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This Overlooked Ski Resort is Actually One of America's Best

Sponsored by Visit Sun Valley

01.06.20

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Idaho's Sun Valley serves up great skiing in an amazing location with a singular vibe. Here's why to go.

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Your skis whoosh to the left, spraying snow and bringing you to a full stop. You look up at the mountain’s steep vertical face, its peak piercing the blue sky, and ponder one more. Why not? There’s no line at the chairlift. 

Sun Valley may be one of skiing’s best-kept secrets, but insiders know that America’s first destination ski resort is one of the country’s finest. With powdery slopes on two picture-perfect mountains and runs for every level—from ripping descents to easy, treeless bowls—it’s a paradise for downhill skiers and boarders. More than 120 miles of groomed Nordic runs, a laid-back attitude, and some cool new offerings mean offer even more reasons to put Sun Valley on your must-ski list.

Unique Location

Sun Valley began in the post-Depression era, when Averell Harriman, a Union Pacific Railroad executive who’d grown up skiing in the Alps, decided that the U.S. needed a grand ski resort—one along a train line. A scout Harriman had hired deemed the sun-filled valley near Ketchum, Idaho as the perfect location, and a construction team went to work.

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Today, Sun Valley’s off-the-beaten track location—tucked away in the middle of Idaho with no major freeway running through it—is part of the appeal. And getting here isn’t as tricky as it might seem. Take one of the daily nonstop flights from hubs like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago directly into Friedman Memorial Airport, just 20 minutes south of Ketchum and Sun Valley. Or you can drive from Boise, Twin Falls, or Idaho Falls, taking in the gorgeous scenery along the way. Fly through Salt Lake City and take a short, 40-minute connection.

Relaxed Vibe

One thing Sun Valley residents and regulars love so much is its super-chill vibe. Visitors come here to actually ski or snowboard instead of, say, showing off their fancy gear. Skiing without the attitude and flash—that’s Sun Valley.

Those skiers and boarders have lots to experience: two mountains, more than 2,000 acres of terrain covered with dry powder, and an amazing snowmaking operation (578 guns!). For most people, downhill means heading to Bald Mountain (“Baldy” to the locals), with its massive 5,750-foot base and 3,400-foot vertical drop. Baldy has what’s known as a “constant pitch” in mountain-speak, which means the incline here is unrelenting: when you push off from the top, you go, go, go, all the way to the bottom.

For beginners and those who simply want to take it slow, there’s Dollar Mountain, consistently ranked as one of the best places to learn to ski in the country. Because it’s practically treeless, the wide-open spaces inspire confidence among new skiers. It’s also family-oriented, offering lessons for several age levels, starting with the tiniest skiers at two.

Plus, neither mountain is crowded, which means you can get more runs in each day. With one of the world’s highest per-hour lift capacity per person, you can ski and board more every day.

Wait, There’s More

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With the help of a local guide, you can ski, heliski, or snowboard through limitless acres of backcountry terrain in the nearby Sawtooth National Forest, cutting new trails through fresh powder. To take your alpine-style adventure a step further, there’s a complete network of cozy huts and yurts to stay in overnight; then wake up and do it all again the next day.

You can also slip into a pair of snowshoes and see the backcountry at your own pace, go cross-country skiing, or rent a sled or a fat bike. Wind down with some ice skating at the outdoor rink in the middle of Sun Valley, then go for a hot chocolate—or hot toddy—après.

What’s New at Sun Valley

Sun Valley is constantly looking for ways improve its already magnificent skiing program—like partnering with the Epic Pass family (along with its sister resort in Snowbasin). At Sun Valley, you can ski or snowboard for seven days with no blackout days; then it’s good for 50 percent off of lift tickets for the rest of the season. Also, Sun Valley added 18 acres to its gladed skiing program (bringing the total to 81), as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Healthy Forest Initiative. And Bald Mountain is about to become even more challenging. Next season, an expansion project will open up 380 more skiable acres, with a wide-open bowl, deep chutes, and trees to navigate through. There will also be a new high-speed chair lift to get you back to the top for one more run of the day.

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Discover even more great reasons to head to Idaho this winter at Visit Sun Valley.

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