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Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain expansion will increase its in-bounds terrain by 20 percent. This April, FREESKIER got a sneak peek at the soon-to-open terrain that’s set to shift the reputation of North America’s oldest resort.
I had never been to Sun Valley before April 2019. I knew Hemingway was a frequent visitor, along with countless other Hollywood stars, presidential figures, musicians and prominent socialites, whose portraits adorn the walls of the historic Sun Valley Lodge today. In my mind, Sun Valley was a gold-edged enclave—a place I’d imagine Gatsby and his guests might congregate for a wintertime getaway, somewhere locked away from the world.
When I arrived in Ketchum, the town at the resort’s base, it was cold, foggy and the light was fading after a long day of travel; I wouldn’t know what this place really looked like until morning. Sans celebrity sightings or an abundance of diamond necklaces and glowing marquees, I fell asleep pondering the life of a gent named Count Felix Schaffgotsch, whom I’d read about on a placard in the hotel lobby. He’d discovered Sun Valley back in the early 1900s on a scouting mission for the Union Pacific Railroad; they were looking to build North America’s first ski resort. According to Schaffgotsch, Sun Valley was the pinnacle of beauty, combining “more delightful features than any place… in the United States, Switzerland or Austria.” I’d just have to wait and see.
The next morning brought one of the most beautiful sunrises I’d seen all winter. A hazy orange-pink blanketed the mountains, which sprawled out in every direction as far as my weary eyes could see. Maybe The Count was right…
I’d woken up early and arrived at the resort before the lifts were spinning to meet photographers Ray Gadd and Cooper Morton and veteran ski patroller Matt Curci. Our plan was to tour a new zone in Cold Springs Canyon—situated within Sun Valley’s special use permit—that the resort plans to open for 2020-21. The terrain, which expands Sun Valley’s skiable acreage by 20 percent, is coine “Turkey Bowl,” and encompasses a wide-open bowl that funnels into steep, gladed gullies that shoot downwards, uninterrupted, to the valley floor for nearly 2,000 feet of wooded goodness.
“It’s about a sidecountry experience for any level, that can be appreciated by any level of skier,” explained Curci, whose 17 consecutive years of patrolling at Sun Valley and an extensive resume of Alaskan descents, freestyle competition appearances and racing experience landed him the lead role in developing the expansion project. “The goal is just to build on anybody’s experience that’s already coming here. Sun Valley doesn’t have a reputation for that [kind of skiing] back there, and we have 360-degrees of our hill surrounded by that kind of skiing.”
The resort currently allows access to this new zone via guiding services provided by Sun Valley Ski Patrol. “Outside of the really low-hanging fruit—easy-to-see lines you can ski out there—it really takes good knowledge of that terrain,” Curci said, with regard to how to make the most of a visit into the new Cold Springs territory. “You could go back there and not make many meaningful turns at all. But it’s unique in that anyone can take a shot at it. You don’t have to have all kinds of gear and equipment; you just have to be ‘guide-able.’ There’s a slot for everybody back there. We’re trying to create skiers and build the sport.”
While it doesn’t boast the extensive freeskiing history that other western resorts do, Sun Valley does hold its own in that regard—the Orage Masters 2013, Banks Gilberti’s “Adventures in Transition” web series and a handful of badass park builds featured in Level 1 Productions movies over the years all come to mind. However, “freeride” has never really been included in the Sun Valley vernacular, leaving it to local senders like Gilberti, Karl Fostvedt and Wing Tai Barrymore to maintain the attention of the big-mountain community.
On hill, we peeled through Sun Valley’s first-ever backcountry access gate, and meandered to the top of Turkey Bowl, an inviting, mellow expanse ideal for powder wiggles. It’s the perfect warm up run—akin to backcountry meadow skipping—allowing you to build confidence for the remainder of the descent. That’s part of Sun Valley’s plan, to make this “out-of-bounds” experience accessible to more people.
After planing through Turkey Bowl, I can see, east across the gully, Coyote Bowl, which Curci said “will make anyone feel like a hero,” and the location of a yet-to-be-completed high-speed lift that connects the new terrain seamlessly back to the main mountain. It was evident that this relatively small increase in skiable acreage will reignite the expert freeskier’s interest in the iconic destination.
Turning north and traversing up and over rolling humps and into the trees—this was the necessary guiding Curci was talking about—we topped out and looked down into the smallest of the fall-line chutes, still offering over 1,000 vertical feet of skiing. We made our way through towering hundred-year-old trees, all of them finely spaced and perched on steep slopes holding leftover snow from a storm days before, a veritable dream zone for skiers who keep to the glades.
At the bottom, we gazed back upslope, and I fully realized the vision Count Schaffgotsch had back in the day: A haven of sublime, forested peaks that any proper skier would covet. And while local backcountry enthusiasts have known about the Sawtooth Mountains’ seemingly endless off-piste skiing possibilities for years, Sun Valley is now bringing a taste of those experiences within its boundaries. With the expansion, I foresee a different breed of celebrities making the pilgrimage to Sun Valley—idols of the freeskiing world looking to escape from the norm, enjoy the grandeur of the impressive landscape and immerse themselves in a new kind of high-status skiing meant for the modern generation.