This story starts with receiving an email on a brisk November morning.
I rubbed the crust out of my eyes, took a sip of my energy drink sitting next to my keyboard (I don’t like coffee, but I really wish that I did), and opened the message.
The opening line read something like: “Matt! We want you to join us on a media trip to Sun Valley!”. I didn’t even read the remainder of the message. I clicked “Reply” and said,
“HELL YEAH I’LL BE THERE BABY. SUN VALLEY HERE I COME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’M GOING TO BE THE BEST DAMN SKIER ON THAT ENTIRE MOUNTAIN.”
Okay, so I didn’t write those words exactly, but that’s what I was thinking in my small, dumb skier brain.
A trip to America’s first ski resort with other members of the skiing/snowboarding media community? I mean, how could I pass that opportunity up? The inner History Major inside of me was shouting from the rooftops, and the somewhat decent skier living in my head was beaming from ear to ear.
I have dreamed about skiing Sun Valley for as long as I can remember. Here’s the backstory-
My dad used to have a subscription to SKI Magazine. I’ll never forget reading an article about the luxury of the Sun Valley Lodge, and the beautifully groomed slopes descending Bald Mountain.
My eyes lit up at the pictures of skiers carving trenches in the glorious sunshine, and the beautiful women sipping champagne slopeside (ski marketing was a little bit different back in those days).
It’s been a dream of ours ever since to ski Sun Valley. So, I asked the good folks at the resort if he could tag along. They emphatically said, “Yes!”. My dad booked his tickets and called me with excitement.
It was our time to visit the birthplace of the North American ski resort experience, and we couldn’t wait.
Day 1- Touring on Dollar Mountain, Making New Friends
I always thought that getting to Sun Valley would be a challenge. I’m not sure why, but I had this preconceived notion that it would be difficult. Boy, was I wrong.
It only took two flights for me to reach Sun Valley. One flight from Madison, WI to Denver, and then another from Denver to Sun Valley.
It was so easy that I wish I had one of those old Staples ‘That Was Easy’ buttons to press. Those were so cheesy, but damn were they fun.
I landed in Sun Valley (the airport is actually ~20 minutes away from the resort in Hailey, ID), and was greeted by glorious sunshine. The tall peaks of the mountains stretched above, and I had a twinkle in my eye.
I caught a ride to the historic Sun Valley Lodge, and was immediately blown away. The elegance of the lodge is unmatched. The staff was incredibly friendly, and the décor was stunning. I could feel the history of the Lodge as I walked through the halls lined with pictures of the celebrities that have stayed there.
The vibe was palpable. I was standing in one of the most historic buildings in North American ski history, and it was everything I hoped it would be.
I scurried to my room and changed into my touring gear. Here’s the part of the story where I have to be humble, and I hope you won’t find it too amusing. I had never been ski touring before this day. Yup. That’s right. Matt Lorelli, the ski blogger from Unofficial Networks had never ripped a skin track or done a kick turn.
I was embarrassed, but still excited about the day ahead of me. I was just hoping that my fellow media members wouldn’t give me a hard time about it.
I met up with the group on a shuttle to head over to Dollar Mountain, Sun Valley Resort‘s smaller hill that’s suited for beginners. Our goal was to skin up Dollar for sunset, have a warm beverage up top, and ski down in the moonlight.
I told the group that this was my first time skinning, and I was accepted with overwhelming positivity. Rather than judge me for my inexperience, the crew gave me tips and tricks throughout the tour. It was lovely. I felt so happy to be surrounded by such great people.
We reached the summit of Dollar (about 600 vertical feet above the base) right as the sun was setting over the Wood River Valley. Bald Mountain was basking in the glorious golden hour rays, and the valley lay peacefully still below us. My group all congratulated me for completing my first tour, and we celebrated with hot whiskey ciders. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
We ripped our skins off and descended Dollar Mountain in the ambient light of the setting sun and the rising moon. The descent was fairly quick, but I enjoyed skiing in a big party lap with the crew.
We finished up the evening with a fantastic dinner at the Village Station, located right in the heart of the Sun Valley Village.
I recommend getting the Chicken and Avocado Salad. I substituted salmon for the chicken. It was incredible.
I went to sleep like a kid on Christmas Eve. I was so excited for the next day to come.
Day 2- The Ultimate Baldy Experience
We were teased with views plenty of views of Bald Mountain the night before. The mountain looked steep as hell as it towered above the valley below.
It hadn’t snowed at Sun Valley in the two weeks preceding my trip. Knowing that, I demoed some Laser ARs from Stöckli. It felt like the perfect ski to lay some big GS turns on Sun Valley’s award-winning groomers.
We started the day with a mixed crew of Sun Valley athletes and employees from the resort for ‘Early-Ups’. We got on the lift at 8AM (the sun had barely risen), and were treated to spectacular views of the entire valley.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and we had the entirety of Bald Mountain to ourselves.
Our first run of the day was down ‘College’ a Green Circle trail that starts from the summit of Baldy. I remember thinking:
‘Hmm. That’s kind of lame that we’re starting the day on a green trail. We have this whole mountain to ourselves. Why aren’t we getting on at least a Blue?!’
I found out why pretty quickly.
It turns out that ‘Greens’ at Sun Valley could easily be ‘Blues’ or even ‘Blacks’ at any other resort in the west. Bald Mountain is so damn steep that even the ‘Easiest Way Down’ runs are fun as hell. I’m not joking.
Our group of about 30 sent it down College on perfectly manicured corduroy. The Laser ARs gripped the snow perfectly. I bounced from edge to edge at high speeds surrounded by my colleagues and pro skiers like McKenna Peterson. I had a moment were I literally thought about pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It was surreal.
We spent the rest of the morning exploring all of the groomed terrain that Sun Valley has to offer. The snow was pretty firm off-piste, and I was content with letting the Laser ARs do what they do best on the groomed runs. I was having too much fun going Mach 10 down Baldy, anyways.
The resort treated our group to a fantastic lunch at The Roundhouse, one of the most historic on-mountain lodges at Sun Valley. It is decorated with old-timey décor that looks straight out of the 1950s, and the vibe is charming.
We had the “Roundhouse Classic” as I’m told. Fantastic fondue for an appetizer, and a wagyu steak as an entrée. Find me a better on-mountain lunch in the entire country. I’ll wait.
We spent the rest of the afternoon crushing groomers in the sun. I have no idea how much vertical we racked up, but it had to be a lot. There was never a lift line, and the detachable lifts sped us up the mountain with ease. I literally couldn’t stop smiling. I had never had so much fun skiing endless laps on groomers.
We ended Day 2 with a luxurious dinner at Sun Valley’s oldest restaurant- The Ram. The food was fantastic, the company was great, and it capped of an absolutely perfect day up on the mountain.
Day 3- Touring with Sun Valley Guides
I woke up to my alarm beeping annoyingly loud at 7AM. I let out a big stretch and sprung up from my bed like an acrobatic gymnast filled with excitement. It was going to be a big day.
This was only my second day on touring skis, and my first day in the backcountry. I can’t say enough positive things about how safe I felt thanks to the folks over at SVG.
They took me through an entire snow safety class, showed me how to use all of the gear I rented from Sturtevants (Ketchum rental shop that I highly recommend), and a beacon training session before we started to venture out.
I appreciated the patience my guide gave me to prepare me for the day. I had some nerves about skiing in the backcountry for the first time, but those nerves were calmed by my guide’s excellent teaching skills. I felt like I was in good hands, and that made my day incredibly enjoyable.
We didn’t do too much vertical considering it was my first day in the backcountry, but I and my fellow novice backcountry skier Melissa, were totally fine with that. We ended up climbing just over 1,000′. Perfect for learning the ropes.
One of the best things about our guide from SVG was his ability to predict the snow quality. I mentioned before how it hadn’t snowed in about two weeks, but that didn’t stop him from finding numerous pockets of snow that were nice and powdery. He kept us on North-facing slopes the entirety of our tour, and that made all of the difference.
I ended the day reminiscing about my newfound love for ski touring. I finally understand what all of the craze is about. Being able to hike uphill in winter months with a rewarding downhill experience was exhilarating.
I’m so thankful that my first experience in the backcountry was with Sun Valley Guides.
I HIGHLY recommend that everybody (no matter your backcountry skill level) consider hiring SVG for a day in the backcountry.
Side note- We ended our day with an awesome dinner at The Limelight Hotel with live music. Again, great atmosphere, food, and company.
Day 4- Ripping Baldy With My Dad
Most of the media crew was booked to fly home by the early afternoon, but I stayed an extra day to ski with my dad. We had quick breakfast together before we said our goodbyes to the rest of the media crew.
My dad and I had another classic Sun Valley day. We were treated to endless sunshine, fairly mild temps, and wide open slopes. It had snowed 2″ the night before, so I decided to demo a pair of Nordica Enforcer 94s. They were perfect for the conditions.
The snow wasn’t stellar, but the dust-on-crust made some of Sun Valley’s bowls and tree runs enjoyable. I decided to poke into the resort’s brand-new Sunrise Expansion to see what the buzz was all about.
This is a bold statement, but I honestly believe it to be true- Sunrise is the best gladed terrain I have ever skied. Again, the snow wasn’t great, but I still had so much fun.
Sunrise is massive. It stretches for over 300 acres adjacent to Seattle Ridge. There’s seemingly endless lines that descend the face. It’s chock-full of a mixed-bag of tightly cut glades, open meadows, and even a couple of couloirs. This is the place you want to be on a powder day.
It was nice to catch up with my dad after our recent trip to Whitefish, MT. He doesn’t ski as hard as he used to, but he was thrilled by Baldy’s endless groomers. They’re easier on his knees, and therefore he can ski longer days.
We ended our stay at Sun Valley with our last night spent at Hotel Ketchum. The rooms were nicely decorated, and the location was extremely convenient for us to explore downtown Ketchum that night. It was an excellent way to cap off an unforgettable trip.
Sun Valley is one of the most luxurious ski experiences in the country. Lift tickets are expensive, the food isn’t cheap, and getting there isn’t as easy as somewhere like SLC or Denver.
However, I can’t recommend it enough for those of you looking to scratch your itch for a bucket list vacation destination. It’s really not that hard to get to, and the spoils will make it worth it.
I’m incredibly grateful for everybody that made this trip happen, and for all of the friendships I made a long the way. Connecting with like-minded winter sports enthusiasts was breath of fresh air, and having Sun Valley as the setting was picture-perfect.
Thanks to those of you that read this entire blog! I know this definitely longer than our typical content on Unofficial Networks. Let me know if you enjoyed it, or if you didn’t! My email is always open, and I love hearing from you guys. firstname.lastname@example.org
Be well, take care, and I hope you’re having fun this season.