Cold Smoke & Hot Water

By Stirling Cobb on

Words by Amy David | Photos by Mark Fisher

From historic mountain lodges to world-class backcountry terrain to bubbling natural hot springs, Sun Valley is a classic mountain town with deep character. With one weekend to experience everything the town has to offer, Stio ambassador, Sam Schwartz and Alex Bateman turn to Sun Valley locals, Amy David and Jeremy Lato for the insider tour.

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When you love a place so much, it’s a special experience to share it with friends. The first time I skied in Sun Valley, Idaho was during the winter of 2016-17 which was a record high snowfall. With life-long local, Jeremy Lato, as my ski partner, we ticked off lines that haven’t had enough snow to ski for the past 20 years. I moved to Sun Valley the following summer and have been exploring the surrounding mountains ever since.

Last winter, Jeremy and I hosted two friends for a weekend winter adventure. Stio ambassador, Sam Schwartz, and Alex Bateman road tripped over from Jackson, WY. Upon their arrival, we caravanned north into the mountains with a pit stop at Galena Lodge for beers on the deck. As the dogs played, we bantered, and I couldn't help but share the history of the area (my guide style emerging). While known for mining, archaeological evidence indicates this area was first home to Native American people. The gold was discovered by European settlers and prospectors starting in the 1870’s.

Galena was originally founded as a mining town in 1879 with nearly 800 residents, but by the 1890’s it became a ghost town as veins of ore lost profitability. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Sawtooth National Forest into existence which drew a new type of interest to the area for the natural resources of hunting and fishing. Today, in addition to hunting and fishing, it’s the abundant recreational opportunities that accompany the vast mountain landscapes, jagged alpine peaks and acres of multi-use public lands that lure visitors to the area. By 1994 the lodge had nearly shut down, but the community raised enough money to collectively buy Galena and donate it to the Blaine County Recreation District. From deep historic roots to community collaboration, this place is a symbol of what this area is all about.   

After a night of rest, we set out for a dawn to dusk day in the Idaho backcountry. Within the first few strides up the skin track, I clicked my headlamp off allowing my eyes to adjust to the pre-sunrise darkness. Central Idaho is America’s first Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Reserve, protecting 906,000 acres from light pollution to illuminate the galaxy above. The core of the reserve is in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, with three designated Wilderness areas, conserving a true treasure of wild land and starry nights. Alex and I shared a few words of appreciation for the stars and the subtle sound of skinning uphill with a quiet world around us.

As we reached a clearing on the ridge, the sun colorfully filtered through the clouds and peeked above the horizon. We all stood in awe taking in the crisp morning air and the golden glow of the sunrise. We were standing at the intersection of the Sawtooth, Boulder and Smoky Mountains. This ridge divides the headwaters to the Salmon River and the Big Wood River providing water for the summer season in two different valleys.

To Sam and I’s liking, we spotted a kicker shaped rock feature near the top of our objective. After a backflip and huck fest, our crew took turns dropping into lines of untouched snow. Hungry for more, we strapped our skis to our packs and pushed back to the top, scrambling through rugged terrain. Before we dropped in, we took in the moment to gaze on future adventures to farther peaks. It was a special feeling to share the place we love so much with our friends for the first time. 

To cap off the day, we made it back to Jeremy’s family cabin in the nick of time to watch the sun sink behind the Sawtooth Mountains. Not much beats a cold beer with friends on the back porch of a log cabin in the heart of the mountains. Perhaps the hot cup of coffee by the wood fire the next morning is a close second - especially with bacon involved.  

To balance out Alex and Sam’s visit, we headed south for a morning of hot laps at Sun Valley Resort. There’s an undeniable appreciation for riding chairlifts when you can shred as many high speed downhill laps as possible! Sun Valley Resort boasts a rich winter sports history as the first destination ski resort in North America and the first chairlift in the world built in 1936.

From the summit of Bald Mountain at 9,150 feet, the longest run is three miles with 3,400 feet of vertical drop. With 100 runs of long, steep descents (and rarely a lift line), Sun Valley has arguably the best groomers in the country. We all love our powder days, but a good old high speed corduroy carving run can still get the adrenaline pumping. 

Another “gem” to the Idaho gem state, are the natural geothermals bubbling up along the rivers and streams. Hot spring soaking is part of the daily routine for Jeremy and I. After saying our goodbyes to Sam and Alex, we hightailed it for our favorite hot spring - only five minutes from our house tucked in the Sawtooth National Forest boundary. . . shhh, don’t tell! The relaxation of soaking in hot mineral water is healing to the body and soul. Another beautiful gift of Mother Nature.

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Amy is an outdoor adventure athlete and media producer. She professionally skis during the winter and guides backpacking trips in the summer. In Sun Valley, she works with Sawtooth Mountain Guides and manages the media for the Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center. Keep up with her endeavors at @AmyJaneDavid.

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