Sun Valley

Idaho, USA

Sun Valley is a great mix of modern ski resort and the cowboy Wild West, with fantastic terrain to explore and a long history with skiing. Home to the first chairlift, Sun Valley has played a major role in sculpting the modern ski resorts we see today. Enjoy two mountains of terrain, including long wide groomers, and off-piste trails for even the most avid powderhound. Many refer to a trip to Sun Valley as 'roughing it in style'.

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 with teens and the more mature but ‘young-at-heart’ 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. 
  • Sun Valley Heli Ski offers half to full day packages

Scout Tips

  • Sun Valley Mountain is better known for its grooming than its powder.
  • 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.
  • Head to The Pioneer Saloon (aka the Pio) for a taste of the local action - it's a Sun Valley icon!
  • Epic Pass holders are eligible for up to 7 days of lift passes.

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 original starlet of the North American ski scene, Sun Valley Ski Resort 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 known. Sun Valley Resort has a lot of features that make it different to other ski destinations in the States and is well worth a visit if you’re serious about your skiing. There's even some great heli-skiing to be had.

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 rugged mountains. Rather, the main ski mountain is the biggest around and is surrounded by more gentle mountains – giving Sun Valley a very distinctive look. The views from the top are quite stunning as the surrounding mountains seem to go on forever and ever. 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. 

Although any skier will enjoy a vacation to Sun Valley, Scout thinks it’s particularly suited to a family of complete beginners, thanks to the separate beginner mountain (Dollar) and the great variety of family activities on offer, or to a family of intermediate skiers and above. 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 suits 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 and the real highlight is the long, wide and often steep groomers that will have your quads screaming. It’s 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 - and on a powder day you can lap the bowls till lunch time and get fresh tracks every run. 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.

One of the best aspects of Sun Valley Ski Resort is the lack of crowds and lift lines. On one of Scout's recent visits we were there during spring break, yet we were never waited more than a few minutes in a lift line.

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. However no visit would be complete without at least one lunch at the historic Roundhouse Restaurant - the cheese fondue is as good as any that we've enjoyed in Switzerland.

The 20/21 season will see some significant new terrain with 380 acres opening on the Seattle Ridge, as well as a new high speed lift that will replace the old Cold Springs double chair. Those on an Epic Pass can get 7 days at Sun Valley (on a full pass), 2 days on an Epic Local, or use an Epic Day Pass, after which extra days can be puchased at a discount.

It should be noted that the separation of Bald and Dollar Mountains could pose some logistical challenges for families or groups that have skiers across all abilities. Dollar is only good for first-timers/beginners (which has its advantages) or those keen on the terrain park. And while there is a small amount of beginner terrain at Baldy it is really for intermediates and above. There is a frequent free shuttle bus between the two mountains, however if you have beginner kids in ski school there may be a bit of schlepping back and forth between the mountains.

Sun Valley Heli Ski is a great option for strong intermediate skiers and above to get away from the resort and enjoy some fresh tracks. With a base lodge just 5 minutes from town it's easy to get to but with access to 750,000 square acres of terrain the playground is vast. It's an experience of a lifetime and a must-do at least once for every skier. The hardest part will be the temptation to go back for more once you've had a taste. Packages of half or full days skiing start at USD$1,000 per person and can be booked via Scout as part of a Sun Valley Package.

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Sun Valley For Families

Sun Valley Ski Resort 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. First timers and beginners have their own mountain (Dollar) which is home to the children’s ski and snowboard school. This creates a safe and fun envioronment for kids to learn, though as mentioned above, it can pose logistical challenges due to its separation from the main mountain. However, the Adventure Trail for kids is a big hit for families and a great way to keep the kids psyched on skiing.

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. 

The Sun Valley Lodge or Inn are perfect accommodation options for families with the ice rink, bowling alley and games arcade, candy shops and huge outdoor heated pool providing plenty of options for after skiing activities. There are also self-contained cottages on the resort grounds that have access to the same facilities.

Sun Valley Accommodation

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There’s a wide variety of accommodation in the Sun Valley area. Due to the layout of the ski resort area with the picturesque Big Wood River running right at its two base areas, ski-in ski-out accommodation is non existant, but thanks to an efficient and free bus system and ample parking, this isn’t usually a problem. The two options are to stay in a hotel or condo in the Ketchum town area (3-10 mins drive from a base area) or at the Sun Valley "Resort" - home of the Sun Valley Lodge, Inn and cottages - a 10-15 min shuttle from the base area.

The iconic Sun Valley Lodge has always been THE place to stay (and for many good reasons), in a prime location and with a fantastic mix of modern luxury and history. The more reasonably priced Sun Valley Inn next door is also a popular choice, as are all of the downtown hotels, motels and condos.

Find a great map of the entire Sun Valley resort area here, and the Sun Valley Village here.

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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 heli skiing. Other on-snow activities include tubing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking and Nordic skiing. If you're really keen you can even try your hand at fly fishing, although it may be a bit chilly! 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 in the newly renovated Sun Valley Lodge spa). 

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 free parking 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. 

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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