Adventure December 22, 2023

Gliding Through Diamonds

Sun Valley's Nordic skiing emerges from rough stone to gem

Thomas Alsgaard, the great Norwegian Nordic skier, was so taken by Sun Valley’s Nordic trails while training for the 2002 Winter Olympics that he posted a message about them, recounting how he encountered a mountain lion while skiing  the trails near Galena Lodge in the early morning hours.  

He’ll get no argument from Sun Valley’s Nordic skiers about how special their trails are. Sun Valley boasts a wide variety of trails, from the plunging Psycho near Galena Lodge to the flat cruising Durrance Loop near SNRA headquarters. Its trails are manicured daily, and it typically offers good snow conditions from November to May, drawing ski teams from Dartmouth and other colleges trying to get snow time to our local trails.  

For Becky Woods, trading her head Nordic coaching job at Bates College in Maine last year was a worthwhile bargain for her new job as head Nordic coach for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation. The new position offers her unlimited access to Sun Valley’s trails. 

“This has the best skiing of any place I’ve been by far,” she says. “The valley lends itself to an outdoor lifestyle, and the access to the trail system is incredible. You can access the trails on so many levels. And the grooming  is incredible.”  

Frank Rowland, now a retired USFS ranger, was the first to groom Nordic ski trails on Forest Service land anywhere in the United States in the mid-1970s. He fashioned a track setter that he pulled behind a snowmobile and groomed a loop over the river and through the woods at Prairie Creek north of Ketchum. 

Following his lead, a group of Nordic enthusiasts created a primitive trail system on old mining and logging roads around Galena Lodge in the early 1970s.  

Still, the local scene wasn’t big enough to rate a mention in the Top 10 lists of ski magazines in the 1980s and early 1990s. That changed after the community came together to save Galena Lodge when the U.S. Forest Service threatened to tear it down in 1994. The Blaine County Recreation District agreed to take on the ownership and management of the lodge and its trails, and the recreation district built the Harriman Trail in 2001.  

Today, the BCRD grooms 160 kilometers (about 99.42 miles) of trails—nearly every trail daily. Groomers use Pisten Bullys—huge machines that lay down wide corduroy tracks for skate skiing along with tracks for classic skiing. The scenic, well-groomed trails are considered among the best in the United States.  

“The grooming at other places is sometimes very questionable,” says Joney Ottesen, who has skied across Finland and in a myriad of European Loppets. “A lot of places, especially in Europe, use manmade snow. Other places get a lot of wet snow that freezes into ice. We have cold nights that make for good snow—A-plus snow.”  

Bob Rosso was among three men who tried to drum up interest in Nordic ski racing in the early 1970s. They built a racing track at Ketchum’s Hemingway School by having one person ski around a circle. The next person put his left ski in that person’s right track and skied around again. Skiers repeated the process until they had enough tracks.  

Today, Sun Valley is a great racing venue, and it has great urban skiing, Rosso says, thanks to Quigley ski trails in east Hailey, the Sun Valley Nordic trails across from the White Clouds neighborhood, the Lake Creek trails next to Ketchum’s Hulen Meadows and, of course, the Wood River Trail that runs
22 miles from Bellevue through Hailey to Hulen Meadows.  

Never mind that you might encounter  a moose or elk sharing the “urban” trails  with you.  

“You look at so many other towns bigger than ours and they have half the trails we do. And many of the Nordic areas elsewhere don’t allow dogs,” says Kim Nalen, an avid skier.  

Given the easy access to skiing, SVSEF’s Nordic program has grown from under a hundred kids 15 years ago to 250. And it now has a Gold Team grooming elite skiers, said SVSEF Nordic Coach Kelly Yeates.  

“You can’t overestimate how important the terrain is,” says former head Nordic coach Rick Kapala. “Every little town in Scandinavia has their own cross-country ski area. Drive around Any Town USA, and you see baseball fields, football fields, soccer fields, and basketball courts. But rarely do you see cross-country tracks.”  

Chelan Pauly Oldemeyer, the new business owner of Galena Lodge, said she has been impressed by the valley’s tight-knit Nordic community. It’s a community that has long taken part in a rich history of events, including the Gourmet Ski Tour, Galena Lodge Benefit, the Galena Loppet, Ride Stride Glide, Ski the Rails and the Boulder Mountain Tour, which brings top-notch Nordic racers from around the nation to compete on a 34-kilometer course. “You never know when you’ll find yourself being passed by an Olympian or World Cup racer on the ski trails,” she says. “Galena is such a beloved community gem, and we are honored to continue the tradition of good food and recreation.”


Miles Teitge says getting out on Nordic skis during the middle of a winter day when it’s sunny and warm (a dry heat, remember!) is crucial to mental health. Nordic skiing has other benefits, as well:  

  • It is considered one of the best cardiovascular exercises you can do.
  • It is estimated to burn more calories than any other form of exercise—up to 1,100 calories per hour in some cases.
  • It offers a full-body workout while considered a low-impact sport.
  • The continual weight shift from one ski to another increases balance.
  • It gets you out in winter to appreciate the natural beauty and relieve
    cabin fever.


Both Blaine County Recreation District and Sun Valley Nordic Center offer ski trails for four-legged companions: 

  • Quigley Nordic   
  • Durrance Loop near SNRA headquarters  
  • North Fork Loop behind SNRA headquarters   
  • Harriman Trail from SNRA headquarters to the bridge between Cathedral Pines and Easley Hot Springs 
  • Billy’s Bridge, 17 miles north of Ketchum 
  • Titus Creek Loop across from
    Galena Lodge  
  • North Wood River across from
    Galena Lodge  
  • Cabin Loop and Cowboy Cabin Loop and the northernmost portion of Harriman Trail 
  • The Alturas Lake Trails and Park Creek Trails near Smiley Creek and Stanley also permit dogs. 
This article appears in the Winter 2023-2024 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.