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Linking The Lines

Words by Nicole Jorgenson, Photos by Ray Gadd

Delving into the pages of a tattered 1948 ski guide to Sun Valley, Stio Ambassador Jorgenson and her friend Lucy Sackbauer decided to interpret the lines described over seventy years ago on a backcountry journey of their own. The expedition would lead them to ski six lines on five individual peaks in Idaho’s Pioneer Range, linking together not only the mountains but an intrepid spirit of exploration across time.

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Photos by Ray Gadd

Each morning from the ski patrol headquarters at the top of Bald Mountain, I stare at the Pioneer Mountains before the start of our morning meeting, the sun’s rays slowly illuminating their numerous snow fields and rocky silhouettes. For the duration of our friendship Lucy and I would spot familiar peaks and compelling ski lines while out ski touring, mountain biking or hiking and exchange some all-too-familiar sentiment of how much we loved those mountains. Somehow, miraculously, the Pioneers made their presence known from every angle in the valley. They were always there, begging to be skied. 

Anyone who visits or lives in a mountain town is captivated by the landscape. It’s the commonality that draws us to these places; the surrounding peaks compel us. For winter recreationists, however, the mountains possess a canvas-like quality. Whether out on a ski tour, staring out the office window or driving to the next activity, we can’t help but gaze at the possibilities for skiing. Some ski lines are well known by locals; others present simply as a fantasy or far-off dream. But all of them constantly fuel the backcountry skiers’ imagination.

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Photo from Sun Valley Ski Guide by Andy Hennig

A few years ago, when Lucy and I discovered the book The Sun Valley Ski Guide, published in 1948, our curiosities were nudged. We flipped through pages with images of skiers in leather boots and long skirts skiing the exact peaks that fired our imaginations. Descriptions of the same striking lines and enticing snowfields filled each page. 

Soon, that’s how Lucy and I dreamt up the idea to link together the ski lines the book depicted. Though we had already skied many of the lines before, there was something compelling about linking them together. Perhaps it was a desire to finally illustrate our minds’ hypothetical canvas so that we could gaze out at these peaks differently than before. 

As we planned our routes using the book as a reference, we felt an uncanny sense of connection to those long-ago explorers. Clearly, their imaginations sent them exploring the same mountains we longed to ski, the lines that seemed to call us regardless of what we were doing or where we were.  There was something special in using a guide written over 70 years ago to inform our plans. They reminded us of the common desire to gain a new perspective of the landscape that surrounded us, a new spark of motivation.

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Over 5 days and 4 nights, we skied 6 different lines and 5 peaks in the Pioneer Mountains, each one meticulously described in The Sun Valley Ski Guide. Setting off in late April, we expected to ski spring corn snow—anticipating long, frozen ascents in the early morning and descents that would need to culminate by early afternoon. To our surprise, we experienced every type of weather. Our first day brought gray skies and firm conditions, followed the next day by a whiteout snowstorm that deposited more than 8 inches of new snow. The latter half of our trip was graced with frigid mornings, rich blue spring skies and the magical, sparkling snowfields we read about in The Sun Valley Ski Guide. 

We skied powder, walked long miles, watched the sun set over the mountains and celebrated those who stood on the same peaks before us. Recreating the images that lived in our imagination and that of the early explorers, the Pioneer Mountains gained an all-new meaning for us.

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