Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sun Valley Visit and Climatology

This year, my son and I decided to do something different to celebrate his high-school graduation.  We bought a couple of Mountain Collective passes in order to ski some resorts that we either don't visit enough or need to get to before I'm too old.

Although there was good powder to be had in the Wasatch this weekend, my back was worked up and I needed some lower intensity groomers.  Yes, I know it is heretical to skip out on powder, but I do what my back tells me.  Thus, we went up to Sun Valley for some high-speed cruising.  

I have visited Sun Valley in the summer, but this was my first time skiing at the resort.  While they lack serious advanced terrain, the resort has good cruising, especially from the Warm Springs base area where there is a non-stop fall-line exceeding 3000 vertical feet and the Challenger high-speed quad to ensure you can take full advantage.  

On Sunday, the weather was perfect.  Not only was it bluebird, but the temperature in town that morning was -10ºF, ensuring a complete lack of tourists on the hill.  The upper mountain was cold but tolerable with temperatures around zero and morning sun to keep us warm.  

There's a good reason why Sun Valley is known for cruising rather than powder.  bestsnow.net lists their season average at 8800 feet (just below the summit) at 191 inches.  Paltry.  Little wonder they have over 500 snow guns on the hill.  

From a climatological perspective, Sun Valley suffers from the curse of being nearly completely surrounded (except to the south) by high terrain.  A similar curse inflicts portions of the Tyrol and other interior regions of the Alps.  Terrain extends far upstream of Sun Valley for southwest to northwest flow directions.  Deeper atmospheric river events are needed to drive significant snowfall.

Annual precipitation analyses from the PRISM climate group highlight the rain shadow effect around Sun Valley with mountains to the west and northwest receiving more annual precipitation.  

I like cruising, but only for a day or two.  Powder beckons for the future.  


  1. My wife and I did the same thing last year - the Mountain Collective provided a nice "excuse" to visit Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, and Aspen. We went to Sun Valley over New Years and really enjoyed it. We ski backcountry 99% of the time - but the groomer skiing at SV was fun... those 3000 foot runs are a blast, and there is never any waiting in lift lines. Their uphill friendliness was great for sunset uphill laps.

    Been an avid reader of your blog for a couple years now. Always enjoy your updates. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for a little data on my favorite non-Wasatch resort. Sun Valley was the reason I moved west. I was offered a job in Twin Falls and when I saw it was only 90 miles from a major western ski resort, I figured it was a sign. For a kid from Wisconsin, the long corduroy runs and breathtaking views were proof I made the right decision. Although I'm glad I eventually discovered the power of powder.