outdoor pool, full-service spa and golf course. Nearby are cozy cottages tucked in the pines along the Big Wood River, featuring fireplaces, private hot tubs and ski-in/ski-out access during winter months.
Free transportation like Mercedes shuttles takes attendees between the Sun Valley Lodge, the Inn, private cottages, and events around town. There is a sense of seclusion from the outside world, with minimal cell phone service and televisions. The pristine natural environment encourages bonding over outdoor activities like golf, cycling, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, clay shooting and tennis. Apres-activities mean relaxing in the heated pools, getting massages at the spa, or congregating in the Duchin Lounge for cocktails and live music.
- Reserve a room with a balcony at the Sun Valley Inn or a riverside cottage to enjoy the stunning scenery
- Take advantage of complimentary shuttles between the lodge, inn and cottages
- Unwind after a long day schmoozing with a soothing massage at the 20,000 sqft. spa
- Kick back by the outdoor pool and continue conversations in the warm water or adhesion jacuzzis
- Sip Apres-ski cocktails like the “Billionaire Margarita” at the Duchin Lounge as the sun sets over the mountains
The Conference Itinerary
Though there is no official schedule, the week follows a predictable cadence of sponsored meals, social outings and recreational activities. Executives arrive on private jets throughout the weekend, gathering Sunday evening for cocktails and dinner. Monday kicks off with a sponsored breakfast, followed by a day of recreational activities like golf, hiking, cycling or fishing. Lunch and dinner are provided at scenic spots around the resort. Tuesday is highlighted by the annual group hike up the resort’s Bald Mountain, followed by a cookout. Wednesday often features a lavish barbecue dinner. Thursday concludes the conference with a fancy dress-up dinner banquet. Attendees depart Friday morning.
In this elite summer camp for billionaires, attendees typically:
- Discuss the future of media, technology, and finance sectors.
- Engage in high-profile networking and private meetings.
- Attend exclusive events, including privately hosted dinners and luxury outdoor activities.
- Navigate discussions around potential mergers and acquisitions.
In between are impromptu meetings on gondola lifts, assemblies in Duckpond Park, cocktails at the Roundhouse restaurant, and bonding over clay shooting. Casual gatherings take place everywhere from the Tennis Club to the Golf Clubhouse. Evenings include music, dancing, films, ideas seminars and lots of expensive wine. Though schedules are never published, events are sponsored each day to facilitate networking. Meals, recreation and transportation are all provided free of charge.
- Pack business casual attire for daytime events and cocktail dresses/tuxedos for evening dinners
- Bring your golf clubs, tennis racquet, hiking boots, bathing suit and fishing pole to make the most of recreational activities
- Be open-minded and gregarious at all times – you never know when a deal may be struck
- Attend the sponsored meals and events to connect with fellow VIPs
- Seize opportunities to chat informally with executives on the chair lift or golf cart
Around 300 top executives and power players receive the coveted invite to Sun Valley each year. The 2023 attendee list includes who’s who in business and tech, including Tim Cook, Reid Hoffman, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.
This year’s guest list of media titans, tech disruptors, and investment moguls arriving in Sun Valley is studded with big names like Walt Disney Co.’s Bob Iger, Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. These three industry heavyweights are expected to take center stage at panel discussions and fireside chats examining hot topics like the rise of artificial intelligence and the future of streaming.
- Networking is Key: This event is all about creating relationships. Be open to conversations, ready to engage, and don’t shy away from starting conversations with the luminaries of industry.
- Privacy is Paramount: Respect the privacy of other attendees. This is a conference for billionaires, and they value their privacy highly.
- Dress for Success: Business casual is the norm here, but it’s on the high end. Think Ralph Lauren or Tom Ford, not Dockers and polos.
Part of the allure of the Sun Valley Conference is the parade of political bigwigs and A-list celebrities that make appearances. Recent visitors have included President Obama, President Bush, Mitt Romney, Cory Booker, Michelle Obama, Paul Ryan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
On the entertainment side, guests have included Clint Eastwood, Caitlyn Jenner, Magic Johnson, Gayle King, Dwyane Wade, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Queen Noor of Jordan. Keep your eyes peeled around town and at dinners – you never know who might turn up in Sun Valley!
The Hot Spots
While the Sun Valley Resort offers world-class amenities, it’s worth exploring some other hot spots in the area. Here are some favorite hangouts of billionaire bigwigs when they want to get off campus:
- Ketchum: This nearby upscale town offers boutique shopping, art galleries, restaurants, and bars to keep VIPs entertained.
- Bald Mountain: Take the gondola up to the lodge at 9,150 feet for breathtaking views and excellent high-altitude cuisine.
- Roundhouse Restaurant: Built in 1937, this iconic mountain lodge restaurant on War Eagle summit offers fondues and fine dining.
- The Sawtooth Club: Located at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains, this members-only club conjures an old Hollywood vibe with lounge singers.
- Silver Creek Preserve: Don’t miss fly fishing on this gorgeous stretch of creek running through 1,700 acres of protected lands.
- Knob Hill Inn: Visit this Mediterranean-style boutique inn built by billionaire Picasso collector, Laurance Rockefeller.
- Hailey: Peruse the art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and Hop Porter ice cream shop in this charming town 15 minutes from Sun Valley.
Perhaps the highlight for many Sun Valley attendees is the lavish, complimentary meals sponsored throughout the week. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners and cocktail receptions are hosted each day in scenic spots around the resort and nearby locales. Private chefs and caterers come in from around the country to cater the invite-only events.expect the finest wines and spirits to keep the conversation flowing.
Here are some of the standout dining options at the Sun Valley Resort and in town:
Sun Valley Lodge:
- The Ram Restaurant (5-star fine dining, stunning views)
- The Roundhouse (farm-to-table cuisine, great for apres-ski)
- The Duchin Lounge (cocktails, light bites, live music)
Sun Valley Inn:
- The Konditorei Cafe (European pastries, coffee)
- The Original Baked Potato (casual baked potatoes)
- Rickshaw (Asian fusion, great cocktail bar)
- The Pioneer Saloon (Classic saloon with steak & buffalo burgers)
- Sawtooth Club (Elegant dining & entertainment, requires membership)
- Limelight Room (Upscale Italian cuisine with great wine list)
- Kneadery (Breakfast & sandwiches with fresh local ingredients)
The Bottom Line on Sun Valley:
The Allen & Co. annual conference in Sun Valley is the ultimate hub of deal-making and networking among the world’s financial, media, and tech elite. Regular attendees include giants like Rupert Murdoch, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffet, who mingling amidst the tranquil Sawtooth Mountains, often hatch high-profile business deals that shift the trajectory of their industries.
While the glamorous setting, A-list guest list and whispers of multi-billion dollar handshakes may seem daunting, attending this exclusive Idaho summit offers unmatched opportunities for relationship building, intellectual discussions, and cementing lucrative partnerships. Though secluded, Sun Valley is the epicenter of power and progress that shapes the wider business landscape each year.
As the consummate luxury travel insider, Pursuitist gives you the inside track on navigating this rarefied billionaire’s playground. The private jets and glittering guest list signal that this is no ordinary business conference. However, with the right preparation and a healthy dose of confidence, one can thrive in this arena where titans of finance, tech and media collide. Mindful of its prestige, even the most discerning attendee can find their footing in Sun Valley and come away with unforgettable memories.
And perhaps, between sips of wine on the golf course or bites of hors d’oeuvres on the chair lift, you’ll find yourself shaking hands with Tim Cook, discussing artificial intelligence with Mark Zuckerberg, or forging a partnership that takes your company to new heights. Sun Valley has that magic – the rare blend of natural beauty, intellectual energy and deal-making prowess that opens up a world of possibility.