Biking, Fly Fishing, Summer

The Refinement of the Rad: Why Sun Valley is the Best Place to Learn

Like many other ski towns, Sun Valley boasts a high expert-per-capita ratio when it comes to all things outdoor recreation. Walk into any given bar to encounter three ski movie stars, one insta famous rock climber, and a handful of Olympic gold medalists. The defining factor of Sun Valley locals, however, is that most folks are not all that pretentious about their expertise.

Take this example. One of my friends came to town without knowing how to ski. On his first day on the mountain, a new acquaintance offered to teach him some tricks and proceeded to spend the entire day helping him pizza and french fry down Baldy’s most mellow slopes. A week later, my friend attended a local showing of a ski movie only to discover footage of his humble instructor smashing graceful lines on the world’s tallest peaks.

“I had no idea he was a professional skier,” my buddy told me. “I can’t believe I spent eight hours snow plowing with a professional skier.” Like I said, as ratios go, we have a high expert per capita, low ego per expert.

But what about us non-experts? What about our egos?

When I first came to Sun Valley, my own self consciousness almost got in the way of my willingness to recreate. Unlike most locals, I didn’t grow up camping, downhill skiing, fishing, climbing, or mountain biking. If Instagram has taught me anything, it’s that everyone in a ski town was born in a tent, wearing a climbing harness, while pedaling a hardtail and tying flies. Kids can read topo maps before they read picture books. Epicness is in their blood.

To enter that kind of space without experience, particularly as a woman, felt incredibly intimidating for me. Luckily, I had a few good mentors and the openness of the Sun Valley outdoor community to bring me along. I learned that this area has trails fit for beginners and experts, routes designed for learning, plenty of women’s outdoor groups, and a general attitude oriented toward learning. No radness comparisons, no competition for best lines, just encouragement for trying new things and bringing your friends along.

Today, I can proudly say that I am a moderate rider, climber, skier, and angler, with aspirations (and no fear) to only improve.

Here’s who helped me get here:


Don’t let #JerryoftheDay posts scare you away from taking lessons. After a year of avoiding coaching in favor of closing my eyes and sliding down the hill, I finally took the time to learn from a professional instructor. Sun Valley offers group and private lessons administered in a totally open, aware fashion.

If you want a more comprehensive, season-long program, join the Divas or the VAMPS for weekly instruction on the mountain or on the Nordic trails, among other women.


Learn to Climb at the YMCA

While there aren’t many beginner outdoor climbing options, the YMCA has an amazing indoor wall with a variety of routes and challenging bouldering. Keep an eye out for women-only climbing events hosted by local female climbers.


Learn to Fly Fish with Silver Creek Outfitters

For the cost of free, you can attend weekly summer casting clinics by Silver Creek Outfitters hosted by Sun Valley on the lawn of the Pavilion. Once you’ve got the knack for your cast, I strongly suggest going out with a guide for a day. If anything, they’ll assure you that it’s ok to catch more trees than actual fish.

Mountain Biking

Learn How to Mountain Bike in Sun Valley, Idaho

To join a group of gals celebrating “no drop” riding, head to Sturtevants on a weekly basis. They also do mechanic clinics for women who want to better know how to take care of their toys. Additionally, check out the Rusch Academy run by local 7-time world champion rider, Rebecca Rusch.

Want to learn how to do something else? Is paragliding, kayaking, hunting, or backpacking on your list? Just walk into any local gear shop and say the words “I want to learn how to _____,” and I promise, someone will help you. It worked for me.

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