Backcountry, Skiing & Snowboarding, Winter

Sun Valley’s Backcountry: A Short Guide to Long Runs

Sun Valley is a gateway to endless, powder-filled backcountry terrain with awe-inspiring views. Accessible by helicopters, hut systems, snowmobiles, and by human powered means, enthusiasts will revel in the area’s expansive mountain ranges. Here is a short guide to making safe and endless turns across the surrounding bowls, peaks, and glades.

Guiding Outfitters

Not sure where to start, but know you love fresh powder and exploring the outdoors? Two guiding outfitters based in the Sun Valley area, will help you find the best snow, safely.

Sun Valley Trekking operates six different backcountry huts with access to the Sawtooth, Boulder, Smoky and Pioneer Mountain ranges. Not only can backcountry enthusiasts rent huts within the system as a basecamp for exploration, but you can also line-up porters and cargo services. Sun Valley Trekking works in conjunction with Sun Valley Guides to offer all of your guided service needs. Sun Valley Guides can lead advanced adventurers on expeditions such as the Sawtooth Haut Route, a seven-day traverse across the Sawtooth Range. They also also offers backcountry day trips led by professional guides. These are available to skiers and riders with all levels of avalanche training, although intermediate to advanced skiing levels are required.

Founded in 1985, Sawtooth Mountain Guides has a long history exploring Sun Valley’s surrounding mountain ranges. If you’re looking for a quick, close-to-town excursion or a remote, multi-day hut trip, the AMGA-accredited guiding company offers plenty of backcountry skiing options. Get a taste of SMG’s expertise this winter and sign up for a day of ski touring on either Galena Summit or Banner Summit.

Snow Safety Courses

Venturing into the backcountry can be dangerous. The rule of thumb is, “if you don’t know, don’t go.” Make sure to equip yourself not only with the necessary gear for survival and emergencies, but also with the knowledge and understanding of the snowpack, the mountains and rescue techniques. Local classes are hosted in the Wood River Valley and offer the training to get you started in the backcountry and also in-depth certifications to dive deeper into snow science.

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center is a great resource, offering weather information, accident reports, tools and training classes. Their website also outlines classes and certification courses offered by the Sawtooth Mountain Guides and Sun Valley Trekking. Both organizations provide everything including single-day backcountry introductions, six-day AIARE Pro 2 classes that are considered the most advanced offering in the country, and field day excursions for hands-on experience. For more information including schedules, find the events calendar here, or check out Sun Valley Guides website or visit the Sawtooth Mountain Guides.

Take a Bird

Tick heli-skiing off your bucket list and treat yourself to an unparalleled skiing or riding experience via helicopter. Sun Valley Heli Ski was founded in 1966 and offers guests access to terrain encompassing 750,000 acres, spanning across three mountain ranges: the Smokys, Boulders and Pioneers.

Guests will enjoy around six runs in a day, averaging about 2,000 vertical feet each. The experienced guides will take guests to the day’s best conditions, hopefully meaning face shots and untracked powder turns.

If you’re feeling extra adventurous, be sure to check out their Smoky Mountian Lodge package. The Smoky Mountain Lodge is the only remote fly-in heli ski lodge in the lower 48 states. The lodge is located west of Sun Valley in the heart of the South Fork of the Boise River drainage.  The luxurious 6-bedroom Lodge provides a backcountry get away with all the amenities of home.  Breakfasts and dinners are prepared by a local chef.  Lunches are served in the field in the middle of each day’s heli trip.  Amenities and other activities include wi-fi, sauna, cross country skiing and snowshoeing

If You Know, Go!

The backcountry skiing terrain surrounding Sun Valley is seemingly endless. Options close to town include Durance Peak, the Boulders, and Galena Summit. Durrance Peak, for example, is only a few miles north of town. Beginning close to the highway, skiers and riders can quickly lap 2,000 vertical feet of pow. The Boulders include areas like Mushroom Bowl and Gladiator, which require a longer ascent, but reward those willing to make the trek with phenomenal views and long descents.

The summit of Galena Pass offers easy access to multi-peak, high alpine terrain. The Cross and Titus Ridge are great for quick laps off the summit. Just a bit farther, Titus Peak sees less traffic and offers incredible panoramic vistas from the top.

Huts and Yurts

Part way up the pass, Galena Lodge is home to four winter yurts. These structures are great basecamps for ski touring, as well as Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Backcountry skiers and riders can also enjoy multi-day excursions in the Smokys by renting out the Coyote Yurt or Tournak Hut.

Over the pass towards Stanley, the Sawtooth Range features classic lines, jagged peaks, and generally longer approaches. Explore many of these peaks from huts such as the Bench Hut, Fishook Yurt, or Williams Peak Hut.

Like the Sawtooth Range, the Pioneers are more remote and require a longer skin to access, or a snowmobile tow. Pioneer Yurt serves as a great base camp to access this dramatic range, which is Idaho’s second tallest.

As always, stay safe and enjoy this mountain mecca. Consult with local outfitters, guides, and make use of the tools and resources outlined above to ensure that your trip into the backcountry is a memorable one!

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