Classy And Classic, Sun Valley Has Magnetism And Charm.

Sun Valley Nordic Center has beautiful vistas and trails. Credit: Visit Sun Valley

I’m a total sucker for romance, and Sun Valley, ID, radiates charisma, beauty, diversity, skiing history— the whole shebang. Known as “America’s First Destination Ski Resort,” it’s 2.5 hours from Boise. Happily, there’s a jet airport only a dozen miles away.

Set in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains, Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center was one of the first cross-country areas in North America, chronologically just after Vermont’s Trapp Family Lodge and just before California’s Royal Gorge. It’s complemented by a series of trail networks, mostly maintained by the Blaine County Recreation District.

Snowshoeing can also bring you out into the scenery. Credit: Visit Sun Valley

I’ve visited many times in winter and skied maybe a quarter of the trails. That’s actually not negligible, since we’re talking about a cumulative 200 km. There’s tremendous diversity in everything from terrain to snowfall to surroundings—some trails on the edge of Sun Valley Resort and the neighboring town of Ketchum, some higher and far from sight of any structure or even a road.

So here’s my take on skiing the two centerpieces of the region. It feels like a long and affectionate shared history.

The Resort: Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center


The Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center  has easier trails diverging from the trailhead, leading to more difficult routes, and thence to the challenging stuff. Set at around 6,000’, it’s mostly delightful beginner-to-intermediate terrain, totaling 40 km. Much of this is on golf course grass, a lot winds through sage, with some aspen and pine, with great mountain views, including alpine skiing on famous Bald Mountain (aka “Baldy,” 9,150’).

Almost everything is groomed daily. Sun Valley is a recreation-crazy region, so you see a lot of ski-skaters, including local folk of mature years who are tearing along the trails. Steve Haims, a Sun Valley fixture who runs the Center and is former owner/operator of Galena Lodge, says that most visitors, skiers and snowshoers are women, and a typical skier is 50+ years old.

You can also enjoy 14 km of snowshoeing and 16 km of fat bike routes. A typical season starts a bit before Christmas and runs through March, with 100” of snow in a good winter.

The Center itself is a 58,000 square foot golf clubhouse in the off-seasons, though I suspect summer visitors don’t think of it in quite those terms. You can rent skis, snowshoes, or fat bike rental, and arrange instruction.

The County

Galena Lodge

Historic Galena Lodge is the region’s other Nordic kingpin. At 7,865’, it’s a snow magnet. If you’re coming from sea level, it’s smart to acclimate down below, and then drive up to Galena, where you can overnight in one of their yurts.

Yurt will welcome you.

The lodge is owned by Blaine County Recreation District, which does the grooming. Erin Zell and Don Shepler are the concessionaires and have been running the lodge since 2006. Erin says, “We make all of our food from scratch and have wonderful house-made soups, sandwiches, salads and sandwiches.”  In addition to restaurant and bar, you’ll find ski and snowshoe rentals, instruction, and many happy dogs.

Galena is the centerpiece of 50 km of groomed ski trails, along with 25 km of snowshoe trails. There’s not much that’s truly flat, since terrain near the lodge is rolling, while it gets hillier as you get farther away. The landscape is dominated by lodgepole pine forest, with lots of meadows, and populated by wolves, coyotes, elk, and smaller critters.

For a personal touch, “Psycho” is a humbling black diamond route. I managed to stay upright until the final downhill, did a face plant in front of a bunch of other skiers right at the junction with Gladiator Creek Loop. At least I didn’t lose my glasses.


I’ve stayed at Sun Valley/Ketchum motels, inns, and B&BS and crashed with friends, but the most elegant and opulent visits have been at Sun Valley Lodge.  

One Comment

  1. In my book “My 50 +

    I my book entitled “My 50+ Year Love Affair With Skiing” I designated Sun Valley as one of my very favorites. I fondly remember some great skiing there and I especially enjoyed the music,, dancing, and fun in the Duchin Room. I’m not sure it is still open??? Ah, great memories!!!!

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