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!