I’ve said it before, the best things in life are free. And mostly, they include good health and family, exploration and friendships and that one day every winter when the Blaine County Recreation District offers its Ski Free Day. With over two hundred kilometers of world-class trails, running along Idaho’s most picturesque mountain ranges, it was difficult not to appreciate the gesture last Sunday. The icing on the cake though was that the famous Galena Lodge also offered two free beginner’s clinics, skate and classic, with rental equipment included.
The Blaine County Recreation District is a community supported organization, its network of cross-country trails funded entirely by donations and trail fees. So it only makes sense that the BCRD give back, to thank the surrounding area by offering residents a chance to Nordic ski free of charge.
On my first trip to the Lodge last weekend, to check out the scenery and take advantage of the Free Ski Day, I was surprised to learn the history of the charming lodge, now known for its trail system, Nordic skiing, horseback riding, snowshoeing, dining and yurts.
The legendary Galena Lodge blanketed in snow.
After several claims of silver and lead ore (known as “Galena”) brought crowds of miners in the 1870’s, these soon ran out and the area quickly went from boom-town to ghost-town. Luckily the advent of the Sawtooth National Forest in 1905 offset loss of the mining business and the town of Galena was saved as the Wood River Valley’s northernmost outpost. Even more life was given a few decades later following the development of the Sun Valley Ski Resort, which spurred local tourism and inherently benefitted the entire area. In the decades since, Galena has been more than successful and the network of trails has become a sort of Nordic Mecca.
A Nordic skiing haven, Galena Lodge is the place to be for cross-country skiers.
If you’ve never been to Galena, pick a bluebird day and make the trip. Drive slowly, there’s a lot to admire… snowy fields stopped by ragged peaks, groves of aspens and pines dotting the terrain, the meandering Big Wood River ever-present. And that’s just through car windows.
Before my free afternoon lesson, I saw first-hand why the Galena area is so special. Testing my equipment on the Gladiator Loop, which points skiers toward the Boulder Mountains, I was overwhelmed by the tranquil remoteness, the bubbling creeks and the gentle presence of peaks ahead of me. Even though I struggled to coordinate my arms and legs and never really mastered the artful “glide,” my hour-long run was extraordinary. The beauty of the place shut out my frustrations as a beginner. Unlike skiing on Baldy, where the views are vast and the spirit is conquering, sliding through the silent forest only steps away from Galena Lodge is an intimate experience with nature. Despite the inherent difficulty in learning a new sport, I couldn’t imagine better surroundings to calm your mind while your body struggles.
After struggling through my first loop, I knew I was ready for a lesson. The prospect of skating smoothly rather the fighting my way over the groomed trails was pretty appealing. My instructor, E.J., was an energetic and dedicated skier, who delights in sharing her passion with others. We were a diverse group of total novices and she loved us. We practiced at a stand-still, talked about body dynamics and chuckled at our own clumsiness. Fortunately, she had a drill for everything: “The Wiley Coyote” to soften the knees, “The Shuffle” to work on balance and “The Scooter” to find the glide zone. Nordic skiing is an extremely dynamic activity as your whole body is doing something all the time, so putting these pieces together wasn’t easy. We fell, we moved slowly, we forgot we had poles…Yet E.J. was patient and by the end of the clinic, we improved and some of us were even motivated to return.
One of Galena's expert instructors gives advice to some Nordic newbies.
So whether you were one of the expert skiers enjoying the BCRD Ski Free Day or a novice taking advantage of one of Galena Lodge’s free clinics, it was a glorious day for Nordic skiing. And I can’t wait to do it again.
More to check out:
Upcoming Dinners at the Galena Lodge: Call 208-726-4010 to make February reservations.
Sun Valley Nordic Festival: starting January 30th, “Nordic Town USA” will host 9 days of Nordic-related events, which will culminate in the Boulder Mountain Tour at Galena.