Skiers and snowboarders who saw their seasons cut short last winter because of coronavirus-related shutdowns are likely chomping at the bit to get back on the slopes. As they are welcomed back to Sun Valley for the ski resort’s 85th winter season, they will find a variety of changes, with some that are sure to please.
Sun Valley goes into the winter season on the heels of a special accolade: The resort was named the top ski resort in the West for 2021 in SKI magazine’s annual “Reader Resort Survey,” which asks magazine readers to rate North America’s ski resorts based on a long list of categories. Sun Valley was ranked No. 1 in the categories of Lifts and Down-Day Activities, and ranked in the top five in the categories of Grooming, Dining, Lodging, On-Mountain Food, Service, Accessibility, Local Flavor, Charm and Overall Satisfaction.
‘Sunrise’ expansion on Baldy
The biggest change skiers and riders will see on Bald Mountain this season is the opening of a vast, new section of terrain in the Cold Springs area of the mountain. The recently named Sunrise expansion adds more than 380 acres of new expert terrain—featuring chutes, glades and bowls—southeast of the popular Seattle Ridge section of Baldy. The expansion—which boosts Baldy’s skiable terrain to almost 2,500 acres—will offer access to the formerly out-of-bounds Turkey Bowl area, now called Sunrise Bowl.
The resort has also installed a new high-speed quad chairlift to serve the area, named Broadway, which has replaced the oldest operating lift on Bald Mountain, the Cold Springs two-person chair. The lift ascends 1,582 feet from a point at the bottom of an extension of the Lower Broadway run up to the Roundhouse restaurant, where skiers and riders can access the Christmas chairlift and runs on the River Run side of the ski mountain. The resort has installed 25 new snowmaking guns on the extended section of Lower Broadway, a popular, easy-rated cruising run.
Sun Valley chose the name Sunrise for the expansion area because it is the first location on Bald Mountain to be hit by the sun on the winter solstice, the birthday of the ski resort 85 years ago. An opening date for the expanded ski terrain and new lift has not been set, as it is dependent on snowfall and conditions, Sun Valley officials said.
Safety protocols for skiers, boarders
With coronavirus cases surging in Idaho and across the nation, Sun Valley is implementing “COVID-19 protocols” for visitors to Bald and Dollar mountains this winter. Skiers and snowboarders will be asked to adapt to new coronavirus mitigation measures that range from mandatory mask wearing and social distancing to changes in food service.
Sun Valley is following guidance from the National Ski Areas Association—including its “Ski Well, Be Well” program—as well as from local, state and federal health officials to draft its plan for safety and social distancing on the mountains, in lift lines, on lifts, in lessons and in day lodges. The resort has not only developed measures to protect guests from spreading respiratory viruses, but is also building new, temporary structures on the mountains to offer convenient services in a safe manner.
The protocols and changes to services include:
- Implementing “ghost lanes” in lift lines so skiers and snowboarders can maintain proper distancing. The empty lanes will divide lanes designated for solo skiers and small groups recreating together.
- In a quad chairlift, two singles can ride on opposite ends of the chair and a family or self-identified group of friends can ride together. Two singles can also ride together in a gondola cabin, but on opposite sides only.
- In accordance with federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines and local health orders, face coverings must be worn in lift lines, while loading and unloading lifts, inside all buildings except while eating or drinking, and outside when skiers and boarders can’t maintain six-foot social distancing guidelines. Masks will also need to be worn during all SnowSports lessons.
- Guests must practice social distancing by getting ready for the day at their vehicle, not in day lodges, and staying six feet from people not in their group. Seating capacity at all mountain lodges and restaurants will be reduced, with simplified menus to streamline operations. Reservations will be required for the Roundhouse restaurant and Averill’s, on Bald Mountain.
- The resort will employ enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures. Employees’ health will be checked and recorded daily, with quarantine protocols if necessary; public areas and surfaces will be disinfected regularly; and employees will be required to wear face coverings when dealing with guests and other staff.
- Portable food stations will offer “grab-and-go” snacks and meals, with locations at the base areas.
- No ski packs can be stored inside day lodges at the ski areas. Designated storage areas and bag checks at the base areas will be offered to store gear in a “safe, secure and sanitary” manner, the resort stated.
- Rental services and ski/snowboard lessons will be offered, with safety measures.
- Yurts are being installed at Bald and Dollar mountains, including one for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation at the base of Warm Springs, two for Sun Valley Ski Patrol on Baldy, and three at Dollar Mountain for the SnowSports program, lost-and-found services and Higher Ground programs for veterans and disabled people.
- Sun Valley is not requiring guests to make reservations to ski or snowboard, unlike some other major ski resorts in the West. For the opening weekend on Bald Mountain—from Nov. 26-29—Sun Valley will not sell day passes. Access to the mountain will be limited to pass holders.
For skiers and riders still considering purchasing one of the resort’s season passes, Sun Valley has implemented a no-cost “pass protection program” that provides a full or prorated refund if a pass-holder’s season is cut short due to a mandated mountain closure, a stay-at-home order, personal injury, military service or pregnancy.
“The health and safety of our employees, guests and community continues to be our top priority and guiding principle for operations this winter season,” Sun Valley Resort President and General Manager Tim Silva said in a prepared statement earlier this month. “Our commitment to maintain a healthy and safe environment is one of shared responsibility, and we appreciate our pass holders, guests and community in the adherence to these guidelines.”
Rules for uphill travel on Baldy
Recreationists who like to ski or hike up Baldy in the winter will have to follow specific regulations and routes—as well as adhere to temporary closures—put in place to promote on-mountain safety.
Signs will be posted at the River Run and Warm Springs base areas and uphill access points when closures are deemed necessary and to remind the public of any temporary uphill traffic restrictions.
During the ski season, uphill travel by the way of foot, snowshoes or skis is not allowed between the operating hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Users must be descending by 9 a.m. Exclusions may apply for special events and other special circumstances.
Outside of operating hours, “there may be circumstances in which the ski area may eliminate uphill traffic or limit or restrict uphill traffic by designating specific times or days or routes that will be available for such use,” the resort’s policy states.
Guidelines for winter-season uphill travel include the following:
- Uphill travelers must follow designated routes while going up and down the mountain. The routes will be marked with yellow markers indicating the path of travel. Users not adhering to the specified routes and in violation of the policy “may be subject to removal and other penalties,” the policy states.
- Users must yield the right of way to and stay clear of ski-area machinery (grooming machines, snowmobiles and snowmaking equipment). “When encountering areas undergoing winch operations, users are required to re-route their path of travel to avoid potentially unsafe situations,” the policy states.
- Users must wear reflective clothing, a headlamp and blinking lights at all times.
- Users must adhere to trail closures.
- Dogs are prohibited on Bald Mountain through April 30. “Any persons with dogs, except for Sun Valley professional avalanche and rescue dogs, in violation of this policy will be asked to remove the dog from the resort area immediately and may be subject to other penalties,” the policy states.
- Mountain bikes are not allowed on Bald Mountain from Nov. 1 to April 30 every year.
- Users are required to pack out all garbage.
“Every effort is made to allow access to Bald Mountain when it is safe to do so,” the resort states on its website.