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(Photo: Cooper Morton)
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Five Reasons Sun Valley Is the Ultimate Ski Resort

When you combine stellar terrain, world-class amenities, and spectacularly uncrowded slopes, you get a mountain experience like no other

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Every skier has a story about the day it all just came together. The snow was perfect; the crowds nonexistent. At most mountains, those days are the exception. But at Sun Valley Resort in Idaho, just far enough away from it all to keep the crowds light, but accessible enough for the adventurous, skiing is what it should be. Oh, and its terrain and amenities are second to none. Don’t believe us? We caught up with three locals for their take on why Sun Valley is the ultimate ski resort.

The Terrain Is as Good as It Gets

Sun Valley is famous for its endless groomers that rocket down 3,400 vertical feet on snow so well manicured, it’s routinely awarded best-in-class honors. Why? The combination of top-shelf grooming, wide trails, and just the right slope angle make for some of the most dynamic carving in the world. The Challenger lift has the most vertical of any chair in North America (3,140 feet to be exact), and is renowned for serving arguably the best top-to-bottom hot lap on the continent. “There are no benches or flats breaking up the fall line,” says big-mountain skiing pioneer and Black Diamond’s ski category chief Mike Hattrup. “Your legs often quit before the runs do.”

That consistent pitch is also ideal for powder skiing. Catch it right, and you’ll be blowing up snow as light as fairy dust on top of bouncy corduroy. “When we get new snow on top of a groomed base, it’s some of the best skiing in the world,” says local pro skier Lucy Sackbauer. “If the avalanche conditions are favorable, you’ll find me out in the Burn—a backcountry zone [that] expert backcountry skiers with all the rescue gear and training can access from the lifts.”

And now, thanks to recent investments, there’s more opportunity to find untracked snow. A massive Forest Service–approved forest health campaign has opened up a large swath of gladed skiing in an area formerly occupied by impenetrable stands of trees. Plus, a recent 380-acre expansion of ungroomed, experts-only terrain (known as Sunrise) and the installation of the new high-speed Broadway lift mean even more untracked potential. “You effectively double the skiable terrain. I’ve been skiing here for 26 years and last year I was finding new lines all over the place,” says Hattrup.

Sun Valley has 25 miles of groomed Nordic trails for skate and classic skiing. Photo Credit: Courtesy Sun Valley Resort Photographer: © Ray J. Gadd 

It’s More than a Resort Town

Some resort towns are one-trick ponies, where the fun stops beyond the slopes. Not the town of Sun Valley and the neighboring town of Ketchum. Want to blow out the lungs Nordic skiing? You can skate or classic-ski the 25 miles of trails at the Sun Valley Nordic and Snowshoe Center. Backcountry curious? Book a yurt tour with ExploreWITH, a guiding service conveniently located across from the iconic Ram restaurant at the Sun Valley Village. Fat biking, fly-fishing, ice skating, sleigh rides, snowshoeing—Sun Valley has it all. “If you want to get a feel for backcountry skiing, you can also skin up the resort after hours as long as you’re diligent about following the rules,” says local business owner Cassie Abel.

The Sun Valley Lodge Is a Bucket-List Destination for Skiers

Did you know that Sun Valley is America’s first destination ski resort and the global birthplace of the chairlift? While the original single chair, strung up by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1936, is gone, the oldest standing chairlift in the world still exists on Ruud Mountain, just north of the resort village (although it’s not operational anymore). But skiing’s glamorous past also lives on in the historic and luxurious Sun Valley Lodge. It was here that Hollywood’s biggest stars first took up skiing in the 1940s. Ernest Hemingway turned the lodge into a writer’s retreat while he finished For Whom the Bell Tolls. More than 80 years of skiing memorabilia line the walls. “I once spent the better part of an evening walking the halls looking at old photographs,” says Outside contributor and former Skiing Magazine editor Marc Peruzzi. “The lodge is a reminder of how intertwined skiing has been with the broader culture. It’s also a warm and inviting place with no pretense.” 

The slopeside Roundhouse restaurant is famous for its delicious fondue.

The Food Is as Good as the Skiing

Sun Valley has been a dining destination for longer than most resort towns have existed. Kick off your morning at Konditorei, a legit Austrian-style pâtisserie and restaurant in the Sun Valley Village. Start off with the Baked Swiss Eggs Rösti, a traditional take on the dish complete with bacon crumble, Yukon potatoes, melted Gruyère, caramelized onions, and eggs any style. Chase that with a pastry and you’ll be fueled for hard skiing until lunch (which should be a pot of hot, melty cheese at the Roundhouse, famous for its slopeside fondue). Later, hit up Gretchen’s in the village for the mouth-watering Porcini truffle fries starter, followed by the famous Lodge Burger.

It’s Way Easier to Get to than You Think

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re worlds away from it all in Sun Valley because, in reality, you are. But that doesn’t mean planning a ski trip here is an epic adventure in and of itself. During winter, a bevy of national carriers offer nonstop flights to Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Sun Valley and Ketchum’s neighbor to the south. From there, it’s only 13 easy miles from the runway to the chairlifts—no multi-hour drives or hair-raising mountain passes here.


Sun Valley Resort was founded in 1936 as America’s first destination ski resort. Located in the mountains of Idaho, it is a true four-season resort offering guests a wide variety of activities. A mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, Sun Valley features world-class skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, hiking, biking, golf, restaurants, and more.

Lead Photo: Cooper Morton

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