Photo: Sun Valley Lodge
Photo: Sun Valley Lodge

Idaho’s Snowy Slopes Are Open for Fun

Idaho's Bald Mountain—an idyllic destination for skiers—awaits your arrival.

For the better part of a century, the spectacular 9,150-foot Bald Mountain in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountain National Forest has attracted downhill skiers and winter revelers. The pitch and varied terrain of the mountain, which features a 3,400-foot vertical drop, make it one of the world’s great snow-sport destinations. 

And, yes, Sun Valley is open this winter and spring, although to maintain social distancing, the numbers of daily lift tickets on both Bald and nearby Dollar Mountain are being limited.

As I write this, Bald Mountain (affectionately called “Baldy”) has a packed powder base of 86 inches at the 5,730-foot level with 103 inches at the summit. Eleven lifts are operating to 101 trails, of which 61 are groomed. 

Four lifts are operating on Dollar Mountain, with an elevation of 6,638 feet and a drop of only 628 feet. Dollar has gentler slopes that are more suited to beginning and intermediate skiers. Eighteen of 21 trails are groomed. Children are welcome. Teen snowboarders, too.

Photo: Sun Valley Lodge
Photo: Sun Valley Lodge

A new Sun Valley Resort app, available for iOS and Android, provides real-time updates about what’s open and what’s groomed. 

Sun Valley Lodge, America’s original ski resort (see sidebar below), offers an ideal place to stay, but you can also choose from dozens of charming and highly rated hotels, including Limelight Ketchum, Knob Hill Inn, and Sun Valley Inn.

Ultimate ski lift

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Ultimate ski lift

For an unforgettable Rocky Mountain experience, hop a helicopter to the top of a two-mile-high deep-powder run.

Off the slopes, you’ll find no shortage of fine food, starting with a rustic breakfast at the log cabin Kneadery. Grab a gourmet woodfire pizza with a glass of Idaho wine at Enoteca or order steak and local craft beer at the atmospheric and authentic Pioneer Saloon. Enjoy take-out Italian at Christina’s or fish and chips at the Cellar Pub. (Naturally, all dine-in restaurants are practicing social distancing and requiring masks; some have shortened their hours and days.)

Photo: Sun Valley Lodge
Photo: Sun Valley Lodge

You have alternatives for skiing as well as for dining: if Sun Valley is too crowded and lift passes are scarce, consider the new Tamarack Resort, in northern Idaho, which features a pair of express lifts up to the 7,700-foot summit and often trackless slopes of deep, dry powder. Also in the northern panhandle, north of Coeur d’Alene, is Schweitzer Mountain Resort, with stunning vistas all the way to Canada. Schweitzer offers upscale amenities and dining in its ski village.


Sun Valley Lodge’s Fascinating History

In 1935, New York banker Averell Harriman, chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, brought Count Felix von Schaffgotsch from his castle in Austria to tour the American West. Harriman wanted Schaffgotsch’sexperienced opinion on where to locate a proposed luxury resort to attract skiers.                                

The Union Pacific had developed a sleek, lightweight diesel-powered passenger train. Called the M-10000, it was a perfect picture of art deco on wheels. Harriman wanted to sell berths on his three-car super train to wealthy visitors who would also stay at his planned posh hotel.

Schaffgotsch toured several possible resort sites in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon, and California without settling on an obvious choice. Then, a railroad employee mentioned that the spur from Shoshone, Idaho, to the two-horse town of Ketchum received so much snow that it was the most difficult (and costly) span to keep cleared each winter. Scaffgotsch knew he had his location for America’s first winter ski resort: Sun Valley.

Photo: Sun Valley Lodge
Photo: Sun Valley Lodge

A massive 220-room concrete hotel rose on a sprawling sagebrush ranch, complete with fantastic heated outdoor swimming pools. An engineer designed the first-ever mechanical chairlift based on a conveyor system that he’d seen moving bananas vertically into the hulls of ships in the tropics. Expert ski instructors whom Scaffgotsch recruited from the storied slopes of Austria showed up in the Sawtooths wearing lederhosen and Tyrolean hats.  

Now the clever Harriman—who would later be a key to keeping the Allied alliance together during World War II and brilliantly oversee the Marshall Plan’s rebuilding of European after that conflict—had to attract tourists to his Xanadu. 

Ernest Hemingway was given one of the Sun Valley Lodge’s dozen luxury suites, compliments of the house. Hemingway dubbed it the “Glamor Room” and opened bar. He was putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece of the Spanish Civil War, For the Whom the Bell Tolls. Actors Gary Copper and Clark Gable came from Hollywood to hunt ducks and pheasants with Hemingway. Claudette Colbert and Ingrid Bergman posed on skis for publicity photos.

Harriman, future governor of New York and U.S. Secretary of Commerce, scored a huge success with his star-studded resort. Meanwhile, Scaffgotsch, last seen wearing a Nazi officer’s uniform, disappeared on the Russian Front.

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