Sun Valley

Idaho, USA

Sun Valley ski resort is the place to head if you want not just great skiing with some of the country’s longest thigh-burning runs, but also a bit of history, culture and some fun side activities. 

Scout Loves

  • The slopes are usually not very crowded – lift lines are rare.
  • On average 80% of winter days have sun. 
  • There is an entire separate mountain for beginners to cut their teeth without being bombed by better skiers.
  • This is the perfect ski destination for families and ‘older’ skiers
  • The resort has a wonderful sense of history – it was the first place in the world to have a ski lift (in 1936). In its heyday it attracted frequent visitors from Hollywood. 

Scout Tips

  • Sun Valley Mountain is better known for its grooming than its powder.
  • The iconic Sun Valley Lodge will be closed for renovations for the entire 14/15 season. The Inn will still be open.
  • The River Run side of Baldy Mountain is sunny in the morning. In the afternoon, head to the Warm Springs side.
  • If you’ve purchased a multi-day lift ticket for 3 days or more, and don’t feel like skiing for a day, you can exchange it for a variety of other activities.

Scout Review

Mention ‘Sun Valley’ to any skier, and they’ll immediately think of Hollywood glitz and glamour – as well as history, tradition and, of course, some great skiing. The starlet of the North American ski scene, Sun Valley has featured in countless Hollywood and Warren Miller films, and it regularly attracts famous guests.

But while these images aren’t wrong, there’s a lot more to Sun Valley than a press release. Sun Valley has a lot of features that make it different to other ski destinations in the States, and well worth a visit if you’re serious about your skiing.  

The first thing you’ll notice is that Sun Valley has a different feel to other ski areas in the States. This is partially because, unlike so many ski resorts, it’s not surrounded by mountains. Rather, the main ski mountain is the biggest around and is surrounded by more gentle mountains – giving Sun Valley a very distinctive look. And while it gets good dumps of snow, the sun is often shining – hence the appropriateness of the name.

Located two and a half hours from Boise, Idaho, Sun Valley has a distinctively relaxed, gentle and open vibe. But before we get any further, we should point out that ‘Sun Valley’ is actually the name of the area surrounding the historic Sun Valley Lodge – as well as the ski resort. The skiable mountains in this area are actually called ‘Bald’ and ‘Dollar’, while the name of the town is ‘Ketchum’. This is helpful to know so you don’t make the same mistake we did when we drove in looking for the ski area base – which was to follow the signs to ‘Sun Valley’ only to find ourselves circling the Sun Valley Lodge. That said, the whole area is generally always referred to as ‘Sun Valley’ so for the sake of simplicity that’s the term we’re going to stick with.

As for Sun Valley’s town area (i.e. Ketchum), it also has a wonderfully laid back atmosphere, aided by the lovely historic buildings that line the streets. It feels like a real locals’ town, and it has a lively arts community. There’s also a great variety of restaurants – from upscale bistros to cowboy bars, and everything in between.

If you’re into history, particularly Hollywood history, you will love the Sun Valley Lodge. Built in 1937, it was once so popular with the Hollywood elite that you’ll wish walls could talk. Lining the corridors are black and white pictures of celebrities such as Marilyn Munro, Clint Eastwood, Ernest Hemingway (who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in suite 206 and later established a home in the area), Lucille Ball, Clark Gable and so many more. Sadly, however, the lodge is currently undergoing a massive renovation and will be closed for the entire 14/15 season. When it reopens it will be more luxurious than ever, but hopefully still with the same historic feeling.

Although any skier will enjoy a vacation to Sun Valley, Scout thinks it’s particularly suited to families, thanks to the separate beginner mountain (Dollar) and the great variety of family activities on offer. Sun Valley would also suit ‘older’ generations of skiers who love cruising around the slopes in nice weather, indulging in fancy on-mountain lunches, and sipping a well-made martini for après before heading out for some fine dining.

Sun Valley Skiing

Sun Valley (the ski resort) is spread over two mountains, with plenty of great terrain that would suit skiers of all abilities. Dollar Mountain is the smaller of the two and is dedicated to first-timers and beginners. It’s also home to the area’s terrain park (including the new superpipe) and tubing hill.

But it’s Bald Mountain where most of the activity happens. The ski terrain here is expansive and varied, but the real highlight is the long, wide and often steep groomers that will have your quads screaming. It’s really no surprise that this mountain has bred so many of the USA’s top ski racers (including Gretchen Fraser and Picabo Street).

Intermediate skiers will have a blast on Bald Mountain thanks to the huge variety of smooth runs and the easy off-piste skiing. Advanced skiers will also find a few fun runs in the gladed areas – particularly the runs off the top of the Mayday lift. However there aren’t any double black runs, cliffs or chutes, so the heart is more likely to be pumping from the sensation of burning legs rather than adrenaline. There are two base areas for Baldy (which are only a few minutes from downtown Ketchum): River Run Plaza and Warm Springs Day Lodge.

Sun Valley has excellent grooming, and snowmaking helps to fill in the gaps when necessary. The lifts are fast and positioned to make the most of different parts of the mountain. There’s also a decent variety of on-mountain restaurants. We particularly like the Seattle Ridge Day Lodge that is spectacular in its structure, with huge wooden beams and a roaring wood fire in the middle.

Sun Valley For Families

Sun Valley is the perfect destination for a family ski vacation. It’s easy to get around (whether on the public buses or with your own car), and the facilities for kids are excellent. While it’s awesome that beginners have their own mountain (Dollar) that is home to the children’s ski and snowboard school, it can create logistical challenges when parents want to ski Bald Mountain (since the two are quite separate).

Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge (at the base of Dollar Mountain) houses all the main facilities for Dollar, including ski school, lockers, rentals and child care for kids aged between 3 months and 5 years. Beginner lessons for kids start at the early age of 20 months.

Our Sun Valley Field Guide has more detail, including babysitter numbers and contact details for childcare.

Sun Valley Accommodation

There’s a wide variety of accommodation in the Sun Valley area. Although the iconic Sun Valley Lodge has always been THE place to stay (and for many good reasons), it is going to be fascinating to see what it’s like when it emerges from its 11 month makeover in the summer of 2015. For now, the Sun Valley Inn next door is still operating as are all of the downtown hotels, motels and condos. There’s minimal ski-in ski-out accommodation and most properties will require a short drive to one of the base areas. But thanks to an efficient and free bus system and ample parking, this isn’t usually a problem.

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Resort Activities

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There are a ton of other activities to enjoy in Sun Valley, on and off the snow. For those with the right training and equipment, there’s some great backcountry skiing (from Baldy Mountain and beyond) and for those who want to splurge there’s even heli skiing. Other on-snow activities include tubing, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. The Sun Valley Lodge has a huge ice-skating rink, and there are regular ice shows throughout the season. Not to be missed is a horse-pulled sleigh ride for dinner at Trail Creek Cabin. Less active activities include shopping, gallery hopping and pampering (especially once the new Sun Valley Lodge spa is complete). Our Sun Valley Field Guide has more detail, including contact details and price guides.

Getting There and Around

Getting to Sun Valley is easy. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Boise Idaho and just under 5 hours from Salt Lake City. There’s a daily shuttle service from Boise Airport to Sun Valley Lodge. Even easier, Hailey regional airport (about 20 minutes away) has daily non-stop flights from San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Sun Valley offers complimentary airport shuttles for guests staying at the Resort lodging.

In keeping with the easy theme, getting around Sun Valley is simple. If you have your own car, it’s easy to get around (once you know which signs to follow) and there’s good parking facilities at the base areas and around town. The resort provides an efficient free bus service called Mountain Rides, which will get you to and from the ski areas and the town. Our Sun Valley Field Guide has more detail, including contact details and price guides.

When To Go

Sun Valley generally has a fairly cold January (not as cold as some other resorts) and pleasant (for skiing at least) temperatures from mid February onwards. Most of the snow falls in January, while December and February can also have excellent snow conditions. Due to its relatively low average snowfall (220 inches/ 5.5m per year) Spring skiing can be a bit dicey, but the excellent snow making facilities make up for it.

Facts & Figures

Mountain Information   Lifts   Terrain    
Base Elevation 5750ft / 1753m Gondolas 1 Beginner 36%  
Summit Elevation 9150ft / 2789m Express Quads 9 Intermediates 42%  
Vertical Drop 3400ft / 1036m Triple Chairs 4 Advanced 22%  
Skiable Area 2054ac / 832ha Double Chairs 2 Terrain Park 3  
Annual Snowfall 220in / 5.6m Surface Lifts 3 Cross Courses 2  
Longest Run 3 miles / 4.8km Lift Capacity per hour 29,717 Superpipe 1  
Operating Hours 9.00am –4.00pm          
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