Photo: Tal Roberts
When the Orage Masters came to Sun Valley, ID for its eighth installment, it was a fitting location for the antics-driven event that celebrates the lifestyle surrounding freeskiing as much as the sport itself. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, freestyle skiing thrived in Sun Valley, as did the free-spirited culture that went hand in hand with the snow sliding. Some of the world’s best skiers pioneered hot-dogging on these slopes—many of them were locals here and a few still are. The nightlife was equally legendary. It’s rumored that the first wet T-shirt contest took place here almost fifty years ago with the help of a rowdy bunch dubbed the K2 Performers. One half century later, that same spirit still pervades.
Established in 1936 and home of the world’s first chairlift, Sun Valley is hailed as America’s original destination ski resort. Less than a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City or easily accessed by the Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, ID, eleven miles to the south, Sun Valley is a locale whose legacy was fortified by classic filmmakers such as Dick Barrymore and Warren Miller. Both called this area home for many years and focused their cameras on the ground- breaking action that took place on and off the mountain, creating some of the earliest major ski films.
Nowadays, that tradition is carried on by a new generation, thanks in part to the addition of a superlative terrain park in 2009. It was then that Sun Valley hired park manager Brian Callahan and his team of master builders from Snow Park Technologies to design and construct a first-class facility. The group didn’t waste any time.
Word of Sun Valley’s bolstered terrain parks first got out after a jaw-dropping channel gap jump was featured in Level 1 Productions’ 2010 release, Eye Trip. That behemoth of a feature introduced Sun Valley to countless young freeskiers the world over. Since then, many events and photoshoots have taken place here, reinforcing the resort’s commitment to its parks, the growth of freeskiing culture and its youthful energy.
While Callahan and his crew have proven they can dish out professional-sized features and events, Dollar Mountain—home of Sun Valley’s parks— also hosts a slew of attractions for skiers of all abilities. Two separate progression parks offer a plethora of small to mid-sized features, ideal for honing skills. A 22-foot superpipe is always in pristine condition and new rails are constantly being constructed. During peak season, you can find upwards of fifty features spread across the hill—from S-rails to battleships, rollercoasters to wall rides. With all these options and a sizeable jump line that keeps seasoned pros such as local hero Wing Tai Barrymore satisfied, Sun Valley’s parks are now a tremendous point of pride.
Banks Gilberti. Photo: Tal Roberts
But let’s not forget the fun you can have elsewhere at Sun Valley Resort. For skiing outside of the terrain parks, look to Bald Mountain, a looming giant that rises 3,400 feet above the valley floor. Known simply as Baldy to the locals, this mountain is the heart and soul of Sun Valley and, in this author’s humble opinion, home to some of the most underrated terrain in the lower 48—a beast of consistent, steep pitch and long vertical that induces a leg burn unlike any other, especially since there are rarely any lift lines to rest in.
From the Warm Springs base, the Challenger lift gives you the most bang for your buck. It’s the only chair running the entirety of Baldy, getting you the most vert in the least amount of time. On a powder day, head straight to The Bowls. Wide gullies and ridges with hardly any trees to interfere provide an ideal zone for opening up big turns. There are eight enormous bowls in all—six of which boast black diamond status—and you’ll likely be burnt out before the snow is.
The oh-so-talented Karl Fostvedt grew up skiing Baldy long before Sun Valley had a terrain park. He testifies, “Catching Baldy on a bluebird pow day is unforgettable. There are over 2,000 acres of inbounds skiing available, as well as some of the best backcountry in the world. You can ski more vert than your legs can handle.”
Not to be missed: the out-of-bounds gem known as The Burn. A wildfire in 2007 left the backside of the ski area scorched, opening up miles of burned pine tree glades that were previously too tight to enjoy. The rolling terrain runs for a few thousand feet among blackened trees, and you
can typically find freshies even days after a storm. Be sure to catch the single-track bike trail back to the base, unless you’re shuttling car laps on Warm Springs Road, which takes skiing in this area to another level.
Wing Tai Barrymore. Photo: Tal Roberts
At the end of a long day, it’s time to hit up Apple’s Bar & Grill. Situated at the base of Warm Springs, Apple’s is the après go-to for food, drink and reveling in stories with local die-hards. Soak up the last rays before they disappear over the hill, and from there a quick, free bus ride takes you to downtown Ketchum where more fun awaits.
The centerpiece of Sun Valley is the town of Ketchum, and with most businesses located on its quaint Main Street, it’s easy to walk everywhere you need to go. Also, with Baldy rising up straight from town, there’s no overly developed base area. All the amenities you need can be found right there in town.
Start your night out with a 32-ounce Schooner at Grumpy’s, a classic bar full of character and history, and home of the best burger in Ketchum. As the evening picks up steam, make your way to another local favorite, The Cellar Pub, where the skis of legends new and old decorate the walls, and you stand the best chance of striking up a conversation with an attractive prospect. There’s always a cab waiting out front to get you home safely (that is, if you decide to shack up somewhere aside from the aforementioned spots). Don’t stay out too late, though, you’ve got another epic day on the hill tomorrow.