Bucket List, Rentals, Skiing & Snowboarding, Winter

Complete Guide to Cross-Country Skiing Sun Valley

Each winter, at the first hint of snow, local Nordic skiers pull out their gear and anxiously await the inaugural groom of the season. From the first pass of the snowcat in early winter until the trails disappear in spring’s warmth, stoke runs high. These long-time skiers know what many others are about to find out—that cross-country skiing is a great way to explore the mountains, clear the mind, and, especially this year, socially distance.

While the pandemic may be partially responsible for this year’s meteoric rise in the sport’s popularity, cross-country skiing’s roots run deep in Sun Valley. Over 200 kilometers of Nordic ski trails wind through the Sun Valley area from Hailey in the south to Galena Lodge, tucked in the Boulder Mountains north of Ketchum. Our world-class trails are not only a destination for skiers from around the globe but are also the United States’ only designated cross-country skiing Olympic and Paralympic training site.

Exploring Sun Valley’s Nordic scene for the first time can get a little overwhelming, but we’re here to help. In this guide, we give you the 411 on everything from where to ski to who can help you get the right gear. See you on the trails!

Prairie Creek Cross country ski

Where to Ski

Blaine County Recreation District (BCRD) and Sun Valley Resort both groom and maintain Nordic trail systems for skate and classic skiing in the Sun Valley area. 

BCRD’s trail system

With over 140 kilometers of groomed Nordic ski trails and 37 kilometers of packed snowshoe trails. Their trail areas include:

  • Galena Lodge Trails: A community-owned lodge and trail system 22 miles north of Ketchum. See the “Galena Lodge” section below for more information on this favorite ski and snowshoe spot.
  • North Valley Trails: The North Valley trails are set north of Ketchum in the Boulder Mountains and include popular routes like the forested loop at Prairie Creek, the dog-friendly trails at Billy’s Bridge, the sunny loops at the SNRA/North Fork headquarters, and the beloved 31-kilometer point-to-point Harriman Trail, which runs from the SNRA headquarters to Galena Lodge.
  • Lake Creek Trails: Lake Creek, located on the outskirts of Ketchum, is home to the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation Training Center and 15 kilometers of Nordic trails.
  • Quigley Nordic Trails: Located just minutes from downtown Hailey, Quigley Nordic features 13 kilometers of looped Nordic trails and is the perfect spot for a fast and smooth morning ski or a family outing.
  • Wood River Trail: The 32-kilometer, multi-use Wood River Trail runs from Ketchum to Bellevue and is groomed for skate and classic skiing.

    *Except for the Wood River Trail, which is always free to use, a BCRD Nordic pass is required on all BCRD trails. 

Sun Valley Resort’s trail system

This system features over 40 kilometers of groomed Nordic ski trails and 10 kilometers of packed snowshoe trails. All of Sun Valley Resort’s trails are accessible from the Sun Valley Club, which is also home to a Nordic Shop and a restaurant that is open for pick-up orders and in-house dining from 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM daily.

Sun Valley Resort’s trails include scenic loops, lung-busting ascents (for those looking to push their limits), and gentle terrain for beginners and families. There are several dog-friendly and fat bike friendly trails, as well. A Sun Valley Nordic pass is required to use the trails at Sun Valley Resort. 

Sun Valley Cross Country Trail Map

Galena Lodge

Galena Lodge, located 22 miles north of Ketchum, is a popular destination for Nordic skiers and snowshoers. Community-owned by the BCRD and managed by concessionaires Erin Zell and Don Shepler, this historic lodge is at the epicenter of 50-plus kilometers of groomed Nordic trails and 25 kilometers of packed snowshoe paths. Galena Lodge has a gear shop that offers rentals and lessons and an on-site restaurant serving up hearty lunch dishes that are perfect for fueling all-day Nordic adventures.

This year, the Lodge has guidelines in place to ensure that visitors can enjoy Galena safely. A new food truck called Pearl’s Place serves “grab and go” items while inside, diners can order off of the restaurant’s delicious winter menu. Everyone is encouraged to eat outside in one of the new covered gazebos with propane heaters. Lunch is served daily from 11:00 AM to 3:30 PM, with pastries, espresso, and a full bar available from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Galena Trails

Sawtooth Valley

For something even further north, the Sawtooth Valley Ski Club has over 30 kilometers of trails at Park Creek and Alturas Lake. A pass is not required to use the trails, but donations are encouraged and can be left in the system’s trailhead fee boxes.

Dog-Friendly Trails

The Sun Valley area has arguably the highest concentration of dog-friendly Nordic terrain in the United States. What can we say—Sun Valley is a canine’s Shangri-La! Here’s where you can ski with your furry best friend this winter:

Snowshoe with the Dog

North of Ketchum:

Sun Valley:

Hailey:

Sawtooth Valley:

Be sure to pick up after your pup! Waste bags and trash bins are available at all dog-friendly trailheads.

Trail Passes

A trail pass is required to access most of the Nordic trails in the Sun Valley area. Which pass you need depends on where you plan to go:

  • A BCRD Nordic pass ($272 adult, 17 and under free, $18 day passes) provides access to over 140 kilometers of Nordic skiing on Harriman Trail, the North Valley Trails, the Galena winter trails, and the Quigley trails in Hailey. It also is good on the BCRD’s 37 kilometers of snowshoe trails at Galena, Billy’s Bridge and North Fork/SNRA.
    BCRD passes can be purchased online, locally at Galena Lodge, Backwoods Mountain Sports, The Elephants Perch, Sturtevants of Sun Valley and Hailey, and the Chamber in Hailey, and at trailhead fee boxes. 

Looking for somewhere to ski for free? The 32-kilometer Wood River Trail, which runs from Ketchum to Bellevue, is groomed throughout the winter for skate and classic skiing. It is a multi-use trail, so expect to see people on foot, a good number of dogs, fat bikers, and the occasional snowball fight.

BCRD also offers several “Ski Free Days” each season across their entire trail network. For the 2020/21 season, those dates are December 5, January 10, February 20, and March 24.

Grooming and Conditions

Just like their counterparts on Bald Mountain, Nordic snowcat operators in the Wood River Valley are known for setting impeccable ski track. Out each morning long before the sun rises, groomers assess snow and weather conditions before determining how and when to groom. It’s an art as much as a science, and results in beautiful trails all season long.

BCRD’s Winter TraiLink is a one-stop-shop for Nordic and snowshoe grooming and conditions on winter trails throughout the Valley, including Sun Valley Nordic and the area’s snowmobile trails. The interactive map and grooming report is updated daily and shows which trails are open, when they were last groomed, weather forecasts, and ski wax advice.

In addition to trails in the Wood River Valley, Winter TraiLink reports grooming and conditions for the Sawtooth Valley’s Park Creek and Alturas Trails, and winter trails at Craters of the Moon National Monument. 

Trail Groomers

Getting There

All Nordic trailheads have parking lots, though their sizes vary. The largest lots can be found at Galena Lodge, Prairie Creek, the SNRA/North Fork headquarters, Sun Valley Nordic, and Quigley Nordic in Hailey. Note that parking is not allowed along Highway 75 north of Ketchum (except in designated spots). 

While parking is rarely a major issue anywhere in the Sun Valley area, peak ski days and times can fill parking lots at popular Nordic trailheads. Be flexible with your plans! There are so many great places to ski and snowshoe in the Valley, and plenty of room for everyone to enjoy. 

If you’re planning to ski north of Ketchum, consider taking the Ride n’ Glide bus. Offered by Mountain Rides, this free bus service picks up from various points in Ketchum and has stops at the SNRA/North Fork headquarters, Baker Creek, Prairie Creek, and Galena Lodge. It runs four times a day on weekends through January and February, and every day from December 18, 2020 to January 3, 2021. This year, each bus can have a maximum of 15 riders, and face masks are required. 

Nordic and Snowshoe Gear

Need to rent or purchase Nordic or snowshoe gear? No problem! Gear shops in Ketchum, Sun Valley, and Hailey have everything you need for a day on the trails.

In Ketchum, Backwoods Mountain Sports and The Elephant’s Perch both offer Nordic ski and snowshoe rentals and sales, and Sturtevants of Sun Valley rents and sells snowshoes. All three shops have a selection of active outdoor clothing to keep you warm and comfortable. 

In Sun Valley, the resort’s Nordic Center Shop rents Nordic skis and snowshoes and sells active winter sports apparel.

In Hailey, Sturtevants Hailey offers Nordic ski rentals and sales, as well as a selection of snowshoes for rent. Like the other gear shops, they also sell outdoor clothing, including hats, gloves, pants, and jackets.

Nordic Skis

Bonus: Off-Trail Options

If you’re looking to get off the beaten—or in this case, groomed—path, there are a number of spots through the Valley that are prime for winter exploration.

Be sure to check Sawtooth Avalanche’s avalanche forecast before you head out, and know how to safely recreate in the mountains in winter.

  • Lake Creek Road: Where the pavement ends on Lake Creek Road in Ketchum, the Sawtooth National Forest begins. This wide-open valley is hemmed in with forested slopes that are especially beautiful after a snowfall. 
  • Adams Gulch: Adams Gulch in Ketchum is a popular hiking and dog walking destination in the summer and is no less delightful in the winter. Though there are no groomed trails, you’ll likely find the looped trails packed out for snowshoeing by other visitors. 
  • Slaughterhouse Creek Road: If you can look beyond its alarming name, Slaughterhouse Creek Road is a quiet and pretty spot to ski or snowshoe in Bellevue, at the southern end of the Valley. Two loop trails are often packed for snowshoeing, and the road’s gentle grade is nice for classic skiing.

Have a safe and healthy time out on the trails and check this blog out to know what to expect this winter in Sun Valley.

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