There’s magic in Sun Valley. It’s one of those special places that just embodies winter. Bluebird skies, fluffy, dry powder, world-class slopes, and a rustic, authentic town that oozes charm. Sun Valley is that postcard ski vacation that most of us crave. After all, it is home to the country’s first destination ski resort and first chairlift. Yeah, all that history might have something to do with it.
In the mid-1930s, Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman was trying to drum up railroad business on his underused tracks that ran between Chicago and the West Coast. The problem, he realized, was that there weren’t enough stops along the way to lure people to take the journey. That’s when he got the golden idea: to create an “American St. Moritz,” trying to emulate the success of the Swiss and Austrian trains that whizz skiers to and from glitzy resorts throughout the Alps. Harriman needed to find the perfect spot to build America’s first ski resort.
Who better to send scouting than an Austrian skier? Count Felix Schlaffgosch was dispatched to the Northern Rockies with one simple item on his agenda. Find the best mountain for ski slopes and base area to build a luxury hotel. Once he laid eyes on the Wood River Valley, he was sold, wiring the news back to boss Harriman that he’d found the perfect sun-drenched mountainside just outside the railroad depot in Ketchum, Idaho. The resort started spinning its first chairlift in 1936 and the Sun Valley Lodge opened later that year. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today Sun Valley is comprised of two mountain hubs: Dollar Mountain, site of that first lift, is the smaller area, geared toward beginners and young families. Covered almost entirely with green and blue runs, Dollar is served by six lifts—including two high-speed quads—and is a great place to get your ski legs under you in a safe and easygoing environment.
Bald Mountain, or Baldy, is the beating heart of the resort. Thirteen chairlifts serve 65 runs plus glades, bowls, and some of the most beautiful on-mountain lodges in ski country. The terrain variety is superb—whatever you’re craving, Sun Valley has it in spades, including some rad new terrain that comes online next season (see page 56).
It all rolls up into a ski vacation that checks all the boxes—especially for Epic Pass holders. (Sun Valley and sister resort Snowbasin both joined the Epic Pass for the 2019-20 season, with seven days at each resort.) We dispatched the entire SKI staff to Sun Valley and Ketchum last February and came back with all the intel, from where to ski and après to the backcountry and beyond. If Sun Valley is on your radar—and it should be—here’s everything you need to know before you go.