Overview of Sun Valley, Idaho
Written by Greg and Heather Burke
Idaho is home to Sun Valley – the most famous, historic ski resort in the country. Sun Valley is the “original,” home of the world’s first chairlift in the country, on Dollar Mountain in 1936. This is the resort that produced so many Olympians and invented the ski week concept as movie stars, musicians, skaters and skiers arrived by train for days of winter play.
To this day, Sun Valley is as celebrated among skiers as it is frequented by the celebs - from Marilyn Monroe to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sun Valley also has a pretty resort sister in Utah, Snowbasin.
Sun Valley is as posh as you would imagine, luxurious timber lodges at the base and the 9,150’ summit of Bald Mountain cater to skiers with leather couches by roaring fireplaces, fine cuisine, and jaw-droppingly magnificent marble bathrooms ($8 million was the price tag on the latest Seattle Ridge Lodge).
The skiing at Sun Valley is long and steep, descending an unrelenting 3,400 vertical, served by 7 high-speed quads and a high-speed 8-person gondola that whisk you back up with just enough time to catch your breath and the scenery. The stunning Sawtooth Mountain range and the trademark “Sun Valley sunshine” make this resort shine.
Sun Valley has extensive bowl skiing if you are feeling a bit adventurous, a switch from the consistently pitched groomed boulevards like Picabo, Gretchen’s Gold and Hemingway (name dropping is big here). Sun Valley leaves plenty of trails bumped too, Holiday and Exhibition are mogul mania. And you must ski a top to bottom Limelight without stopping - a rite of passage. Seasoned Sun Valley skiers have a unique ski style – we deemed it "the Sun Valley slide," a speedy smooth skid.
Sun Valley is swank with a distinct alpine arrogance. Grab a chair in the afternoon sun outside one of the stunning lodges and watch the parade of Bogner and Prada clad skiers. Earl Holding, of Sinclair Oil fortunes, purchased the resort in 1974 and has updated the upscale resort. Holding also owns Snowbasin in Utah (acquired in 1984) which he considered calling Sun Valley Utah. Holding’s philosophy, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” Recent Sun Valley additions include a palatial Nordic and Golf Center called the Sun Valley Club and an incredible outdoor performing arts center – The Sun Valley Pavilion. Not to rest on reputation or laurels, in 2009 a speedy Dopplemayer gondola was installed delivering skiers and diners in swift modern style to the original 1939 Round House – which is America’s first on mountain lodge.
You must lunch at the Roundhouse while skiing Sun Valley. The grand old fireplace, the fondue, and the fabulous view are to die for. You’ll feel as though you were transported to the Alps. Interesting story, the original budget for Sun Valley ski area was $200,000 (imagine what it’s worth now) to install three single chairlifts to the summit. The contractors had $20,000 left over – so they proposed a lodge on the mountain - hence the Roundhouse was born.
There is so much history at Sun Valley, from the trail names of Olympians to the lodges. Sun Valley is an intriguing place, laden with ski legacy and the latest luxuries, pricey and popular with the posh people but the terrain here is not for sissies. No wonder it's always ranked in the Top 10 of ski resort polls.
Sun Valley has a unique lift exchange program, if you tire of turning on the trails, cash in one day of a multi day ticket for a massage at the Sun Valley spa, dinner at the four diamond Sun Valley Lodge Dining Room, or a Snowshoe or Nordic package.
The place to stay at Sun Valley for luxury lodging Idaho style is The Sun Valley Lodge, 1936 original complete with the famed centerpiece ice skating rink.
I have been skiing Sun Valley since I was a year old. It is just that kind of place that once you start going its hard to break the habit. There is something so romantic about the town, the mountain, and the resort...the way Baldy gracefully looms above quiet town below. Or now from the deck on the new Dollar lodge she looks like a Mom smiling down on her child. Its just magic I tell ya. And then of course there are restaurants, and shopping, and bars, and Hemingway, and the glory days of Hollywood to remember. It's a classic.
Sun Valley offers beautiful settings, up to date lifts, wonderful lodges and all types of skiing challenges for our whole family.