Sun Valley is this country’s original destination ski resort—which means it pretty much invented the American ski vacation.
It all started when railroad magnate Averell Harriman, inspired by the ski resorts so prevalent in the Alps, had a dream to create a luxurious, Alpine-inspired destination resort in the United States. So, in 1936, armed with something no other ski area in the world had—a chairlift—this little corner of Idaho became the crown jewel of skidom, changing our country’s winter culture forever.
That was a long time ago, but, aside from some obvious upgrades to its chairlift technology, Sun Valley hasn’t actually changed all that much. It’s still understated and authentic, qualities that attract skiers from all over the world to make this place their forever home. For visitors, Sun Valley’s two ski hills (Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain), vibrant town, and diverse terrain still make it the best place to come for a ski vacation. SKI Magazine readers have voted it the #1 resort in North America the past two years in a row, as well as awarding Sun Valley top marks for kids’ lessons and local flavor.
In addition to being America’s first destination ski resort, Sun Valley can also lay claim to creating one of the country’s very first ski school programs. Sun Valley’s original instructors, many of whom were classically-trained Austrian ski racers, quickly gained a reputation for being some of the best in the business, and more than 80 years later, that reputation endures. Now known as Sun Valley SnowSports, the program’s exacting standards and guest-centric attitude haven’t changed since its inception so many decades ago. From novices clicking into skis for the first time, to Hollywood celebrities, to seasoned veterans looking to perfect their turns, Sun Valley’s SnowSports instructors have seen it all, and there’s nothing they love more than utilizing their training, expertise, and passion to share the magic of skiing with guests from all walks of life.
But don’t take our word for it. Let three of Sun Valley’s SnowSports instructors explain why this place is so special.
Sun Valley ski instructor Alexander Hallock’s family roots run deep in resort towns. His father owns Montana’s Beartooth Basin ski area and taught at Sun Valley from 1981-84. His mother is Chilean, and she and his father met during a winter on the slopes in Portillo, Chile. But now, despite all his ski town ties, his heart truly belongs in Sun Valley. “It feels like home to me,” he says.
Hallock loves the family-oriented feeling of the place. He also loves the low-key, unpretentious vibe—regardless of your social or economic status in life, he says, none of it matters as soon as you click in. “When you go up on the hill, you’re just another person.”
The draw for him as a ski instructor is that the resort’s terrain is perfect for progression. “You can clearly understand that there are areas that [serve as] building blocks to success.” The mellow groomers off Seattle Ridge and the rowdy black diamond bowls off Mayday both funnel into the same valley, for example, so once his clients master one side, they can easily move onto the other.
When Alex isn’t working, you can find him lapping his personal favorite terrain, Broadway’s glades. “The trees are the true heart of Sun Valley,” he says.
Hank Minor is a Sun Valley native, ski instructor, former race coach, and owner of the legendary Apple’s Bar and Grill at the base of Bald Mountain (fondly known to locals as Baldy). He’s also a dad whose son and daughter grew up on the snowy aprons of both Dollar and Baldy, which brings us to the number one reason he loves it here.
“This place is so awesome for families and kids. Dollar Mountain is the top echelon of beginning skiing anywhere,” he says, referring to the small hill striped with green and blue runs two miles from the base of Baldy. “You can get to the top in three-and-a-half minutes. There’s a course set for slalom, giant slalom and super-G, and an insane terrain park, with a huge lodge at the bottom. It’s amazing how it’s set up for kids.”
Once you’ve got a handle on Dollar, you can graduate to Baldy, which offers some of the most consistently steep (and best groomed) pitches of any mountain in the world. “You’re getting miles of steep skiing that is hard to find anywhere else,” Minor says. “It’s steeper than you think, and it’s sustained—you can get going 50-60 mph in two turns.” And for those looking for even more of a challenge, last season the resort opened Sunrise: 380 skiable acres of steep chutes, glades, and technical terrain on the southern flank of Baldy, all of which funnel down to a new high-speed quad.
And, because nearly everyone who comes here in the winter comes to ski, there’s a camaraderie between locals and visitors that just doesn’t exist anywhere else. “They’re all wholehearted, authentic, passionate skiers. There’s a fan club here that’s fun to get involved with and see from the chairlift and behind the bar. You can feel the vibe and passion they bring,” Minor says. “Everybody likes to have a good time.”
For Stephanie Schmidt, who moved to Sun Valley in 1969 with her parents after traveling across the country in a Volkswagen bus, the thing she treasures most about this place is its sense of tradition—which she and her family have been a part of since her great-aunt moved here for the ski resort’s grand opening in 1936.
“This town and community are such a part of our family,” Schmidt says. “And one of the things that makes it so special is that much of it is the same as it was when the ski hill opened. The Lodge at Sun Valley, the pool that we swam in as kids—it’s all very much the same. As you walk through the Lodge, you see all these wonderful historical photographs of people we grew up with. [Sun Valley has] worked very hard to maintain that. We are still the original destination resort.”
Schmidt grew up ski racing under some of the world’s most legendary coaches—like Michel Rudigoz, who coached local Olympian Christin Cooper and the entire U.S. Women’s Alpine Team—and has now taken a leading role as a supervisor of Sun Valley’s SnowSports school, where her mother worked when she was a girl. Every day Schmidt goes into the office or out on the hill, the current moment mingles with memories from the past—it’s a rich feeling, she says.
Last winter, when COVID swept the country, two of Schmidt’s daughters moved back from New York City to be with her, one of whom works part time teaching on the hill. “This is a place where they love to come, and that has made such a difference for me. And no matter how far away we live from each other, they’ll want to bring their children here, too.”
Instructors like Hallock, Minor, and Schmidt are the heart of Sun Valley. They may be too modest to say it, but friendly, knowledgeable instructors from the resort’s renowned SnowSports program are the reason so many skiers come back to Bald and Dollar Mountains year after year and generation after generation. No matter your age, ability level, or goals, these dedicated instructors enable everyone to have an unforgettable experience at this iconic resort.