About three–and-a-half to four hours east and north of Boise, the Sun Valley area boasts one of the largest collections of Nordic ski trails in the country. While historically Nordic skiing in the area might have been overshadowed by the area’s position as one of the first downhill ski destinations in the country — attracting the glitz and glamour set including numerous movie stars, celebrities and other beautiful people — as a Nordic skiing community, the Sun Valley area sits solidly near the top.
The area’s natural assets have attracted an impressive cadre of Nordic skiing “celebrities,” as well. Former Olympian and top masters racer and coach Jon Engen calls the area home, where he offers masters coaching to aspiring area skiers. The 1987 American Birkebeiner champion E.J. Harpham resides in Hailey and is active in the local ski scene. The first two-time consecutive American Birkebeiner women’s champion Muffy Ritz is based in Ketchum where she runs the VAMPs women’s program (see Fireside in this issue for more about Muffy). And the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation is one of the premier youth development programs in the country.
North Valley Trail System
A vast community trail system of 120 km extends from the community of Bellevue through Hailey, Ketchum and along the Wood River on up to Galena Lodge. Cross Country Skier profiled the great skiing in the valley in detail in the January 2004 issue (see “So Many Trails, So Little Time”). These varied trails that range from easy/mellow cruising in the valley to more challenging spurs that climb the lightly wooded hillsides and return to the valley, are managed by the Blaine County Recreation District, which provides regular grooming. Access is easy with many trailheads and parking areas just off the highway.
One of the key focal points for Nordic skiing in the Sun Valley area is Galena Lodge. This historic lodge is perched above the highway about 24 miles from Ketchum. From the lodge a network of 50 km of trails emanate up and along the various drainages of the surrounding mountains. Mostly wooded with occasional openings to meadowed or creek bottom areas, the Galena Lodge trails offer long gradual climbs, rolling connections and fun descents. Across the highway, the Harriman Trail parallels the river for some steady rolling cruising.
The Galena area also offers overnight experiences with three backcountry yurts located a short ski or snowshoe up the ridge above the lodge. The yurts sleep four to seven people, have no power and are heated by a wood stove. You may cook your own meals, or order “take-out” and have a Galena Lodge meal delivered to your door.
Boulder Mountain Tour
Galena Lodge is also the site of the start of the annual Boulder Mountain Tour, one of the premier ski marathons in the country. After a series of wave starts in a wide open meadow, the Boulder Mountain Tour funnels into the Harriman Trail where it continues its 33 km point-to-point journey to just outside of Ketchum. About 1,000 skiers join in this annual celebration of Sun Valley area Nordic skiing. It has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best events of its kind in the West. Perhaps one of it key attributes is its elevation or, more aptly put, elevation loss. Over its 33 km the course loses 1,000 feet of elevation, giving real meaning to the expression “it’s all downhill from here.” Of course it’s not all downhill, but what climbing there is, is short and very manageable.
Speaking of elevation, skiing in this area is not without some effort for those coming from lower elevations. But after two or three days acclimation, I have found skiing the Boulder Mountain Tour to be one of the most enjoyable racing experiences anywhere, perhaps the most fun of all. And talk about ego boost – with that much elevation loss even an average skier can notch a personal best. The flow of the trail is perfect for lots of open field or even free skating without poles. I’m told it can be cold, particularly in the section further into the race known as “Frostbite Flats,” but my two experiences at the tour have been thoroughly comfortable with fast conditions and absolutely fun. The 2008 Boulder Mountain Tour will take place on February 2.
Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center
The Nordic & Snowshoe Center in Sun Valley is the other anchor Nordic ski center in the area. Adjacent to the world renown Sun Valley Lodge, complete with two outdoor pools, ice skating and elegant dining, over 40 km of impeccably groomed trails range from gentle golf course skiing to rolling hill and dale cruising to high country challenge. The center also boasts the largest PSIA certified ski school in the valley. Telemark skiers have the opportunity for instruction or access via the chairlift to Baldy Mountain. Backcountry ski touring options into the Sawtooth National Recreation Area can arranged through the Nordic center.
A must-see/do attraction while in Sun Valley is a visit to the Trail Creek Cabin. For lunch you can drive, ski or snowshoe to this log and brick cabin constructed in 1937. Popular with the Hollywood elite and frequent New Year’s Eve venue for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, the Trail Creek Cabin today offers fine dining accessed via horse drawn sleigh.
So you’re looking for a place for an extended cross country ski vacation? Look no further. The state of Idaho offers numerous opportunities to ski, explore, race, snowshoe and more. This has been by no means a definitive directory of Nordic skiing options in Idaho, but it surely is a good start.
For more information
North Valley Trails/Blaine County Recreation District
1050 Fox Acres Road
Hailey, ID 8333
HC 64, Box 8326
Ketchum, ID 8326
Sawtooth National Recreation Area
5 North Fork Canyon Road
Ketchum, ID 83340
Boulder Mountain Tour
P.O. Box 173
Sun Valley, ID 83353
Sun Valley Lodge/Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center
1 Sun Valley Road
Sun Valley, ID 83353