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After so many years of falling just shy of the top spot, Sun Valley finally claims No. 1 this year. Maybe partnering with the Epic Pass did the trick, luring more skiers than ever to this somewhat remote yet idyllic pocket of central Idaho, where the “skiing is legit,” “the locals don’t look down their noses at you,” and “there’s so much to do off the slopes, too.” What seems to capture the hearts of most visitors right off the bat is the authentic Western town of Ketchum that anchors the ski resort. Whether you stay down in town or over at the resort, make it a priority to explore Ketchum, where the dining (No. 2), après (No. 7), nightlife (No. 7), and lodging (No. 3) rival that of much larger urban hotspots but the backdrop and warm welcome are decidedly Idaho.
The skiing, which comprises the main slopes at Bald Mountain as well as the beginner hub at Dollar Mountain, is perfectly varied for all levels. From Baldy’s black diamond Easter Bowls off the Lookout chair and the thigh-burner groomers of Warm Springs to Dollar’s six lifts serving 22 mellow trails perfect for getting your ski legs beneath you, Sun Valley truly does cater to all levels of skiers. But if you have a soft spot in your heart for corduroy (Grooming, No. 2), you’ve come to the right place. (“Best grooming I’ve ever skied,” says one such reader.) Other stand-out rankings include On-Mountain Food (No., 2; make a rezy at The Roundhouse, at the top of the gondola—order the fondue), Local Flavor (No. 3; “Immense Western charm and such friendly locals”), and of, course, Lifts (No. 1; “Where else can you ski 35,000 vertical in under four hours?” says one motivated reader).
Speaking of lifts, the Sunrise terrain expansion debuts this season, adding 380 acres of new terrain along with the high-speed Broadway quad that replaces the old Cold Springs lift. We’d say that this would be sure to boost that Lifts ranking, but… Regardless, this new terrain, of which SKI enjoyed a sneak peek, is sure to delight experts and advanced intermediates with its widely spaced trees, satisfying pitch, and backcountry feel. Perhaps it will help boost the lagging Terrain (No. 25) and Challenge (No. 26) scores? At the end of the day, if you know where to look, or can hook up with a friendly local to point you in the right direction, you will have a blast at Sun Valley on or off the slopes (Down-Day Activities, No. 1). “Sun Valley is a resort of its own making,” sums up one reader. “It doesn’t try to keep up, it sets the standards and continues to find that rare balance of resort and Western ski town.” We concur. — Samantha Berman
2021 Reader Ranking of Sun Valley: No. 1 in the West
- WHAT’S NEW: The Sunrise terrain expansion opens this season with 380 additional acres of mellow, gladed, backcountry-esque terrain served by a new high-speed quad.
- FAMILY EXPERIENCE: Rent some fat bikes from the Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center and tool around on the surrounding snow-packed trails with mountain views off in the distance.
- BEST VALUE: Thrift-store shoppers, rejoice! The Gold Mine is a Ketchum treasure, and likely the spot where you’ll find your next treasure, as well. People have been known to score everything from practically new skis to high-fashion duds.
Learn more about the Sunrise Terrain Expansion at Sun Valley
Read about No. 2 in the West for 2021: Deer Valley, Utah
Go back to the beginning: No. 30 in the West – Loveland Ski Area, Colo.
Sun Valley’s 2020 SKI Magazine Reader Resort Survey Rank: 2nd in the West
Sun Valley is one of the most consistent resorts in our survey, placing in the Top 5 year after year—more often than not in the Top 3. This year finds Idaho’s biggest resort a bridesmaid once again, but one with an impressive seven No. 1 category rankings. Our readers gave Sun Valley top marks in Lifts, Service, Lodging, Down Day Activities, Family, Charm, and Overall Satisfaction. That’s the most No.1s of any resort—West or East.
It’s not hard to figure out the allure. A compact yet cute purpose-built village with luxury lodging and dining anchors Bald Mountain, the larger of the resort’s two areas. With 2,154 acres of terrain, Sun Valley pleases most skiers, though some find it lacking in truly expert terrain (No. 22). That will change with the opening of the Cold Springs Canyon expansion in 2020, adding 380 acres of expert tree skiing accessed from the top of Seattle Ridge. This is a big addition that will bring a lot of value, especially as the resort opens to Epic Pass holders this season—a move that makes some Sun Valley devotees nervous. (“I hope it doesn’t lose its authenticity now that it’s on the Epic Pass.”)
But one thing Sun Valley can never lose is its storied past (“If there was a ranking for ski history, Sun Valley would be No. 1!”). Charm oozes from the nearby town of Ketchum, home to its own excellent lodging and dining options, and shuttles run conveniently between the town and Sun Valley’s two mountains (Accessibility, No. 4). Getting there? Well, that’s a little more complicated (No. 29). While there is a regional airport in Hailey, 13 miles south and served by several major U.S. cities, know that flights can be diverted to Twin Falls or Boise in inclement weather. On the flip side, it’s what keeps this gem relatively hidden. While it remains to be seen how the Epic Pass will impact Sun Valley, it’s safe to say that if any resort has the history, community, and spirit to handle it, it’s this one. “I’ve been skiing Sun Valley all my life—it’s one of my favorite places in the world.” — Samantha Berman
- WHAT’S NEW: The new terrain doesn’t debut until next season, but you can steal a sneak peek this winter on the “Experience the Expansion” guided tour.
- DINNER PICK: Rickshaw is tiny and cozy with amazing Southeast Asian cuisine stashed in a renovated house a couple blocks off Main.
- LUNCH SPOT: The ramen bowls at newly rebuilt Warm Springs Lodge might be the ultimate ski lunch: warm, filling, and healthy.
SKI Magazine’s 2019 Review of Sun Valley, Idaho
There’s a special magic on tap at Sun Valley. It’s the birthplace of the modern ski vacation, having installed the first chairlifts in the world in 1936. That’s some pretty significant history right there, and something that this elegant, well-coiffed resort remains proud of to this day. And rightfully so.
The history is palpable in the hallways and common spaces at the Sun Valley Lodge—where Hemingway finished “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in Suite 206, and dozens of Hollywood stars rubbed elbows with international royalty in the 1940s and ’50s. It’s still a place with a sense of glamour—off the slopes and on. Sun Valley’s loyal fan base ranks it favorably in skier amenities: Lodging, Dining, Après, Nightlife, Lifts, Service, Grooming, you get the gist. And the skiing—intermediate to expert terrain at Bald Mountain, or Baldy, and a beginner’s paradise at Dollar Mountain—satisfies all comers.
The village at the base of Baldy is a convenient and luxurious place to bed down, but the action is in nearby Ketchum, possibly the perfect iteration of a ski town—swathed in Western authenticity, with a serving of rustic chic on the side. A special place, indeed. – Samantha Berman
Come to Sun Valley for the…
- LODGING Sun Valley Lodge aside, the Limelight, in Ketchum, ushers in a new era in hotel options. Check it out.
- DINING We love the brioche cinnamon French Toast at the log cabin Kneadery.
- FAMILY EXPERIENCE A skate on the year-round outdoor ice rink is a must.
- DINNER RESERVATION Ride the gondy to the Roundhouse: elegant on-mountain dining in a timber-and-stone structure built in 1939.
- LOCAL SECRET Natural hot springs. The Big Wood River Valley abounds with them, and you don’t have to get naked. (It’s illegal. Phew.)