The major draw for skiers and snowboarders in the Sun Valley area is obviously world-class mountain Baldy and the accompanying Sun Valley Resort. But a small mountain located south of Ketchum in Hailey provides something that Baldy doesn’t — night skiing.
Located three miles east of downtown Hailey is Rotarun, known as “the little mountain with a big heart.” This fun little ski hill has been around for 60 years, serving the local community and providing a close-by, cheaper alternative to Sun Valley’s main ski hill.
Rotarun has two lifts that run a little over 400 vertical feet to the top; one is a Poma lift and the other a handle tow lift.
Free public skiing and riding is available during the week when the mountain isn’t otherwise used for several of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s programming (the organization took over operations of the ski hill in 2017). But one of the most fun draws of the mountain is its night skiing, held for free on Wednesday and Friday nights from 5:30-8 p.m., through the ski season.
People of all ages as well as whole families come out every week for this fun nighttime activity, especially on Friday nights when the vibe can be more like that of an outdoor winter party. Adults tailgate in the parking lot and enjoy concessions at the small restaurant at the bottom of the hill while kids do laps on the small hill and work on building jumps to create a small park.
Larissa DeHaas who works on Sun Valley Resort’s Terrain Park Crew enjoys heading south to Rotarun for night skiing when she can, appreciating the opportunity to night ski like she did growing up in Boise at Bogus Basin.
“It’s so cool to ski under lights that light up the hillsides,” DeHaas said. “Also, it’s a great way to have a fun Friday night that doesn’t involve spending money and allows non-drinkers to not feel left out at the bars. It’s definitely a fantastic Friday night thing to do.”
DeHaas also points out that the short verticality of the hill and easy slope make it a great place to learn new skills — when she went with several friends a few weekends ago, one teleskied and one tried snowboarding as opposed to her usual skiing.
“I love small little ski hills that have such a soul to them and really feel like they’re keeping the ski culture and dream alive by allowing easy access for people to learn to ski,” DeHaas said.
Rotarun general manager and Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Executive Director Scott McGrew can also attest to the fun scene to be found at Rotarun on Friday nights.
“You will find children of all shapes and colors, families tailgating in the parking lot, bonfires keeping it warm and a devoted staff ensuring a safe ecosystem of skiing, riding, community building, and celebration of winter,” said McGrew. “It is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.”
McGrew learned to ski as a child on the slopes of Rotarun and after working with SVSEF for years, has come full circle to managing those same slopes that shaped the skier he is today.
Also contributing to the fun this year is Rotarun’s snowmaking capabilities, new for the 2019/2020 ski season. A project that has been in the works for some 30 years, Rotarun finally installed snowmaking on the lower section of the hill, enabling a base layer of snow on the lower skier’s left of the mountain. According to McGrew, this winter season has already seen 160 hours of snowmaking and the provision of great coverage of lower mountain terrain.
Rotarun also received a design upgrade to its small lodge, including a kitchen and bathroom remodel.
Next time you find yourself looking for a fun Friday night activity in the Wood River Valley, do yourself a favor and visit this historical little hill. It’s fun for the whole community!