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Skiing Sun Valley, Idaho – Stop #1 on the Powder Highway Road Trip

Next Week: Powder Highway Dispatch #2 – Nakusp, British Columbia

There is nothing like a good road trip to set the mind free. “Hitting the open road in search of adventure is a part of the American Dream,” said Pat Bauman, an original member of the K2 Performers. In the early 1970s, Bauman teamed up with local Sun Valley skiers—John Clendenin, Charley McWilliams, Jim Stelling—to tour the country in a flashy, red-white-and-blue motor home with the intent of showing people just how much fun it can be to strap a pair of skis to your feet. Inspired by this original band of skiers, a new generation of Eddie Bauer guides and athletes start their own road trip and head north into Canada to search for perfect conditions along the infamous Powder Highway.

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Sun Valley, Idaho; Photograph by Will Wissman

Our journey begins in Sun Valley, Idaho, America’s first destination ski resort (established in 1936).  Inspired by the success of European resorts like St. Anton, Austria, the owners of Union Pacific Railroad thought they could reinvent their business by replacing shipping containers (leftover from the waning gold rush) with passenger cars filled with adventure travelers. The key was to find a location with an ideal climate—beautiful mountains, ample snowfall, and plenty of sunshine. Austrian dignitary Count Felix Schaftgotch was hired to lead the search. After landing in the mountain oasis of Ketchum, Idaho, he sent a telegram back to UPA in New York City claiming he’d found the perfect place.


Vertical: 3,400 feet

Lifts: 11

Gondola: 1

Skiable Acres: 2,054

Best Apres: Apples Bar and Grill

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Sun Valley, Idaho; Photograph by Will Wissman

Every ski area in the Rockies depends on Mother Nature’s offerings, though Her willingness to bear the fruits of winter can be fickle. When the North Pacific begins to churn, Sun Valley locals turn into armchair meteorologists, predicting snowfall patterns for the oncoming season. Some use indicators like the Farmer’s Almanac, while others follow their gut, but there’s still enough mystery to keep us surprised on any given year. Regardless of any hard science to do with ocean currents or mythical cues like groundhogs and their shadows, the jetstream always oscillates latitudinally along the west coast of North America, bringing moist flow up into the mountains to meet cooler air = SNOW! So, as they say, it’s always snowing somewhere.

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Sun Valley, Idaho; Photograph by Will Wissman

Sun Valley virtually guarantees quality skiing every year by Thanksgiving Day with the largest automated snowmaking system in the world. After an overnight application of gunpowder, the playing field is smoothed into velvet-like corduroy. Sun Valley is famous for its perfectly manicured groomers, but when the rope drops above the bowls, the powder frenzy begins. And when the local backcountry is in play, Idaho becomes, by far, the biggest playground in the Lower 48. With 10 million acres of roadless turf in the backyard, Sun Valley is the gateway to mountain paradise. There’s plenty of room for backcountry shredders, sledders, and America’s original heli-ski operation.

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Sun Valley, Idaho; Photograph by Will Wissman

In 33 years of Sun Valley living, this winter has been one of the best! We were blessed with a series of big early-season storms and we’ve been riding boot-top, bouncy pow with good stability on every aspect at every elevation for weeks on end. But a massive high-pressure ridge has settled in on the west coast, driving any moisture north into Canada and Alaska. With temps dipping below zero and no snow in the extended forecast, it’s a good time to load up our Outside Van—a modernized mini motor home—and start driving north along the Powder Highway. With over 60 powder providers and copious amounts of early snow, it looks like a promising adventure ahead.

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