From the porch of the historic Galena Lodge, 22 miles north of Sun Valley, Idaho, cross-country skiers and athletic dogs prepare for a tour of some of Central Idaho’s 200 kilometers of ski trails.
As two chocolate Labrador retrievers and their skate-skiing masters glide to the 3.5 k Titus Creek Loop trail, other assorted dogs and lycra-clad humans join.
“How well you ski with a dog depends upon how well you ski,” says Hurley Hamilton, owner of Ketchum’s Thunder Paws Shoppe on Main Street, and former owner of Galena Lodge. “I like to use a harness with a waist strap. The dogs are supposed to be leashed on the trails,” she adds, noting that her dog Morris is now more of a shop dog than a ski dog, “because he’s as slow as I am!”
That’s the magic of the Sun Valley area: everyone skis at their own pace, their own style (classic or skate), and their seemingly own trail, because with 200 kilometers, skiers often have a trail to themselves.
Many area trails depart from Galena’s log chalet where visitors find a full-service xc ski shop, day lodge, sun deck and fabulous eatery.
One of the charms of a Galena ski is that kick-and-gliders can try several warm-up 2km loops: North Wood River, Horse Creek and Senate Meadow. Among the 16 Galena-area trails, there are a variety of distances, terrain challenges and spectacular mountain views, like the 11,153-foot Galena Peak to the east, the 10,243-foot Gladiator Peak to the north and the rugged and awe-inspiring Sawtooth Mountain Range northwest.
Galena also offers 30k miles of snowshoe trails—maps are available in the lodge plus most area ski and sports shops.
One of the best choices for a long tour is from Galena Lodge to Ketchum along the Boulder Tour ski-race route called the Harriman Trail. This Feb. 6 is the 35th running of the Boulder Mountain Tour, which attracts so many entrants that it quickly sells out.
This year’s Sun Valley Nordic Festival, Jan. 30-Feb. 7, features nine days of activities, races, clinics and family events culminating in the Boulder Mountain Tour. Visitors do not have to race to join the fun. Retailers offer discounts on demos and rentals, lodging and dining. Free family activities can entice even reluctant cross-country skiers. Discounted trail passes, $49 for nine days on all valley ski trails, are available too (a regular pass is $10 a day). Complete events and specials are at the Sun Valley Nordic Festival website: www.SVNordicFestival.com.
Saturday, Jan. 30’s “Ski the Rails!” is a family tour of other trails between Ketchum and Hailey, all part of the Blaine County Recreation District’s North Valley Trails. It’s a 12-mile ski that culminates in downtown Hailey’s Winter Celebration. Participants and cheerleaders can head over to the Sun Valley Brewery to warm up, listen to music, and experience dining and shopping specials organized by the Hailey Chamber of Commerce. Other related events include snowshoe tours and races, avalanche seminars, and the Banff Film Festival’s mountain films.
As the 35th running of the Boulder Tour overtakes the Harriman Trail, xc skiers not racing or spectating may want to try other trails.
For families wanting brief ski tours, local skier Liza Wilson offers her favorite loops. “For a family ski tour and especially if you have a dog, I like the North Fork Trail,” says Wilson, manager of Elephant’s Perch, a Ketchum ski and sports shop. “The North Fork is a 4-kilometer loop that’s not too hilly, yet follows along a creek. You get beautiful views of the frozen creek and running water, and cross a bridge and ski through aspen and lodge pole, into a canyon, then loop back.”
She also suggests Billy’s Bridge, an 8-kilometer loop, where dogs are welcome. All skiers and dogs must have trail passes that can be purchased in Elephant’s Perch, Galena Lodge and other outlets. Adult passes are $10; kids and dogs $5 each.
Skiers can also take lessons from three-time Olympian Jon Engan or other ski instructors at the Sun Valley Nordic Center.
Kids will love the new Kids’ Adventure Park, designed for 4-to-8-year-olds, and the Kindercare daycare for younger kids. (Reservations necessary, (208) 622-2288.)
One gentle route begins at the Nordic Center and travels along precision grooming of Leif’s Loop, connecting to Trail Creek Loop with a swing back along the Hemingway Trail. The name is a nod to Ernest Hemingway, who wrote some of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” here, near what he called “the loveliest mountains that I know.” When Hemingway arrived in Sun Valley in 1939, the resort marked his visit with a small room in the new Sun Valley Lodge.
Today, the lodge lures visitors worldwide for skiing and 250 days of sunshine a year. Each room resonates with European charm yet includes up-to-date amenities like flat-screen TVs and Internet access. Sun Valley Resort offers a special $129/night rate during the Sun Valley Nordic Festival; reservations can be reached at (800) 786-8259. Other ski and stay deals are at www.sunvalley.com.
Other celebration lodging around Ketchum and Sun Valley include Airport Inn’s $79.99 rate for one or two; each additional person $8, (208) 788-2477. Other rates at www.svnordicfestival.com. The Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce at www.visitsunvalley.com lists lodging and specials and events, and www.inidaho.com/pets indicates which properties allow pets.
Sun Valley certainly has long been known as the grande dame of American alpine ski spots. The mountain’s 3,300 vertical feet and two separate mountains, plus the xc touring routes, allow families to ski together or try separate activities. On the downhill slide is the beginner area, Dollar Mountain, with five lifts and 200 instructors. This winter Dollar Mountain opens a new terrain park with big jumps and lots of rails.
The big peak, Bald Mountain, has 13 lifts and 65 runs plus The Bowls. Kids love the half-pipe at Lower Warm Springs, where the u-shaped terrain features are about 425 feet long and 40 feet wide, with 18 feet high walls.
New this winter is the Round House GondolaOpening for Sun Valley’s 74th ski season. The Roundhouse Gondola will travel from River Run Plaza to the Roundhouse Restaurant area. The state-of-the-art Doppelmayr CTEC Detachable-Grip Gondola has 56 eight-passenger cars and will carry 1,800 passengers per hour, traveling 2,000 vertical feet in eight minutes.
For downhill speed lovers, xc trails may seem an extra to the elegant alpine resort. Yet the Nordic trails have their own glitz and glamour, from passing by homes of the rich and famous, to attracting past, present and future Olympians—and of course, very fit dogs!
Sun Valley is about a 10-hour drive (640 miles) from Spokane via I-90, 200 miles east to Missoula, then U.S. 93 and 75 south for 440 miles.
Horizon Air operates flights between Spokane and Sun Valley during ski season through March 21, 2010, (206) 392-0218, www.horizonair.com
Galena Lodge (208) 726-4010 www.galenalodge.com.
Sun Valley Nordic Festival www.svnordicfestival.com.
Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce at www.visitsunvalley.com
Elephant’s Perch 208-726-3497 or (866) 327-3724, 280 East Avenue.
Boulder Mountain Tour www.bouldermountaintour.com
Sun Valley Resort (800) 786-8259, www.sunvalley.com