Adventure January 6, 2022

Sledding the White Gold

Snowmobiling pushes past the limits

Like many outdoor recreational sports, snowmobiling popularity is on the rise, and yes, it is a sport. We’ve managed to turn every mode of transportation into some form of recreation, and snowmobiling is no different. According to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA), last season saw the highest new snowmobile sales recorded since 2008.

“It’s a fun and different way to get out,” says Reggie Crist. “If you want to break away and get into the backcountry, a snowmobile is an amazing tool to make that happen.”

Reggie is an Olympic ski racer and a five-time X-Game podium finisher in the sport of skiercross. He is also a recognized big mountain skier and helicopter ski guide. His brother Zach was also a member of the U.S Ski Team, X-Game skiercross athlete and backcountry ski guide, and he is the owner of Sun Valley Guides. To add to this impressive collective résumé, they are also the new owners and operators of Smiley Creek Lodge in the Stanley Basin.

Smiley Creek Lodge sits on Highway 75, 35 miles north of Ketchum, over Galena Summit. Originally built as a sawmill in the 1950s, the lodge now provides accommodations including camping and RV sites. There’s a rustic restaurant, a general store, and a gas pump as well as snowmobile rentals and guide services.

“We’ve always loved going to Smiley Creek,” says Reggie. “It was something we grew up with in our backyard. Smiley Creek is a backcountry access point to all the things we love to do.” So, when the opportunity to buy the property presented itself, they jumped on it.

Smiley Creek Lodge is in a unique position, situated between the Sawtooth and the White Clouds Wildernesses. It also sits in the heart of the Sawtooth Valley “mechanized zone,” meaning an area open to motorized off-road and over-the-snow vehicles. The zone reaches into the backyard of the Smoky Mountains and extends past Redfish Lake and the town of Stanley.

Smiley Creek Lodge offers guided and non-guided snowmobile rentals. The Crist brothers have acquired all new machines made for different objectives, and they have assembled a team who will be able to provide a safe, guided experience.

The best benefits to hiring a guide include a tailored experience, whether its a scenic groomed trail ride to have lunch on a frozen Redfish Lake or off-trail powder face shots on a high-powdered sled. The point is that a guide knows where they’re going and can help you get there safely.

Snowmobile avalanche fatalities have actually decreased by 50 percent over the last decade, despite increased popularity, according to a report published by Backcountry Access. However, the 2020-2021 season saw the highest number of avalanche fatalities in the last 70 years across all user groups in the U.S.; 11 of the victims were snowmobilers, and three took place in Idaho. The fatalities occurred for a myriad of reasons, but one broad explanation offered in the report stated, “Riders are choosing not to be educated. We are riding more capable machines, have better riding skills and have increased our exposure to avalanches, and many riders’ exposure surpasses their avalanche training.”

Amy David started taking up snowmobiling about five seasons ago. As a professional skier and outdoor adventure athlete living in the Sawtooth Valley, David wanted to learn to ride so she could access more backcountry skiing. But she quickly become enamored with the machines. “The day I got up a steep hill into an open powder field, I was hooked,” David recalls.

Today, David is a Polaris snowmobile ambassador and is excited to start teaching avalanche education to motorized users. She recommends anyone new to snowmobiling should enroll in similar courses, even competent backcountry skiers. “Motor education is tailored for specific users. The courses are made for you. You don’t have to change who you are and what you like to take this course.”

Along with the right education, David suggests also having the right machine for what you want to do. Join a snowmobile club and get to know some partners. It’s normal and common to get stuck and when that happens, you’re going to want some help. Sign up for some skills clinics. And before going out, always check closures that are due either to avalanche conditions or wildlife.

Like all the other transportation sports, from dogsledding to race car driving, the addictive objective with snowmobiling is that it is challenging and never boring, whether you’re honing skills or finding new terrain with a guide or reliable partners.

So, get out, stay safe, go fast and have fun. Brap, brap.


New for summer 2022, Smiley Creek Lodge will have brand new luxury tiny homes available for nightly rentals. Choose from the Luna, which sleeps two, or the Orchid, which sleeps four. Both unit types have a living area, full kitchen, washer/dryer, and en suite bathroom, with panoramic views of the Sawtooth Mountains. In addition to the tiny homes, Smiley Creek offers several other lodging options: lodge rooms, rustic cabins, yurts, teepees, and RV sites, all with amazing views of the majestic Sawtooth Valley.

This article appears in the Winter 2021 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.