While Sun Valley is routinely hailed by skiers for Bald Mountain’s superbly kept and remarkably sustained pitches, it is often forgotten that the resort itself is a mere fraction of the winter playground available to those with an affinity for sliding on snow.  

For any skier or snowboarder looking to ditch the chairlift and earn their turns with a bit of sweat and patience, the Sun Valley area is a euphoric wonderland of bottomless backcountry opportunities. So slap your skins on your skis or your splitboard, put some fresh batteries in your beacon, and get ready to head uphill.


Cloaked and surrounded by the vast Sawtooth National Forest, backcountry skiers merely need to choose a direction of where to head.  The possibilities, contingent upon snow conditions, of course, are endless.  With that in mind, before you do head out, check out the daily forecast and advisory on the Sawtooth Avalanche Center website. The folks at Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum can help you with some current, local knowledge, maps, and gear.

Many mountain resort towns have an abundance of public lands to ski on, but what puts this area ahead of the rest is the immediate, ample access to them.  The valley is relatively narrow, with lots of safe turnouts along the highway, so approaches in the immediate area are minimal and pleasant. Not to mention, there is a myriad of forest service roads right off the highway to get you in deep to a number of places before you even put your skis on.  

Easements between private lands are abundant and well marked. On a good snow year, like the one the valley is seeing right now, most aspects of the mountains are well covered, and the skiing is great all the way down the valley, south to the town of Bellevue and beyond.

Salmon River Valley

Backcountry Skiing Ketchum

The main events, however, are usually found North of Ketchum on Highway 75, as you climb up Galena Summit and over into the Salmon River Valley. The summit itself, affectionately dubbed “The Cross” is a terrific place to start, particularly if avalanche danger is on the high side. Lots of turnouts make for great car-shuttle laps through untouched powder blanketed over a mellow-pitched, playful descent back to the highway.  

Either side of the pass offers trailhead parking that will lead the more serious enthusiast deeper into an endless playground of ridge lines, chutes, and glades in every direction.

Local Guides

While the Ketchum area does offer some of the best Do-It-Yourself backcountry skiing in the American West, you may want to leave the logistics to the pro’s and hire a local guide.

The valley is home to two top-notch guide operations: Sawtooth Mountain Guides and Sun Valley Trekking.  

Either outfit is staffed with world-class ski guides with a remarkably vast pool of local knowledge and experience to give you a safe and adventurous tour that you won’t soon forget.

If you’re in town to ski and want a little different perspective than the one on top of Sun Valley Ski Resort, rest assured that our backcountry opportunities will deliver…and it’s a lot easier to get out there than you may imagine.  Stay Safe!

About Brett Wilson