Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded
  • Sun Valley Trail Map
  • Vertical (ft) - Bald
    5,750 – 9,150 (3,400)
  • Average Snow Fall - Bald
    220 inches
  • Lifts (18)
    1 gondola
    9 quads
  • Ski Season
    late Nov - mid April
  • Terrain Summary
    Runs – 121
    Longest run – 3 mi
    Beginner - 36%
    Intermediate - 42%
    Advanced - 20%
    Expert - 2%

Sun Valley Ski Resort - Bald Mountain

The main part of the Sun Valley Ski Resort is Bald Mountain, aka Baldy. It’s a medium sized ski area and a major feature of Bald Mountain is the long constant pitch. The gradient is mostly moderate, with very little in the way of super steeps. A lot of people say that the terrain at the Sun Valley Ski Resort is incredibly challenging, but they’re clearly not that competent and/or haven’t skied at many ski resorts! The terrain is mostly intermediate and advanced in nature, and there’s only a little bit of expert terrain.

Whoever came up with the ridiculously inapt trail rating system at the Sun Valley Ski Resort was a little coocoo, and despite lots of feedback, Sun Valley likes to hang onto tradition so they’re not going to change it. There are lots of green runs, but probably only one run that’s appropriate for beginners. The blue runs are suitably rated, whilst many of the black runs would probably be called double blues at other many other US ski resorts.

The Sun Valley Ski Resort has two base areas: the River Run base near the central part of Ketchum town; and the Warm Springs base.

Lifts

Bald Mountain of the Sun Valley Ski Resort has very good lift infrastructure and it continues to improve. In addition to the Roundhouse Express Gondola from River Run, another standout lift is the incredibly long and fast Challenger lift from the Warm Springs base.

The super slow and dirty Cold Springs chair is set for replacement with a high speed lift, but that still leaves the slow Mayday chair. Wonder if they call “Mayday” when it breaks down on cold blustery days?! The Lookout chair is painfully slow too, but you probably won’t ride it very often.

Lift Tickets

Sun Valley has a program whereby if you buy an adult multi-day pass and you decide to take a day off from skiing, you can exchange it for other resort activities, dining or shopping.

Sun Valley remains independently owned but has joined the Epic Pass alliance. Epic Pass holders receive 7 days of skiing or snowboarding with no date restrictions. Sun Valley is also on the Mountain Collective Pass.

Sun Valley Snow

It’s not called Sun Valley for nothing and it’s renowned for often being sunny, with a statistic of sunshine for 80% of the season days.

The Sun Valley Ski Resort is not recognized for being a particularly snowy place, with 220” (5.6 metres) of snow on average per season, which seems low relative to Grand Targhee (500”) and Jackson Hole (459”) which are a little further east. Typically Sun Valley scores best out of storms that are hitting the PNW, and not so much from those that are hitting Mammoth and Tahoe. Many like to visit Sun Valley in mid February to mid March when the snow base is adequate for off-piste skiing.

Cruisers need not worry about snow cover because Sun Valley Ski Resort has an abundance of snowmaking facilities, and about 80% of the groomable terrain is serviced by snow guns.

The snow quality is generally very good and the top elevation is reasonably high. The Sun Valley ski resort has a variety of aspects, so as to be expected the snow quality varies around the ski area. Seattle Ridge has good snow and the Warm Springs zone also has a mostly northerly aspect, whilst many of the other slopes are east facing.

Beginner Skiing Bald Mountain

Beginners should go to Dollar Mountain but if you can’t bear to be apart from your group, you could head up the River Run chair lift and do just that one run. Do not get sucked into thinking that the other green runs are easy! Seattle Ridge looks like green heaven, but these are intermediate runs.

Intermediate Skiing Sun Valley

Whether you want to cruise or schuss, the intermediate skiing and snowboarding is the absolute forte of Sun Valley Ski Resort, with lots of long thigh burning groomers. The continuous pitch makes it ideal for lessons and perfecting technique, and many of the trails have little bumps on the side if you want to practise moguls and bail out when you’ve had enough.

Some of the black runs are groomed and these are only a smidgeon steeper than the blue runs, so they can be easily tackled by intermediates.

If you want to test your endurance, head up the fast Challenger chair and see if you can make it non-stop down the Warm Springs run.

Terrain Park

There is a mini cross and a couple of tiny “parks”. Head to Dollar Mountain.

Advanced Terrain

Advanced riders will have fun on the groomers and there are various fall-line black runs that are typically mogulled. In the upper zones, the Bowls are somewhat treeless and provide a decent sized area of fall line skiing. The Bowls are not particularly steep, and the main degree of challenge depends on the size of the bumps.

Sun Valley is well regarded for its moguls, but I can’t imagine that the moguls would be well shaped, because on a powder day there seems to be an annoying culture of too many people traversing the hill rather than dropping fall-line for large portions. Ride the damn mountain!

The ridges off the Mayday Chair provide some loosely spaced trees, and there are also some nice trees off Frenchman’s.

Expert Skiing & Snowboarding

There are much better ski resorts for experts. There is a little bit of challenging terrain at the Sun Valley Ski Resort, but most of it requires abundant snow.

Sun Valley only has a few double black diamond runs. The steepest is Inhibition with a maximum gradient of 35 degrees, so it’s not super challenging akin to Jackson Hole or the like.

The zone near the Three Bears and Inhibition runs offer some fun off-piste terrain, and some rock features for launching off. There’s also a rock garden in there, which keeps things very interesting when there’s plenty of snow cover.

Some of the best terrain is under the Roundhouse Express Gondola where you’ll find steep trees, some cliffs and other rock features. As this is at reasonably low elevation, the fun factor will be fully dependent on the snow quality and quantity. Ditto if you push just a little into the sidecountry to the right of Lower Olympic where there is awesome tree skiing, so long as the fallen logs are covered.

For the Powderhound

Like a lot of US ski resorts, if you’ve got spare cash to part with, you can pay for the privilege of riding the lifts a little bit earlier than everyone else. The only downside is that you have to go with a ski instructor! For the rest of us, thankfully powder day lift queues aren’t too bad (relative to some of the big names).

Unlike many ski resorts where the patrollers control all the lower zones first, at Sun Valley they typically control the zones serviced by the Cold Springs chair last, so don’t make a beeline there first thing on a big powder day.

The Bowls seem popular on a powder day, but it would generally take a big reset to cover up the mess underneath. Combined with the annoying traverse scars left all over the open zones, your best bets are probably the trees. Try some of the patches around Frenchman’s or under the gondola if the snow base is adequate.

Sidecountry & Backcountry

Sun Valley Ski Resort has some great sidecountry. Some parts are just outside the resort boundaries whilst others are not quite so obvious despite feeding back nicely to the lifts. The Burn in particular has a history of avalanches, so get a guide to show you the goods.

Further afield, the Sun Valley area provides some great backcountry touring opportunities including multi-day hut tours.

Dollar Mountain

Dollar Mountain is not inter-connected with Bald Mountain and is accessible via shuttle buses from your lodging. It is a pretty small hill with 4 chair lifts and a couple of surface lifts, 22 trails, and a vertical drop of 628 feet.

Dollar has mostly beginner trails, along with some easy intermediate runs. Dollar Mountain is mostly bald (not sure why they didn’t call this one Bald Mountain), yet it’s still protected from any wild weather and beginners seem to feel more confident with the wide open spaces.

Dollar Mountain also has plenty of terrain park features, ranging from beginner hits to advanced jumps and a superpipe.