I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that when I think about “backcountry skiing” my mind doesn’t think of Idaho. For some reason, it never crossed my mind that Idaho, specifically near Sun Valley Resort, could be a major destination for backcountry terrain. It turns out that Sun Valley’s backcountry terrain ranges from coveted couloirs to wide-open powder fields all within a 30-minute drive of downtown. I had the chance to talk with Zach Crist from Sun Valley Guides, which is based in nearby Ketchum, ID about this backcountry haven.
I figured that terrain is what matters to backcountry skiers and boarders, right? Zach made it clear: Idaho is chalk-full of Public Access Lands. He estimates that there are more than 10 million acres of public land that are accessible in Idaho. If you’re wondering how that compares to other states (like I did), Idaho’s public land acreage doubles the next largest state in the Lower 48. Summary: There’s a ton of land for you to explore in the backcountry. I could tell that Zach was passionate about preserving the public land in Idaho. I’m sure it is important for his business, but I believe it’s morally important to him as well.
I wanted to dig further into what can be accessed through his company Sun Valley Guides in the Sun Valley Resort area. Zach told me all about the five mountain ranges that surround Sun Valley. According to Zach, each mountain range has it’s own unique flavor. Sun Valley guides has access to over 1 million acres of backcountry terrain. All five of the mountain ranges fence the Sun Valley area, and are no more than 30 minutes away by car. The possibilities seem endless for the terrain that can be accessed. Here’s a breakdown of a few of the mountain ranges:
The Pioneers lie to the southeast of Sun Valley. They are known for their stunning monolithic peaks that appear to scrape the sky. Their top elevation is around 12,000′.
The Smokys are more rounded than some of the other terrain in the area. According to Zach, this makes them easily approachable for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Sun Valley Resort sits in the Smoky Mountains.
The Boulders are now mostly a designated wilderness area, but Zach told me that terrain can still be accessed that doesn’t infringe on the wilderness boundary area.
Sun Valley Guides (SVG) has the ability to provide a variety of ways to access the backcountry terrain. Zach estimates that their business is split 50/50 between snowmobile and hiking/skinning/splitboarding. SVG has access to 7 huts or yurts that provide unmatched access to the backcountry terrain in the Sun Valley area. On top of that, 6 of the 7 have some form of mechanical access permitted for shuttling gear and supplies to and from the huts. Sounds like a dream vacation if you ask me. I honestly can’t imagine anything than better than holing up in a yurt at night after skiing pow all day. This is what dreams are made of.
In addition to the services provided by SVG, terrain can simply be accessed off Highway 75 that meanders through the Wood River Valley. Just drive, park your car, skin up, and get after it!
Preservation And Enjoyment
Zach was adamant about two things throughout the duration of our conversation. First, the backcountry terrain in Sun Valley can match or beat any backcountry destination in the lower 48. He estimates that each of the five mountain ranges in the area are similar in size to Wasatch Mountains in Utah… that’s incredible. Second, preserving the access to public lands is what sets Idaho apart from other states. The Sun Valley and Ketchum areas have the unique privilege of virtually unrestricted freedom when it comes to skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry, and this isn’t lost on Zach. He knows that they have it good in Sun Valley.
Sun Valley Heli Ski
Oh yeah, Sun Valley also has its own Heli Ski outfit. Sun Valley Heli Ski offers helicopter access to over 750,000 acres of pristine powder runs. I was checking out their website, and I’m honestly amazed by the accommodations they provide. In addition to the most terrain provided by a heli operation in the lower 48, Sun Valley Heli ski offers air packs and transceivers for all of their guests.
Groups are typically small with a 4:1 guest to guide ratio. I need to experience heli skiing more than I need oxygen, if you can believe that. Might as well hit up Sun Valley Heli Ski while I’m out there…
Here’s the deal. Sun Valley has more than just one of the best ski resorts in the country. The five mountains ranges in the area offer an opportunity for skiers at all levels to experience the backcountry. Check out Sun Valley Guides and Sun Valley Heli Ski to experience the backcountry to its full potential in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Brought to you by Visit Sun Valley