The Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center is classic cross-country ski area design (no pun, truly!), in that several easier trails diverge from the staging area, leading to more difficult routes and then to the really challenging stuff. Set at approximately 6,000 feet, it's mostly singletrack and skate lane, and mostly delightful beginner-to-intermediate terrain – there's roughly 300 feet of elevation change on 14 trails, totaling a little more than 40 kilometres. Much of it is on golf-course grass, and much of it winds through sage, with some aspen and pine, complemented by great mountain views, including alpine skiing on famous Bald Mountain (aka “Baldy,” at 9,150 feet).
Most trails are one-way due to short steep downhills, and almost everything is groomed daily. Sun Valley is a recreation-crazy region, so you see many skaters, including local folk of mature years who are frankly “tear-assing” along the trails. If you're lucky, you may see elk, deer, moose and even wolves.
You can also enjoy 14 kilometres of snowshoeing, including some dedicated trails, and 16 kilometres of fatbike routes shared with skiers. A typical season starts a little before Christmas and runs through March, with 100 inches of snow in a good winter.
The Center itself is a golf clubhouse in the off-season, though I suspect summer visitors don't think of it in quite those terms. It's imposing: 58,000 (not a typo!) square feet of wood paneling, marble and brass, with a restaurant and bar. The exterior is river rock, with wrap-around terraces. You can rent skis, snowshoes or fatbikes and arrange instruction.
Just as important to the vitality of the place is Ivana Radlova, the Nordic director. Friendly and quick-witted, with an elfin grin, she's passionate about cross-country skiing. She also has remarkable Nordic credentials - NCAA champion at the University of New Mexico, member of the Czech Olympic team, assistant coach at the University of Colorado, and has worked at cross-country areas in Colorado, Idaho and New York. In offhours, she's a massage therapist, as well as a mother to two boys.
Radlova dreams of snowmaking for a two-kilometre teaching area for tough snow years, and would love to open at Thanksgiving, but that may be a while down the road.
I chatted last March with old friend Steve Haims, a fun-loving guy, Sun Valley cross-country-ski fixture and chef who works at the Center and is former owner/operator of Galena Lodge. He says that most visitors, skiers and snowshoers are women, and a typical skier is fifty-plus. He says the Nordic Center has “very beginner-friendly” skiing and staff, and while local fatbikers are avid enthusiasts, these bikes don't damage the trails for skiers.