It was America’s first destination ski resort, and it’s just one of those places where the magic of the sport comes to life. Part of it is that Sun Valley is just remote enough to be consistently uncrowded. The other lure of the place is its combination of the authentic ski town of Ketchum and the fun and fantastic Bald Mountain, home to a sustained vertical drop of 3,400 feet. This is a place where you can ski the type of top-to-bottom run you can’t find outside of the Alps.
Reader Resort Survey 2022: Sun Valley Ranks No. 1 in the West
If you haven’t heard, Sun Valley is jumping over to the Ikon Pass for the 2022-’23 season after three years on the Epic Pass, so factor that into your pass decision-making this spring. Ikon Pass holders will get five blackout-restricted days on the base pass and seven blackout-free days on the full pass. More on that here.
Bonus: Sun Valley boasts some of the best and most advanced snowmaking in the country, which is why it has a reputation for such satisfying groomers. A good thing, because copious snowfall is not one of its traits. However, panoramic vistas, friendly staff and locals, excellent amenities, a swift lift network, and an authentic vibe are. Here’s what to consider as you plan your Sun Valley vacation.
How to Ski Sun Valley
Plain and simple, Sun Valley is the ideal destination for intermediate to advanced skiers looking to level up. There’s more than 2,400 acres of terrain, much of it being long, moderate groomers that are great for carving and getting confident at speed.
The big exception to this, and the reason that more expert skiers might put Sun Valley on their go list, is the new Sunrise expansion, 380 acres of the resort’s most challenging terrain featuring roomy gladed trails and a sweeping bowl. There’s a true backcountry feel, and the opportunity for skiers to get acquainted with ungroomed snow.
Watch Sun Valley Athlete Banks Gilberti Ski the Sunrise Terrain
If it’s your first time here, head to the College run for first tracks. Even pros love charging down its broad aprons of fresh corduroy even though it’s an easy green. Then seek out Warm Springs, which descends 3,142-feet on a steep, steady pitch from top to bottom. Like bumps? Don’t skip Exhibition, a steep mogul run that will let you know if your technique needs a tuneup.
For those properly equipped with backcountry navigation techniques and avalanche safety gear, Bald Mountain allows after-hours ski touring. Hire Sun Valley Guides to show you where the good stuff is beyond the ski area boundaries. Local zones close to town include Durance Peak, The Boulders, and Galena Summit, where there’s lots of easy access to multi-peak high-alpine terrain.
Where to Stay in Sun Valley
The grand dame is the Sun Valley Lodge, where the 108 guest rooms have been recently renovated. You’ll be truly spoiled here, with complimentary robes and slippers, lots of closet space and hangers for ski clothing, and bathtubs so large they could be mistaken for ensuite pools. The spa, pools, hot tub, and fitness center are state-of-the-art, but what’s unique about this hotel is that it also has a bowling alley and an ice skating rink. While you’re absorbing the Austrian-inspired vibe, take a moment to appreciate its historic merit.
Though not one for the slopes, Ernest Hemingway liked the charm of the mountain resort and completed “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in Suite 206 during his stay there. And if you indulge in a cocktail at the Duchin Lounge, you’ll be in the company of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Ingrid Bergman, and Gary Cooper, who also enjoyed bevies at this legendary hotel bar.
Down in town, Hotel Ketchum, also recently renovated, is adorably hip and has individually decorated rooms. They offer on-site services like ski rentals and a gear garage that lends snowshoes and other equipment that guests can utilize during their stay. Complimentary breakfast made from locally sourced ingredients is served daily and you can have your latte in a large handmade coffee mug. It’s not uncommon to find locals at the hotel’s cozy Hangout Lounge for local craft beers and board games.
Where to Eat in Sun Valley
You can’t visit Sun Valley and not eat at the iconic Roundhouse Lodge. Order the fondue and smorgasbord of meats and cheeses to gorge on while you take in the views of the valley. Reservations are required for lunch and dinner.
Lookout Day Lodge at the top of Bald Mountain is an underrated gem that harkens back to the resort’s humbler days and offers a taste of 1973 nostalgia along with its reasonably priced tacos and churros.
On the fancier end of the resort’s considerable dining array is The Ram, Sun Valley’s original restaurant. A not-insignificant amount of mahogany, antler chandeliers, and a resident pianist give it a vintage atmosphere. To honor its place in Sun Valley’s legacy, they’ve created a special heritage menu with a revived selection of dishes from bygone eras, such as 1937’s Roast Beast and 1982’s Pork Schnitzel. Make a reservation here.
In Ketchum, the Lounge at the Limelight Hotel is a chic place to go for gourmet comfort food. If bison meatballs and Montucky cold snack lager sound good, this is the spot. There’s live music most nights, too.
Where to Demo Skis in Sun Valley
There are several options for gear rental outfitters in town that can provide you with everything you need if you don’t want to travel with your skis. Sun Valley Resort offers rentals through Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports, which has locations next to the Sun Valley Lodge and across from the River Run Day Lodge. In Ketchum, Sturtevant’s premium demo package offers skis from Black Crows, Kästle, Atomic, Völkl, and more. Backwoods Mountain Sports rents full AT setups including avalanche transceivers, shovels, probes, and packs.
Getting There and Around
Sun Valley’s closest airport is the tiny Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, 15 miles from the resort. There are several non-stop flights from Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Seattle daily. You should know that there’s always a chance that flights into and out of Friedman can be canceled due to weather, in which case you’ll be rerouted to Boise, adding three hours to your journey.
Once there, you can take the free Mountain Rides buses that shuttle riders around Ketchum, Sun Valley, and Hailey, including to and from Sun Valley Lodge to River Run Lodge at the base of Bald Mountain. You don’t really need a car unless you plan on exploring beyond the ski resort and Ketchum.