Sun Valley is easy to love. It takes just one family ski trip to appreciate its advantages and the reasons why their guest return rate is so high.
Sun Valley is in Idaho, 155 miles from Boise. A common misperception is that Sun Valley is difficult to access. I disagree. Although flying into Boise may require a connection, once you arrive, the airport is very user-friendly and the subsequent drive to Sun Valley from takes 2.5 hours, assuming the driving conditions are good. This means Sun Valley is the same distance or closer than many of Colorado’s ski areas from Denver International Airport, and likewise from San Francisco International Airport to Lake Tahoe.
You can also fly into Hailey, just outside of Sun Valley, although flights to this small airport tend to be much more expensive than Boise, and there can be significant delays in bad weather.
Insider Tip: Beyond Boise, there are few stops for gas or food. Ensure everyone is fed and watered before leaving the airport and/or bring snacks. The Sun Valley Express offers shuttle services to/from Boise Airport for families who don’t want to rent a car.
Sun Valley is a destination resort and the vast majority of skiers stay in the area versus come up for the day. This is a beautiful thing as there are far fewer people skiing here at any point in time than other resorts of a similar size and quality level. We skied at Sun Valley over the Christmas holidays and although there were mobbed moments, it was always possible to find nooks without crowds.
Offering 2,900 acres and over 3,100 feet of vertical to skiers, the terrain at Sun Valley is epic for all levels of skiing. A typical ski day in a non-holiday period involves zero lift lines as they have a plethora of high-speed quads with a lift capacity of 21,580 skiers per hour. Factor in the that their average skier count is only 3,500 skiers a day — it’s easy to see why the Sun Valley ski experience is on the top of the favorites list for ski enthusiasts.
The constant pitch of the runs ensures no skier escapes a work out. On Baldy, the main ski area, 36% of the mountain is rated as easiest, 42% is rated as intermediate, and 22% is rated as most difficult. Plus, there is an entire mountain, Dollar, dedicated to learning to ski and snowboard. There’s truly amazing terrain within Sun Valley for all ages and interests.
Sun Valley Resort constantly wins accolades for their snowmaking and grooming. It has the largest automated snowmaking system in the world and uses state-of-the-art grooming machines (I know, I rode The Beast, aka their top-of-the-line machine. Stay tuned for details!). Although the resort may see less annual snowfall than other ski areas, Sun Valley can do more with less. It’s dry and cold, but stays true to its name, with over 250 days of sunshine per year.
The day lodges and food offerings are excellent at Sun Valley. Skiers find roaring fires, cozy places to relax, and fresh meals from the food courts at the River Run and Warm Springs Lodges, to the taco bar at The Lookout, to white tablecloths and gourmet cuisine at Round House Restaurant. Dollar Mountain features their own kid-focused lodge with pint-sized everything.
Insider Tip: Hear that bell at Warm Springs Lodge? That means fresh, hot cookies are available right out of the oven. Needless to say, kids love this!
Make no mistake about it, there’s money and celebrities floating around Sun Valley. What’s interesting, however, is that if you don’t look closely, you’d never know. The ambiance here is decidedly low-key, not flashy. Luxury shopping, fine wine, and gourmet food are readily available, but not in your face.
The adjacent town of Hailey has just enough shops, art galleries, and restaurants to make things interesting, but the tone is still Western feeling, small town, and authentic.
I’ll do a dedicated post about it in a few weeks, but the ski instruction at Sun Valley is exceptional. A big asset is their dedicated mountain configured just for those who are learning to ski. For parents, it means that you have little worry your kids will be lost in the shuffle or run over by experts, our biggest concern when little kids are learning to ski. In fact, Sun Valley’s parent-free ski school zone ensures that the priority is keeping the focus on kids 100% of the time.
More advanced kids’ ski instruction for both adults and children (private and group) is available on Baldy.
Unlike the other top ranked ski areas, there are no big chains that own hotels in Sun Valley. Accommodation choices are limited, although this fact also contributes to the appealing average skier count.
The main accommodation, the Sun Valley Lodge, is owned and operated by Sun Valley Resort. This iconic property is ideal for families with 491 rooms, suites, apartments, and rental homes from which to choose. The style is old-school (4 star) and full of history; it’s not stuffy, just comfortable. Families enjoy an ice skating rink, year-round heated pool, in-house bowling alley, and a full European-style “village” with shops and kid-friendly dining, including a brand new ice cream shop.
Outside the lodge, there are few other hotels in town, including a Best Western that looks decent and is just a two-minute drive from the River Run day lodge. There’s also a robust home-rental market with plenty of luxury options.
Insider Tip: Sun Valley Lodge is not ski-out but there they offer a free shuttle to both Dollar and Baldy ski areas. Even if you drive, parking is hassle-free.
Sun Valley holds a prominent place in ski history as it is was home to the first chair lift in North America in 1936 and the resort has been investing in the guest experience ever since. R. Earl Holding has owned Sun Valley Resort since 1977 and is continually pouring money into upgrades. This year’s big project is on Dollar Mountain where they just opened an Olympic-standard 22′ x 620′ super pipe in their popular terrain park. See our 2013 best family ski resorts press release; this is part of a trend to add infrastructure for all ages and interests to resorts in North America.
Kids on Baldy also love the new adventure trails configured just for little legs with jumps, bumps and hairpin turns. Also new in 2013 is the addition of Chef John B. Murko, their new Culinary Director. He was named the best chef in Utah in 2011 by Salt Lake City Magazine and opened up a number of award-winning dining outlets in the Park City area.
John Murko’s move to Sun Valley this year is big news! He works fast — the Konditorei, a longtime coffee shop in the resort village, has been transformed into cozy café serving fresh Alpine-style cuisine like wiener schnitzel, family favorites including grilled cheese and hot paninis, fresh salads, and an incredible array of homemade pastries and desserts.
Insider Tip: Some of the best ski conditions can happen in March and this is also a time with fewer people on the mountain.
Editorial Note: Sun Valley Resort provided a complimentary lift ticket and ski school experience to facilitate Ciao Bambino’s review of the resort. As always, our opinions are our own.
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