As the first destination ski resort in the USA, home to the world’s first chairlift, and with an average snow fall of 5.59m (220 inches / 18ft) annually, Sun Valley has proven popular with tourists, punters and staff alike.
Sun Valley Resort is located in the town of Sun Valley, Idaho. As Sun Valley village is not a self-sustaining town, many resources and facilities are often shared or ‘borrowed’ from neighboring town Ketchum (pop 2800); home to restaurants, businesses, movie theaters, supermarkets and various nightspots. Sun Valley village is around 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) from Ketchum and the main ski area of Bald Mountain.
Photo: Seattle Ridge Lodge at Sun Valley
Sun Valley is approximately fifteen minutes’ drive away from Hailey, a slightly larger town center, while other town centers Twin Falls and Boise are within a couple of hours’ drive (90 mins and 2.5 hours respectively). These locations are each home to a wider variety of shopping, restaurants and chain discount stores.
The mountain opens on Thanksgiving Day – around the third week in November – and usually closes on or around the second weekend in April, depending on snow and weather conditions. Sun Valley partners with Snowbasin in Ogden, Utah, which allows employees to ride free there, while a reciprocal deal means Sun Valley season pass holders also have access to Sugar Bowl in California.
Sun Valley is a bit of Hollywood star magnet, with many of the biggest names in film and television calling Sun Valley their winter playground. Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys were all well-known regulars back in the day. Today, look out for Schwarzenegger, Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis or Mark Zuckerberg on the chair next to you!
Photo: Roundhouse Lodge at Sun Valley
Sun Valley is serviced by Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN), located in Hailey, 14 miles from the resort. Direct flights operate daily from San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA), Los Angeles (LAX), Salt Lake City (SLC) and Denver (DEN), via Alaska Airlines, Delta Connection (Operated by SkyWest) and United Express (Operated by SkyWest).
Public transportation around Sun Valley/Ketchum includes a free bus around town (stopping at mountain lodges and main hotel), as well as a bus to Hailey ($3.00 each way).
Two mountains make up Sun Valley Resort – Bald Mountain, for more technical skiers, and Dollar Mountain for beginners and terrain park riders. Skiable acreage between the two mountains is 2,054 acres (831 hectares).
Lift-lines seem virtually non-existent at Sun Valley and crowds are so few there can be corduroy on the groomers well into the afternoons on many days. You will find sun pretty much every day making for plentiful bluebird powder days (there are 300 days of sun a year). Even if the snow is sometimes lacking, the quality of runs make up for it. In particular, the grooming is world-class if you like cruisers.
Photo: A bit of cross-country skiing at Sun Valley
Bald Mountain terrain includes steep pitches and a consistent vertical from its 9,150 ft. peak down to the 5,750 ft. base, and no flats or plateaus, making for a better work-out and less time on cat tracks. The runs are long given the large vertical drop. The Bowls are the best option for more aggressive skiers, while Seattle Ridge features simple, fast-paced groomed runs for the more cautious skier. There is also some backcountry access on the back side of the mountain with an easy traverse back to the chairs.
Warm Springs is one of the better runs in the Rockies for those who like speed. It's a two-mile long run which tubes through a natural gully and banked sidewalls, before opening up to a meadow-wide track the width of a freeway. It's 35 degrees virtually the whole way down and stays true to the fall line without a single blind turn.
Bald Mountain Stats
Dollar Mountain is a relaxed, treeless atmosphere suitable for beginners looking to develop their confidence and for those after the terrain park. Dollar Mountain is also home to Sun Valley’s Snow Sports School.
Dollar Mountain Stats
The terrain park on Dollar Lodge features a 22-foot ‘superpipe’, and more than 70 features which includes jumps, rails and skier/boarder cross course.
Photo: Dollar Mountain Terrain Park
International applications are only accepted if the applicant is eligible for a J1 visa. This visa requires applicants be enrolled as a full-time university student. See Work a Snow Season in the USA for further information on getting a working visa to the USA. If you have obtained a J-1 visa, you are able to apply for a job in the usual manner.
Sun Valley is willing to conduct interviews either over the telephone or via Skype, while face-to-face interviews are usually held only according to availability.
Pay rates at Sun Valley vary, though typically, wages will vary between $8.00-$11.00 per hour depending on experience and longevity with the company. Available roles include standard hospitality (servers, cashiers, hosts, baristas, bartenders, line cooks, etc), guest services (front desk, snow sports sales, ticket sales, etc), retail (tuners, rental technicians, sales assistants) mountain (snow sports instructors, lift attendants, snowmakers, groomers, etc) and hotel positions. See Jobs Available at Mountain Resorts for a description of ski resort jobs.
Sun Valley and its Snow Sports School are always willing to assist with training. Clinics are conducted throughout the season, and opportunities to sharpen skills and test into higher certificate levels are offered.
You do not need to have your instructing certificate before applying. Sun Valley offers the opportunity to get certified on the job.
Full-time employees are issued with a free pass to the mountain (allowing access to both Bald Mountain and Dollar Mountain). It also grants access to the Nordic and Snowshoe Center, ice rink, bowling alley, arcade and swimming pools. Winter staff can typically expect to ski 2-4 times a week.
Staff discounts are offered at resort-owned restaurants and retail shops, and include reduced rates on demos, tunes and lessons. Reduced rates are also offered on hotel accommodation for friends and family.
Staff parties are not organized with regularity, though an employee activity of some sort will generally be organized once a month. Mountain Department employees often enjoy a casual Friday afternoon gathering at one of the local bars.
Photo: River Run Day Lodge at Sun Valley
As with most ski towns, many businesses in Sun Valley operate on a seasonal basis, thus restaurants, bars, grocery stores and lodges all seek out seasonal staff to service the larger customer demand in winter.
Staff housing is available for full-time employees over the age of 18 only. Accommodation is dormitory-style with single, double or triple rooms and a shared bathroom. Rooms are equipped with a bed, dresser, sink and small closet.
Utilities are included and there is free Wi-Fi and washer/dryer. Linens and towels are provided. There are no kitchens, but meals are available at the employee cafeteria for about $3.75 per meal.
Rent ranges from around $120 per month to $250 per month, depending on style of residence. A deposit of $100 per person applies, and is refunded at the end of the season if rooms are left in an orderly and clean state.
Other accommodation options include apartments and rooms in either Elkhorn or Ketchum. Most listings are advertised in the local paper, The Idaho Mountain Express, published every Wednesday and Friday (and online).
Sites like Craigslist can often prove helpful in locating accommodation, while accommodation is often informally advertised around the town itself, at the post office, Perry’s Restaurant, Johnny G’s Subshack and the grocery stores.
As an indicator, Sun Valley’s town motto is “Small Town, Big Life!”. Though the resort is relatively small and isolated, community events and entertainment are readily available, including art walks at local galleries, visiting authors at the library and a reggae festival held at the town square (mid-January). The town’s Visitor Center is available to assist international staff arriving for the winter season.
Staff parties are not organized with regularity, but employee housing allows for events to occur often. Once a month, an employee activity will be planned. Additionally, Mountain Department employees have a Friday afternoon gathering at one of the local bars.
Sun Valley’s restaurants offer the usual variety of flavors and fare – pasta, Mexican, sushi, burgers. As far as nightlife is concerned, popular bars in town (including Whiskey Jacques, The Casino, The Cellar Pub, Lefty’s Grill and Grumpy’s) put on ‘dollar drink nights’ and karaoke nights, while DJs and bands regularly take up residency at local venues.
Local hockey team the 'Sun Valley Suns' play home games regularly throughout the season. Seasonal events include on-mountain ski/snowboard competitions, as well as holiday events that take place in the Village.
At Christmas time, you could enjoy sleigh rides, a tree-lighting ceremony, carolers, The Nutcracker on Ice, a Torch-light Parade down the mountain and fireworks. Concerts and fundraisers held for local organizations are also popular, and include the Fireman’s Ball, the ‘Powder Prom’ and the Bald Mountain Challenge (where punters must complete every run on the main mountain in the month of February).