On a recent crisp mid-morning ski at the base of the Boulder Mountains in Idaho, I stood catching a drink at the intersection of the Harriman Trail and the Prairie Creek Loop. As I looked around, with no evidence that anyone else had been here yet this day, I marveled at the pristine setting- a fresh 5″ coating of powder, freshly groomed Nordic skiing trail, clear vibrant blue skies, a majestic mountain massive. While counting my lucky stars, another skier came along the trail and we exchanged greetings, sparked a conversation, and absorbed the beauty that surrounded us. My fellow skier remarked that “we are fortunate folk” and this expression seemed to resonate with the moment and my own thoughts about the incredible Nordic skiing that we have in the Sun Valley area. Those that live here are truly “fortunate folk”.
For anyone interested in visiting the area or perhaps even relocating, I provide a brief description of the Nordic Ski trails in the area below.
From the 32 km Harriman Trail, to the 50 km network of hilly, challenging trails at Galena Lodge, to the 40 km of varied terrain at the Sun Valley Resort, to the dog-friendly 10 km Billy’s Bridge loop, the area supports a veritable mecca of Nordic Skiing. This has attracted Nordic enthusiasts from all levels to the area ranging from life-long recreational skiers to numerous Nordic Olympians. The Sun Valley area has recently been named a Nordic Olympic Training Center by the US Olympic Committee.
In 2002 and again in 2010, the dominant Norwegian Nordic Olympic Team chose Sun Valley as a pre-Olympics training site for the Salt Lake and Vancouver Olympics, and for good reason. A quiet, rural ski town, daily grooming of the Nordic ski trails, a palatable 1800-2100 m (6000-7000 feet) elevation, nice accommodations, and a welcoming but respectful community are some of the many reasons that the Norwegians have given for their choice of Sun Valley.
The trails span the area from Sun Valley in the south to Galena Lodge in the north.
The Harriman Trail
The 32 km Harriman trail is a purpose built trail connecting the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) Headquarters to the Galena Lodge area. The SNRA Headquarters is about 7 miles north of Sun Valley on Highway 75. The trail includes two secondary spur loops at about the 22 km mark- the 7.5 km Prairie Creek Loop and the 10 km dog-friendly Billy’s Bridge Loop. The Harriman Trail serves as the route for the long-running Boulder Mountain Tour Nordic ski race held each year in early February which draws participants and elite-level racers from across the US. The race, a point-to-point, which runs from Galena Lodge to the SNRA Headquarters, is part of the annual 9-day Sun Valley Nordic Festival held from late January through early February. the festival is a great time to sample all that the area offers along with a nice variety of unique events.
If you want to do just sections of the Harriman Trail, there are numerous trailhead parking areas:
- at SNRA (all distances below refer to distances further north from SNRA)
- about 3.5 miles at Murphy’s Bridge
- about 6 miles at Cathedral Pines and Easley
- about 7 miles at Baker Creek
- about 10 miles at Billy’s Bridge
- about 10.5 miles at Prairie Creek
Lake Creek Trails
The nationally dominant local Nordic skiing club, Sun Valley Ski Educational Foundation, trains at the Lake Creek Trails, about 3 miles North on Highway 75. The trails are primarily in an open meadow and climb up onto the hillsides yielding some challenging terrain. Numerous Junior National Qualifier races are held here and many of the local racers also train here.
Sun Valley Resort Trails
The Sun Valley Resort maintains about 40 km of Nordic skiing and snowshoe trails in and around the resort right in town. The network is anchored by an elegant new clubhouse with a complete rental shop, Nordic ski shop, lockers/showers, and a very nice restaurant. The trails include gentle rollers, steep climbs, and beautiful meadow skiing all with great views of the surrounding mountains and the downhill skiing area (Baldy).
If you do the perimeter loop- Diamondback-White Clouds-Trail Creek-Boundary-Proctor-Trail Creek – it is about 26 km and over 400 m (1300 feet) of climbing- a nice ski!
The northern-most extent of the Nordic Ski trail system is the Galena Pass area centered around the Galena Lodge about 23 miles north on State Highway 75. The Lodge serves lunch, rents skis and snowshoes, and rents a number of yurts for overnight stays on the Sawtooth National Recreational Area lands in the vicinity. The 32 km Harriman trail northern terminus is at Galena Lodge and makes for a nice round trip long ski with lunch at the lodge.
The 50 km of trails at Galena run the gamut from rolling meadow routes (Senate and Horsecreek) to challenging steeps on Rip and Tear, Cherry Ridge, and Psycho, with much more in between. Galena gets by far the most snow and is typically open by the third week in November each year. Snow accumulation is measured in feet here and there is seldom less than 4 feet on the ground for the season from mid November to late April.
With over 200 km of groomed Nordic ski trails, multiple Nordic ski lodges, a resort atmosphere, and lots of complimentary activities (including downhill and park skiing) the Sun Valley area represents a preeminent Nordic skiing destination.