SUN VALLEY — When Sun Valley’s 82nd season begins on Thanksgiving Day, Sun Valley Resort will boast a second art-splashed gondola car, and Dollar Mountain will sport a new look.
Sun Valley will forego its half-pipe, or super pipe, this year to concentrate on ski- and snowboard-cross courses and other family-friendly features that have proven popular in recent years.
“People love the ski cross courses. Kids challenge dads, friends challenge each other, even Moms go in,” said Mike Fitzpatrick, Sun Valley Company’s marketing and public relations director. “We had a banked slalom last year and people were having such a great time riding the natural snow features on the hill. It was an ‘aha!’ moment.”
The season will launch with top-to-bottom skiing, thanks to a foot of new snow on Nov. 16 alone, coupled with temperatures cold enough to make plenty of man-made snow.
And it will end on a good note as the resort once again hosts the U.S. Alpine Championships featuring the U.S. Olympic ski racers.
This season, Sun Valley is shining the spotlight on Dollar Mountain — Bald Mountain’s smaller sister hill.
“It’s probably the best learning mountain in the world. And now we’re making it a very friendly family social fun environment, aligning what we do there with guest demands,” said Fitzpatrick.
Sun Valley plans to build at least two cross courses. One — from the top of Dollar — will utilize terrain never used before as it snakes its way down the mountain.
It will be called Lombard Street after San Francisco’s steep one-block section with eight hairpin turns known as the “Crookedest Street in the World.”
Dollar Mountain’s terrain parks, which used to be linear going from top to bottom, will be more akin to skateboard parks this year, offering skiers and riders several places to drop in. Resort workers, headed up by Terrain Park Manager Nate Sheehan, will sculpt natural jumps, banks and roller coaster-like “rolly bolly” features out of snow. They will also set out mini-pipes and other man-made features suitable for skiers and boarders of all skill levels.
“We want people to walk out of Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge and say, ‘Whoa! I can’t wait to get out there!’ We’re hoping people will want to spend a day at Dollar,” said Fitzpatrick.
The magic carpet that used to take tubers to the top of the hill will now be employed to ferry beginner-beginners to good teaching terrain. And Sun Valley’s new mascot, Sunny the Bear, will be at Dollar Mountain every day, engaging kids in warm-up exercises before gathering and leading youngsters’ lessons.
Fitzpatrick said he thinks the other new amenities will take the place of the resort’s half-pipe.
Sun Valley was one of the few places to have an Olympic-sanctioned half-pipe. But the feature required massive amounts of snow and labor to build, and its 22-foot walls weren’t easily accessed by the majority of those who ski Dollar Mountain. Other ski resorts, such as Jackson, have also done away with their half-pipes this year.
Here’s a look at some of the other new things skiers and boarders will find at Sun Valley this wintler:
Sun Valley hopes to expand its inbound ski acreage by 380 acres by opening this area south of Seattle Ridge Lodge in the 2018-19 season. The expansion is designed to be coupled with a new high-speed lift replacing the Cold Springs chair, which is the oldest on the mountain. The transformation will also feature the extension of Broadway Run and a renovation of the Cold Springs mountain bike trail.
The resort will offer a sneak preview with guided tours for advanced skiers and boarders, probably in January. The area features off-piste terrain and some tree skiing, linking up with the Cold Springs lift.
Fitzpatrick compares the terrain to that of Lefty’s and Kaitlyn’s Bowls. Its exposure is the same as the ungroomed Fire Trail on Seattle Ridge, which often sports some of the nicest snow on the mountain.
“It’s going to be fun terrain, a little more wild,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’ll hearken back to the early years.”
There will be art flying through the skies above Baldy, thanks to the addition of the Mandela Gondola.
The new gondola, designed by Boise artist Rachel Teannalach, will feature a solar eclipse with a diamond ring burst in homage to the August total solar eclipse that washed over Sun Valley in August. A second side will feature wildflowers, while a third side boasts a moon cycle and the remaining side, rivers and geese.
A quote inscribed on the gondola is taken from Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace:” “There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness and truth.”
The gondola, commissioned by the Ketchum Arts Commission, is the second in the area. The first, installed during the 2014-15 season, features Ketchum artist Ralph Harris’s rendering of the Boulder Mountains with two large elk and a calf in the foreground.
With that, Sun Valley became the first ski resort to have a gondola wrapped with art on Forest Service land in the United States. Hailey’s Windy City Arts, which wrapped the gondola, has fielded calls since from other resorts wanting to follow suit. But Sun Valley remains the only resort to have a gondola that’s completely wrapped from top to bottom, said Windy City’s Troy Larsen.
Sun Valley will open the doors on its new Village Station restaurant in Sun Valley Village in December. The new restaurant, built on the site of the former Bald Mountain Pizza, is designed to evoke Sun Valley’s Union Pacific railroad roots. It will feature a full service bar, craft beers on tap, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, burgers and other entrees.
The Ram Restaurant and Ram Bar are also being renovated, along with 25 rooms in the Sun Valley Inn. Eighty more rooms will be refurbished in fall 2018.
2018 Toyota US Alpine Championships
The nation’s best skiers will compete from March 19 to 26 on the Warm Springs side of Baldy.
The 2016 Alpine Championships held in Sun Valley attracted ski enthusiasts from throughout the United States to watch the races and take part in après ski events, such as a boisterous celebration honoring Sun Valley’s many Olympians, street dances and a high-flying exhibition of freestyle aerialists on Dollar Mountain.
Mikaela Shiffrin signed more than a thousand ski helmets, programs and even one thermos bottle during the week, and athletes challenged themselves on what many said was the most difficult course they’d ever raced on.
The Super G course will be expanded this year, taking athletes through the woods and adding another 10 to 15 seconds to a run that took most about 1 minute, 50 seconds.
In addition, Sun Valley plans to install more bleachers for spectators, including some higher up the course.
Sun Valley has added another 55 low-energy, high output snow guns to its arsenal, including 17 that will allow Sun Valley to open the Cold Springs lift earlier. The guns can quickly build a three-foot pile of snow, compared with the older ones that could make a piles inches high, Fitzpatrick said.
“These make one of the world’s great snowmaking systems even greater,” Fitzpatrick added.
If You Go...
Both Bold Mountain and Dollar Mountain open for the 2017-18 season on Thanksgiving Day. Operations on Dollar Mountain will run through Thanksgiving Weekend. Then Dollar will close as workers ready the mountain for a grand opening featuring its new bells and whistles on Dec. 8.
Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Lift Tickets: Adult lift tickets start at $71 for early and late season skiing through Dec. 14 and after April 1. The price goes up during peak season. Get tickets at up to 20 percent off when you buy up to seven days in advance. Tickets are available online at www.sunvalley.com. Or, call 208-622-6136 or 1-888-490-5950.
College, youth and senior discounts are available.
Kids Ski Free
Children ages 12 and under ski free at Sun Valley when staying at a qualifying local lodging establishment three or more days.
Sun Valley offers more than 3,400 vertical feet of skiing on more than 2,000 acres of terrain. Its two mountains boast 17 chairlifts and 105 runs. The longest ski run is three miles long.
Snowmaking covers about 80 percent of groomed terrain.
And, while Dollar Mountain is acknowledged as the playground with its ski- and board-crosses and other terrain park features, Baldy features themed Adventure Trails for kids, as well as 30 acres of glade terrain.
Bring your suntan lotion: Sun Valley averages 250 days of sun per year.