The history of Sun Valley is as much a story of building a legend as it is the building of a grand American ski resort. When Union Pacific Railroad magnate W. Averhill Harriman wanted to find a spot for the perfect mountain resort, he sent Count Felix Schaffgtosch out to survey the West. Schaffgtosch spent months scouring locations, some of which would host well-known resorts in the future, but none struck his fancy the way the Ketchum Valley in Idaho did. When Harriman himself arrived, he agreed. This was 1935, and seven months later the Sun Valley resort opened, with the magnificent Sun Valley Lodge as its centerpiece.
Sun Valley, of course, is also famous for the first know chairlift ever installed to carry skiers up a mountain. Designed by James Curran of Union Pacific's engineering department it was based on a device used for loading bananas on a boat. Interestingly, it was developed and tested in Omaha, Nebraska before it made its debut at Sun Valley. It was installed on Proctor Mountain, a couple of miles east of the now-famous "Baldy" Mountain. That was 70 years ago and the basic design of fixed-grip chairs remains the same.
Over the years Sun Valley's lift system has grown and so has the resort's legend. In its early years it was a favorite of European and Hollywood royalty, famous writers, and Olympic racers, and that tradition continues.
Bald Mountain, the heart of Sun Valley's skiing and riding, covers 2,054 acres of varied terrain and 3,400 feet of vertical, and is served by 14 modern lifts (five more lifts serve Dollar Mountain). A state-of-the-art snowmaking system, one of the first fully-automated systems installed in North America, covers 645 acres of terrain. All the major lifts, trails, and connectors are protected by the system.
Baldy comprises four distinct but interconnected areas. The River Run area has slopes for all abilities, from the easier Olympic Ridge and Olympic Lane to the moguls of Rock Garden and Exhibition. Intermediates will love the buffed surface of Canyon. This area is anchored by the beautiful River Run Lodge. High up on the mountain is the Seattle Ridge area, which includes almost all of the designated slow skiing terrain. The exception is the black diamond Fire Trail; otherwise nearly everything else is impeccably groomed and served by a detachable quad. The magnificent Seattle Ridge Day Lodge provides a welcome retreat.
A word of advice, though, about Baldy's greens: they're on the steeper end of the spectrum, as is everything else. You won't see any double black diamonds on the trail map but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Fortunately Sun Valley has Dollar Mountain, a premier learning facility, with enough terrain and vertical to prepare you for the big mountain. Sun Valley's famous ski school is headquartered here and Dollar Mountain's sunny, wide-open terrain will make beginners feel at ease.
Baldy's showpiece, The Bowls, is a place where even experienced beginners will find a face (Broadway Face). From the summit the bowl becomes progressively more difficult from skier's right to left, culminating in the trio of Lookout, Easter, and Little Easter Bowls. The Mayday Triple serves this terrain, which can also be reached via short lift ride from the Lookout Restaurant.
Warm Springs is an intermediate haven although this area boasts some fine black diamonds, too. Warm Springs can be enjoyed two ways. Ride the Greyhawk detachable quad which covers just under half the vertical on this side of the mountain or take the Challenger detachable quad, which provides Baldy's greatest vertical, 3,142 feet, in one ride. Since it's only a ten-minute trip, it's possible to ski yourself tired in half a day. Rest your tired legs in the distinctive Warm Springs Lodge.