Lift-served biking on the Warm Springs Trail – Sun Valley/ Ketchum, Idaho August 1, 2009

Words and photos by Lee Lau unless otherwise noted.

Day 1 – History Rock – Bozeman, Montana
Day 2 – 3 – Trespass/Sypes; Emerald; A big peak|
Day 4 – Somewhere
Day 5 – 6 – Corral Creek, Fox Peak – Ketchum, Idaho
Day 7 – Warm Springs Creek;
Pioneer – Long Gulch
Day 8 – Corral Creek, Fisher Creek – Stanley, Idaho
Day 9 – Bull Trout to Bonneville

BALD MOUNTAIN – the Sun Valley ski hill

On a one week road-trip through Idaho and Montana, Sharon, Tyler and I took advantage of an offer to sample some lift-served biking off Bald Mountain in Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho. We are no strangers to lift-served mountain-biking. Sharon patrols at the Whistler Bike Park. I rode those same trails before there was even a bike park and Tyler’s been riding downhill, freeride and XC most of his adult life.

First some clarification. I had always thought of this entire area as “Sun Valley” – such is the power of marketing. There’s actually a resort village known as Sun Valley. Adjacent to the resort is the town of Ketchum. There are actually two ski hills. One is Bald Mountain (operated by the Sun Valley resort and branded as “Sun Valley”) which has more terrain and vertical then the sister operation of Dollar Mountain , which has more beginner friendly terrain. Suffice it to say that if you’re going to bike the lifts or ski at Sun Valley it’s likely that you’ll be using the lift system at Bald Mountain. More details on the history of Sun Valley is documented here. Lift-served biking at Sun Valley is no adrenaline junkie thrill-craft type of ride. Rather it’s a rather pleasant ramble down super-buff trails that are not overly technical, are approachable by people of all different skill levels and indeed, can be (and often are) ridden down hill and uphill. That this is lift-serviced is more a pleasant convenience then an implication that you will find big technical features on these trails.

Instead of jumps, skinnies, step-ups or step-downs or big berms you will find flowy, fast singletrack that winds through the woods. This is not to say that you can’t push yourself or have a lot of fun on Warm Springs railing downhill at speed – which we did whenever we had clear sightlines.

Main office building at the Bald Mountain base

Secondary office building. From the lack of crowd you can get the picture that lift-serviced biking isn’t a big draw … yet


It doesn’t appear that lift-served mountain-biking or hiking are huge summer draws. Admittedly it was Friday but the base facilities were deserted even when we got there about a half hour past opening time of 9am. The chairs run slowly and bikes are loaded on chairs behind you. Rental bikes and bike equipment (including big freeride bikes – 6 inch travel Kona Stinky’s which IMO are overkill for these trails) are available for rent at the valley floor rental facilities.

Trail signage when you get to the top is very good. There are some restroom facilities and dining/refreshments at the Lookout Restaurant.

There aren’t too many trail choices; signs direct you to the Broadway traverse trail which takes you to the Cold

Springs/Warm Springs junction. Be aware that these trails are public accessed and are not patrolled so you are on your own once you leave the clearly marked ski area boundaries. Although I am told most people doing this as a self-powered route ascend Cold Springs then descend Warm Springs expect uphill traffic on Warm Springs and regulate your speed accordingly. Both trails descend from about 7,800′ to 5,800ft – Warm Springs is about 7.5 miles long while Cold Springs is about 6.5miles long.

Bikes ride in the chair behind while you go up, up, up

Entrance to the bike trails at Bald Mountain

Paragliders also get a ride to the top. Click here for the full size pano

Panoramic from the peak chairlife. Click here for the full size

View from the Broadway Trail looks N and NE towards the Boulders and the Pioneers.

Click here for the full size

Tyler rides down to the Cold Springs/ Warm Springs intersection


We elected to drop downhill on the Warm Springs Trail and weren’t disappointed. Cold Springs is south-facing and it looked to us like the alpine flower season had already passed on that trail. Warm Springs is slightly more north-facing and the flowers were in full bloom, especially in burnt out areas.

As alluded to earlier, this is a trail for all ability levels. Although a freeride bike and armour can’t hurt especially if one isn’t especially a confident rider or wants to haul downhill at speed, this isn’t really a “big bike” kind of trail. The trail is smooth, flows and logically links downhill sections together in a gradual gradient. Breaking up the downhill there is a half mile of climbing at the Monarch Ridge and Little America Point viewpoint sections. From that viewpoint and ridge you can get a good look at the terrain you just descended and the mountains to the North and East.

This is a beautiful trail – you get views, you get a ridgeline, you get buff smooth singletrack.

From the Little America viewpoint the trail then proceeds gradually downhill pretty much all the way. At the last mile you can elect to take either the River Run

Traverse trail back to the River Run Base Plaza base area from where you loaded on the chairlifts or you can take a series of downhill switchbacks to the Warm Springs Lodge and then finish with a roadride through the dedicated bike-path system of Ketchum back to the River Run base area. We took the latter route and found a series of fast traverses interspersed with switchbacks. Indeed that was a common theme for Sun Valley singletrack – speed is the name of the game.

Flowers grow wild at the burn on Warm Springs


There’s a small climb midway on Warm Springs – this view looks back to the lift towers on the ridge behind.


Overall this was a good way to rest the legs and good value for money. We didn’t ride Cold Springs but that too looked like fun. You could spend a day up here and get a lot of downhill on fast smooth trails. You could also ride these trails with family, or with riding partners of different abilities and still have a great time.

Having said that, these trails aren’t very different then the sweet, buff offerings with which the Ketchum/ Sun Valley area is blessed – and perhaps that’s what the resort is striving to achieve for a ride experience. I don’t know if I would come to Sun Valley solely for the lift-served biking at this point in time due to the lack of trail variety but there are so many choices outside the resort for cherry singletrack that this is not really a relevant concern.

From an outsider’s perspective, there’s a tremendous amount of terrain in resort boundaries; and a fair amount of this terrain is of intermediate/beginner variety that lend itself so well to purpose-built mountain bike trails. On Warm Springs, at times I would approach a rounded-off berm or a shaved off series of bumps and itch for opportunities to rail or jump but then remember that this is a multi-use trail for both uphill and downhills.

There is potential for purpose-built downhill-only mountain bike trails with more features/stunts in the resort if land use permits allow such construction.

Pano looks back from mid-point of the Warm Springs descent

Sharon descending – the trail drops back into forest and winds its way back to town


A summary of the day’s costs and how to get there is at the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce’s web-site. Some information is also at the Ski Resort’s website which also has more particular information relating to summer trails (including both Warm Springs and Cold Springs)

Liftoperating Times: 9am-3:15pm

Location: River Run Plaza
Phone: 622-6136

Admission: $15 adults, $7 children, $20 all day adults, $10 all day kids

Bald Mountain lift-serviced biking, Sun Valley/Ketchum Idaho. from Lee Lau on Vimeo.

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