While the Sun Valley Resort is well-known for its immaculately groomed runs and glitzy Hollywood skiing history, a lesser-known aspect of the area is the limitless access to backcountry skiing in the surrounding mountain ranges.
As forecasted, clouds built on Saturday evening. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the White Cloud Peaks before preparing for the “40% chance of a trace.”
After Sun Valley’s establishment in 1936, the burgeoning ski-school quickly developed a “ski-touring” arm to offer guests access to this winter wonderland of ski-terrain. Backcountry cabins were erected at the foot of the Pioneers Mountains (aka The Pio Cabin) and up Owl Creek in the Smoky Mountains to serve as base-camps for guided ski trips with resort guests.
Today, two guide-services maintain backcountry huts and Mongolian style yurts nestled deep in the local mountain ranges. They offer both guided and non-guided groups a comfortable base camp from which to explore the backcountry ski terrain.
The group breaks a fresh trail into the Marshall Lakes Basin, just an hour and a half from the yurt.
We recently enjoyed a long Presidents Day weekend at the Williams Peak Yurt in the Sawtooth Mountains. (operated by Sawtooth Mountain Guides) We left the kids with their grandparents for a few days, and invited another Ketchum couple to join us for three days of incredible alpine beauty. The group was rounded out with several college friends from L.A., Bend, OR, and Salt Lake City, UT, the latter whom had no problem enticing a group of five additional skiers away from a pending Wasatch dump to experience the solitude and grandeur of the Sawtooths (in the middle of a 6-week Idaho dry spell none-the-less.)
Hauling in food, gear, and drink for 12 people was no easy task. At least the Fishook Ridge provided some fantastic vistas.
After getting some less-than-stellar reports from earlier yurt-goers, we set our skiing expectations low. Spending four days in the alpine wilderness with good friends was enough to bring the group together, any good skiing we found would be icing on the cake.
The girls from SLC boot up the last 100 or so feet to a shoulder near the summit of Williams Peak (10,635 ft).
On Saturday, our group was greeted with blue skies and spring-like conditions that were supportable enough to warrant a climb up the south face of 10,635-foot Williams Peak. After booting up the last few hundred feet, we enjoyed a panorama of couloirs and needle-like summits that stretched for miles. The 1400-feet of “corn-like” turns to the basin below tasted oh so sweet.
If you know where to look, it’s possible to make 6-inches of snow ski like two feet! Randy Flood takes advantage of skinny skis to get in deep.
That evening the forecast of a “40% chance of a trace” surprised us all by blanketing the mountains with 6 to 8-inches of sweet, light powder snow. The next two days were spent in a blissful search for the softest and deepest turns we could find.
It’s all a matter of perspective. Jason Dimming samples some of the sweet icing on the south flanks of Williams Peak.
On the long ski back to the cars, we all stopped for a moment on Fishook Creek moraine to absorb the stunning panorama of glaciated peaks and reflect on a good trip with great friends in the virtually empty wilderness of central Idaho.
Local Beta: Sawtooth Mountain Guides – www.sawtoothguides.com
- Williams Peak Yurt (Sawtooths)
Sun Valley Trekking – www.svtrek.com
- Fishook Yurt (Sawtooth Mountains)
- Bench Hut (Sawtooth Mountains)
- Coyote Yurt (Smoky Mountains)
- Tornak Hut (Smoky Mountains)
- Boulder Yurts (Smoky Mountains)
- Pioneer Yurt (Pioneer Mountains)
Words & Photos: Matt Leidecker