THE COUNTY

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His­toric Galena Lodge is the re­gion's other Nordic king­pin. The high­est point is 7,865 feet, and it's a snow mag­net (a typ­i­cal sea­son is Thanks­giv­ing into early April, with 200 inches of snow). Set amidst 10,000-foot peaks, if you're com­ing from sea level, it's a good idea to ac­cli­mate down be­low and then drive the 24 miles to Galena, where you can overnight in one of its four yurts, ac­cessed over snow. The op­er­a­tion is largely sup­ported by com­mu­nity do­na­tions.

Once part of a sil­ver-min­ing town, the lodge is owned by Blaine County Recre­ation Dis­trict, which does the groom­ing. Hus­band-and-wife team Erin Zell and Don She­p­ler (he's a trained chef) are the con­ces­sion­aires, and have been run­ning the lodge since 2006 to univer­sal ap­plause. Zell says, “We make all of our food from scratch and have won­der­ful house­made soups, sal­ads and sand­wiches.” In ad­di­tion to the 65-seat restau­rant and full bar, you'll find ski and snow­shoe rentals, in­struc­tion daily in both Clas­sic and skate tech­niques, along with many dogs. In sum­mer, there's a grow­ing, al­ready pop­u­lar moun­tain-bike trail sys­tem that helps un­der­write the win­ter of­fer­ings.

Galena is the cen­ter­piece of 50 kilo­me­tres of groomed ski trails, mostly at­tended to daily, as well as two-way, largely sin­gle­track plus skate lane, with 10 kilo­me­tres be­ing dog-friendly. There's also 25 kilo­me­tres of snow- shoe trail. There's not much that's truly flat, since ter­rain near the lodge is rolling, be­com­ing hillier as you get far­ther away. And it all has great views of the Boul­der and Smoky ranges. The land­scape is dom­i­nated by lodge­pole pine for­est with many mead­ows, and is pop­u­lated by wolves, coy­otes, elk and smaller crit­ters.

Galena is the take­off point for the fa­mous Boul­der Moun­tain Tour each Fe­bru­ary, where half the 800 or so rac­ers are usu­ally Sun Val­ley res­i­dents.

Per­son­ally, “Psy­cho” (I've skied it just once) is a hum­bling black-di­a­mond route. I man­aged to stay up­right un­til the fi­nal down­hill, then did

a tum­ble and a face plant in front of a bunch of other skiers right at the junc­tion with gen­tle Gla­di­a­tor Creek Loop. At least can say that I didn't lose my glasses.

Galena is a Sun Val­ley lo­cals' favourite, and they're a var­ied group. I talked with Will Hovey, a 47-year-old in­vestor from Bos­ton, Mass. who learned to cross-coun­try ski at Galena when he moved to Sun Val­ley 14 years ago. As for ro­mance, Hovey mar­ried his Galena ski in­struc­tor. He says, “You can go a half-hour north of the hus­tle and bus­tle and en­tirely es­cape. It's a place to hit ‘pause' on life.”

Forty-eight-year-old Joan Schein­graber is a Coloradan who moved to the area 17 years ago. She's an acupunc­tur­ist by pro­fes­sion and a long­time Elite skier (Dart­mouth Col­lege, World Cup cir­cuit, and so on). She loves the “huge com­mu­nity in­put,” trail di­ver­sity and pre­dictable high qual­ity of ev­ery­thing from cui­sine to im­mac­u­late groom­ing.

Whether you're talk­ing with Radlova or Zell, you get the sense that Sun Val­ley skiers un­der­stand that cross-coun­try ski­ing is not just for forex­er­cise, but for fun. Per­haps the best ex­am­ple is VAMPS (Vomen And Muffy's Pro­grams), cre­ated by for­mer Univer­sity of Colorado/us Ski Team mem­ber/ros­sig­nol skier Muffy Ritz. A hugely suc­cess­ful and en­ter­tain­ing women's Masters pro­gram, it be­gan in 1997 with four peo­ple, and last win­ter num­bered 150. Aged thir­ties to sev­en­ties, they're se­ri­ous skiers hav­ing a wacky, se­ri­ously great time. I've stayed at Sun Val­ley/ketchum mo­tels, inns and B&BS, and nat­u­rally crashed at friends' houses, but the most ele­gant and op­u­lent vis­its (hey, why live up to the stereo­type of a tight-fisted Nordic skier if there's an op­tion?) have been at the re­cently ren­o­vated Sun Val­ley Lodge.

It's a huge and fas­ci­nat­ing place, where you can say hello to the ducks and swans in the pond out front, then wan­der the halls, ap­pre­ci­ate West- ern art (paint­ings and bronzes) and smile at a ro­tat­ing col­lec­tion of celebrity pho­tos, from Bobby Kennedy to Jean-claude Killy. And may I rec­om­mend a stop at the Duchin Lounge, where you can en­joy (I have, sev­eral times) an ethe­real drink called the “Avant” - hot choco­late laced with Amaretto, Bene­dic­tine, Jame­son Ir­ish Whiskey and cream - won­der­ful, de­served post-ski­ing calo­ries. If it's not on the sea­sonal cock­tail menu, tell the bar­tender the in­gre­di­ents and he'll make it up!

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