Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sun Valley Idaho: The Skiing

When writing my review of the Sun Valley Lodge, I mentioned that the lodge itself was not actually at the base of either of the mountains that make up Sun Valley resort. I also mentioned that had I known this, I may have stayed in a condo at Ketchum. Because that is one thing that needs to be said up front - there is no lodge/there are no condos right at the base of either Dollar or Bald Mountain.

River Run Day Lodge
Live guitar player at the River Run Day Lodge!
That said, the day lodges at both Bald and Dollar Mountain are beautiful and amazing. The River Run and Seattle Ridge lodges at Bald Mountain are far superior to Carol's Dollar Mountain lodge, but that probably has more to do with the size of Baldy vs. Dollar than anything. The main difference is that to use the lockers/store your things at Dollar you have to go downstairs, which of course is a bit of a pain when you're wearing ski boots ;)

At the top of Dollar, looking back on Baldy
At the base of Dollar

We of course spent most of our three days of skiing at Bald Mountain, finishing off the trip with a couple of hours at the much smaller, much easier Dollar - which is in fact the first mountain that was developed for skiing out of the two.

At the "top" of Baldy!
No one told us before we arrived in Sun Valley that their rating system is at least one step higher than any mountain back east (I'm specifically speaking of Vermont, here). And boy, is that correct! In fact I'm pretty darn sure that Sun Valley's trail ratings are higher than the ones at Jackson Hole (Wyoming) as well. I just wish I had skied more western mountains and could make more comparisons!

On the Roundhouse Gondola

Don't get me wrong, some of the green circles - especially the almost flat, narrow, winding ones, and the ones closer to the base of Baldy - were probably true green circles. But I was shocked at some of the slopes at the top of Baldy that were labeled green circles when, considering their general steepness, they were obviously blue squares! To be completely honest, I'm a good skier but not a brave one, and I didn't ski any black diamonds at all while we were in Sun Valley.
Taking a picture of myself before I hopped off a crappy, icy green circle trail into some glades...that, err, weren't meant for skiing ;)
Dollar Mountain is, as I mentioned, very small - even by eastern skiing standards. The trails are mostly easy, but at the same time they are very fun. The halfpipe and terrain park are great! Far superior to anything I've seen back east - much larger, anyway :) There was a large school group there the afternoon we skied Dollar, but even with all of the children it never felt overly crowded. Apparently - according to a few different people who we talked to - mid January is always pretty dead at Sun Valley. So if you're looking for a great skiing time when it isn't crowded, definitely look into that time of year!

Taking a break part way down the mountain due to a foot cramp on my part. Steve is not amused ;)
Unfortunately, this year was a strange one for snow. The area hadn't received a good snowfall since sometime in early or mid-December, and just our luck it didn't snow again until the night before we had to leave. Thankfully, even though we missed out on that legendary western powder, Sun Valley has more snow guns than any other mountain in the States - 555, to be exact - and because of this there were still plenty of trails open and very few icy spots.

"True" summit of Bald Mountain
 The only other issue that is worth mentioning is the accessibility of Bald Mountain's trails. Now, if you're an advanced - and adventurous - skier, you probably wouldn't have many complaints, but as it stands there are huge areas of the mountain that are a bit of a pain to get to. For instance, if you're staying at the Lodge or just storing your skis at River Run, you have to begin and end your day there, which means that the only way to get to Warm Springs - at least when the snow isn't quite plentiful, as in our case - is to go to the very top of the mountain and ski your way down, then go back to the top to ski back down to River Run.

Seattle Ridge
Also, to get to Seattle Ridge at all - at least when we were there - the only way to do it was to take the Roundhouse Gondola, then ski down a very narrow, boring (yet easy, I suppose) trail and take another lift up to the Seattle Ridge day lodge. And this is a must in my opinion, even with how much "work" it takes to get there, because there are some truly great trails over at Seattle Ridge. We talked to some people who said that at times they would spend their entire day over there, despite it being a fairly small area of the mountain!

Seattle Ridge Day Lodge - Inside
Awesome three-sided fireplace at Seattle Ridge Day Lodge
As for going to the "top" of Baldy, which I mentioned before, the lifts that go to the main area run from Warm Springs and River Run, but to get to the actual summit you have to take a little three-person lift from the Seattle Ridge area. A lift whose chairs don't even have bars. Again though, like going to Seattle Ridge in general, it's worth it - some of the best views are from the summit (of course) and the beautiful Seattle Ridge day lodge.

Seattle Ridge again :)
All in all, I must say that while I wasn't quite as impressed with Sun Valley's skiing as I was with Jackson Hole's, but of course it far surpassed anything we have back east. Would I go again? Maybe. I loved Sun Valley as a whole and we had an amazing time; if you've never been, I absolutely suggest a ski trip out there. But I've got places to go and people to see, so it may be a while before we end up back in Idaho...for skiing, at least ;)

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