Number One – North America’s New Top Ski And Snowboard Resort

From lift lines to après ski to travel insurance, this ski and snowboard season is going to look a lot different thanks to COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic. But skiers are still planning on skiing, resorts are still planning on opening, and one of them still has to be the best.

The “Best” ski resort needs a perfect mix of powder, terrain, lodging, dining, activities and après ski fun to please locals and traveling skiers and snowboarders on winter vacations. In this country the oldest, most important and influential lists have long been from SKI Magazine’s annual reader poll, the Oscars of skiing. Previous Best Resort winners taking the top spot include powerhouse destination resorts Whistler/Blackcomb, Aspen, Jackson Hole, Vail, and Deer Valley in Park City.

But as the saying goes, “everything old is new again,” and this year’s winner is a long-deserved throwback, America’s original destination ski resort and the all-important birthplace of the chairlift, Idaho’s Sun Valley Resort. The results are in, the numbers crunched, and today Sun Valley was named North America’s top ski resort in the 2020/2021 Annual Ski Resort Awards by SKI Magazine.

This is the first time Sun Valley has taken the trophy, but it’s hardly a surprise. In the 64 years since it first welcomed skiers, the resort has had a long and rich history of both ski and hospitality innovation and has always done exceptionally well in the ratings – last year it was again ranked Number Two and has been amassing awards for years. In last winter’s guide, the SKI Magazine staffers write “Sun Valley is one of the most consistent resorts in our survey, placing in the Top 5 year after year – more often than not in the Top 3. This year finds Idaho’s biggest resort a bridesmaid once again, but one with an impressive seven No. 1 category rankings. Our readers gave Sun Valley top marks in Lifts, Service, Lodging, Down Day Activities, Family, Charm, and Overall Satisfaction. That’s the most No.1s of any resort – West or East.” (Just to clarify, for most of the poll’s history readers ranked the best resort in North America, but a few years ago they split it into East and West with the de facto understanding that the top in the West was number one period).

The annual reader survey is the most comprehensive and longest-running in the industry, and for 2020/2021 Sun Valley also ranked First in two categories, Lifts and Down-Day Activities, and Top 5 in a staggering eight categories: Grooming, Dining, Lodging, On-Mountain Food, Service, Accessibility, Local Flavor, Charm, and Overall Satisfaction.

Four years ago I wrote in detail about the experience of visiting and skiing Sun Valley for my recurring Forbes series, “World’s Best Ski Resorts,” and you can read that here. But here’s a synopsis of its charms:

Sun Valley was the nation’s very first destination ski resort, purpose built for comfort and user friendliness to woo a Hollywood and society audience and compete wit Europe’s grand resorts of Gstaad and St. Moritz. A European consultant was hired to select the finest possible location, and scoured America’s West, passing over sites in California, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado before arriving in Ketchum, Idaho and ending his search. To set it apart in terms of creature comforts, the owner invented the chairlift, and in an industry of solely surface lifts like rope tows, Sun Valley opened with the world’s first two chairs, and a flagship hotel, the Sun Valley Lodge, where longtime local Ernest Hemingway would stay for several months while writing his classic For Whom the Bell Tolls.

What really distinguishes Sun Valley is its true planned resort model. It has two mountains, one (Dollar Mountain) expressly for learning and among the very best places in the world to do just that – unimpeded by speedy advanced skiers. The other, Bald Mountain or simply “Baldy,” is for everyone else. The entire resort is a planned village that includes the massively redone, new and improved luxury Sun Valley Lodge, and the lower priced Sun Valley Inn. There is also a lot of great lodging in rental homes and condos. Besides the alpine skiing, the resort includes an excellent Nordic center with fat tire biking trails as well, a large equestrian center, indoor and outdoor skating rinks, a retail and dining village, numerous restaurants from fine dining to on-mountain to rustic sleigh ride cabins, a full service shooting facility, and three quality golf courses. For this reason, Sun Valley is one of those rare ski resorts almost as busy in summer as winter.

For most skiers and snowboarders, Bald Mountain is Sun Valley, and world famous for its constant pitch. Like a cartoon volcano, this consistent and never-ending incline with few plateaus or natural places to stop and regroup is the resort’s signature. This feature is surprisingly tiring, but also makes Sun Valley a truly awesome for taking lessons, especially at the common plateau in between intermediate and expert, because you can endlessly practice consistent turns of any shape without having to vary for changes in steepness. It also makes the mountain ski even bigger than its impressive stats indicate – well over 3000 feet of vertical. There is lots of great intermediate skiing here but also no shortage of expert terrain, and Sun Valley is especially known for its black diamond bumps, on par with standouts like Telluride and Winter Park for some of the best mogul skiing anywhere. It is also one of the few ski resorts in the nation with onsite day heli-skiing – and the only one where the pickup and drop-off is actually on the mountain. After a half century, Sun Valley Heli Ski claims to be the inventor of the sport in the U.S.

Sun Valley has always been a great choice, but it was its most recent investments and innovations that pushed it over the top to its first Top Ski Resort in North America title. Improvements include the Sunrise terrain expansion for this season, with over 380 acres of new expert terrain, featuring chutes, glades and bowls. There is also a new high-speed quad chair replacing Baldy’s oldest operating lift, Cold Springs. The resort now boasts over 3,400 vertical feet and almost 2,500 acres of skiable terrain. Bald Mountain has 12 chairlifts while beginner-friendly Dollar Mountain has two high-speed quads, a very large full-featured terrain park, and a couple of magic carpet lifts for teaching.

Sun Valley (along with sister resort Snowbasin, Utah) is now an independent (not part of Vail Resorts) member of Vail’s global Epic Pass program. The Epic Pass covers fully half of the Top 10 Western Resorts in this year’s awards. The rest of the Top 10 for 2020/2021 were dominated by Colorado, and in order, are Deer Valley, UT at Number Two; Whitefish Mountain, MT; Taos, NM; Aspen Snowmass, CO; Telluride, CO; Whistler/Blackcomb, BC; Steamboat, CO; Beaver Creek, CO; and Crested Butte Mountain Resort, CO.

COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic are going to greatly affect winter travel and the ski and snowboard season this year. The situation remains fluid and evolving, but frankly, it may not make sense to make long distance ski trips at all this winter. The good news is that the things that have long made Sun Valley one of the world’s best ski resorts and the improvements that just pushed it to number one are still going to be here next winter and the winter after that. For those who do choose to visit soon, additions and changes have been made on the dining front for this winter, and Sun Valley is adding new mobile food outlets at both of its base areas, offering mobile premium food options depending on the time of day, from breakfast burritos to artisan grilled cheese to an après adult beverage option. Up on the mountain, both Seattle Ridge and Roundhouse lodges will use a reservation system for lunch.

Source Article