In the world of winter sports, Sun Valley, Idaho holds a special place in history as the first destination ski resort in the United States. The story of modern-day Sun Valley is wrapped up in its alpine skiing roots, but over the last decade, Sun Valley has emerged as a powerhouse in another form of winter recreation: Nordic skiing.
A Brief History of Nordic Skiing
The history of Nordic skiing, also called “cross country skiing” or “skinny skiing,” can be traced to Norway, where people attached wooden planks to their shoes to make chasing game and traveling from village to village easier during the snowy Scandinavian winters. Nordic skiing appeared as a sport in the late 19th century and was included in the Olympics in 1924 (men’s) and 1952 (women’s). Today, Nordic skiing has a reported 5.1 million active participants (Snowsports Industries America, 2017).
Nordic skiing has something for everyone—it can be a quiet glide through the forest or a lung-busting sprint down a groomed track. No matter what kind of experience you are after with Nordic skiing, Sun Valley can provide it.
About Nordic Skiing in Sun Valley
From Galena Lodge, 23 miles north of Sun Valley, to Quigley Nordic, 15 miles south of Sun Valley, the Sun Valley area has over 120 miles of groomed ski trails. The Blaine County Recreation District (BCRD) manages about 100 miles of the system, while Sun Valley Resort’s Nordic & Snowshoe Center manages about 25 miles of trail. Together, they form one of the largest Nordic skiing systems in the United States.
Both the BCRD and Sun Valley Resort are known for their impeccable grooming standards. Their seasoned staff use state-of-the-art snowcat groomers and a deep knowledge of snow science to create perfect trails. But don’t take my word for it: Sun Valley was recently designed by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee as one of the only official Nordic training sites for Olympic athletes in the United States.
Where to Nordic Ski in Sun Valley
The Sun Valley area’s Nordic system is a mix of point-to-point and stacked loop trails that have terrain welcoming to everyone, from the first-time glider to the seasoned pro.
If you only have time to visit one location, make it Galena Lodge. Galena Lodge is a community-owned day lodge with a looped system of trails that range in difficulty from easy to expert. Ski rentals, ski passes, lessons, and a small ski shop are located on-site to get you started. Stick around for lunch, when Galena Lodge offers hearty hot dishes made with fresh, local ingredients. Don’t forget to try one of Don’s Bars, a homemade energy bar so tasty, you’ll go back for seconds.
For experienced skiers who like to go the distance, start at Galena Lodge and ski south on the Harriman Trail for 19 miles to the headquarters of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). The local bus company offers a “Ride n’ Glide” service on weekends to shuttle skiers either to Galena Lodge from the SNRA or back to their cars at Galena Lodge.
Closer to town, Sun Valley Resort’s Nordic & Snowshoe Center offers trails that weave through meadows, forests, and along the banks of Trail Creek. Rentals, lessons, and trail passes are available at the Sun Valley Clubhouse, along with food and drinks served with a panoramic view of the nearby ski mountain.
While the above areas require a trail pass—$17/day for BCRD trails, and $28/day for trails at Sun Valley Resort—the 20-mile Wood River Trail (known to locals as the “bike path”) is groomed daily for both classic and skate skiing and is free to use. The Wood River Trail is a multi-use trail that is also open to other forms of non-motorized recreation, including running, walking, and snow-biking.
Bonus: Skiing with Your Dog in Sun Valley
There is a lot to love about the Nordic skiing in Sun Valley, but one of the most unique features is how many dog-friendly trails there are. It truly is a dog’s life in Sun Valley! Some of the most popular dog-friendly trails are the Harriman Trail from the SNRA headquarters to Cathedral Pines, the Dog Loop at Quigley Nordic, and Billy’s Bridge. Dogs have rules too: they must be under voice command or on-leash, and always be picked up after! A dog pass is required ($5/day) for all dogs on BCRD trails.
Where to Rent Nordic Skis in Sun Valley
Nordic skis are available for rent in Ketchum at Backwoods Mountain Sports and the Elephant’s Perch, and in Hailey at Sturtevants. If you’re bringing your own skis, these local businesses also offer ski tunes, weather-specific waxing, and stock Nordic accessories for any last-minute needs.
Whether it’s your first-time Nordic skiing or you’re training for your next race, Sun Valley delivers. So strap on your skinny skis and explore Sun Valley's Nordic legendary trails!