Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Best of Idaho continued…

Spring skiing in the heart of Idaho

Springtime is a wonderful time for skiing. For the best spring skiing in the world, the place is Sun Valley. To get there from Boise you drive by a couple of great mountains along the way. This time I pulled over at Bogus Basin and Soldier Mountain.

Drive or fly to Boise and the slopes of Bogus Basin are just 16 miles from downtown. I traveled with my wife Claire downstate by car. We drove past turnoffs to four ski areas en route. The next morning we were skiing at Bogus, 45 minutes after leaving the hotel. About four inches of snow fell overnight.

Springtime is a wonderful time for skiing. For the best spring skiing in the world, the place is Sun Valley. To get there from Boise you drive by a couple of great mountains along the way. This time I pulled over at Bogus Basin and Soldier Mountain.

Drive or fly to Boise and the slopes of Bogus Basin are just 16 miles from downtown. I traveled with my wife Claire downstate by car. We drove past turnoffs to four ski areas en route. The next morning we were skiing at Bogus, 45 minutes after leaving the hotel. About four inches of snow fell overnight.

We were treated like royalty. Bogus marketing executive Gretchen Anderson set us up with a team of Mountain Hosts. Mountain Hosts are a team of expert locals who cruise the piste, showing people how to find what they’re looking for.

Bogus Basin has 2,600 acres with ridgelines running to two main peaks: Deer Point and Schafer Butte. Our mountain hosts showed us a representative sample of Bogus terrain accessed by six lifts. You need more than a day to see all of Bogus.

My wife veered off with two hosts to go cruising. I followed a trio of red jackets off piste. We skied glades until it was time to have grilled burgers in a yurt at the summit of Deer Point.

After lunch we warmed back up with a few speed runs down Shaker Ridge and Wildcat, then returned to the trees. We did as much as we could in a day—including cold beer and free popcorn in the Simplot Lodge. Leaving Bogus we reeled in Boise, winding our way down the road in late afternoon sunshine. Later Claire and I checked out nightlife downtown.

Next morning we drove into the sunrise down I-84 to Mountain Home. There the route leaves the desert into the mountains east on highway 20. At Fairfield we had breakfast at the Sawtooth Inn before driving north 12 miles to Soldier Mountain.

Soldier Mountain has 1,200 acres of fun for $30, high up in the Sawtooth National Forest. You can see great fall lines for a hundred miles. In-bounds, south facing slopes are wide-open bowls. Glades line the north aspects. I stayed in the sunshine, skiing off Soldier Peak, Pioneer Peak and Mill Point.

Again and again I cruised by the outdoor grill on my way to the lift. Finally the aroma of charbroiled burgers won out over one more run. Cold beer sat in tubs full of ice. Claire and I ate a late lunch on the deck, soaking up the afternoon sun. We hated to leave but we had to keep rolling. Our next stop was the Sun Valley Lodge.

Continuing east from Fairfield, highway 20 is crossed by highway 75, the road to Sun Valley. Drive to this classic destination, the Sawtooth range closes in. Bald Mountain is an iconic backdrop to Ketchum and the resort of Sun Valley.

The Sun Valley Lodge defined alpine elegance in 1936 and still does. Its rich history gives it a special aura. Hallways are lined with over 70 years of photographs showing Hollywood stars, Olympic legends and world leaders returning to earth at Sun Valley.

We rendezvoused with my in-laws, John and Janet Peterson. John has been skiing Sun Valley since 1950. He made reservations for dinner at the Ketchum Grill. From the looks of the crowd, it had to be the most popular restaurant in town. After drinking the wine and eating the food, I wasn’t surprised.

As dawn broke I looked out the window and saw a perfect day at Sun Valley. A shuttle that runs every 15 minutes took us to River Run, one of two main access areas to the slopes. Claire and I placed ourselves in the capable hands John. He showed us the best way to enjoy the mountain on a perfect spring day.

John Peterson is a youthful 77. He prefers to spend the morning carving in the sun on Seattle Ridge. To get there one must first go to the top of Baldy, where we looked out on a panorama of the Sawtooth Range bathed in sunshine.

After a gourmet lunch in the Seattle Ridge Lodge, we redeployed. Failing to sustain a run top to bottom down Warm Springs, my quads cried in pain. Not sure what I was thinking. If there’s a faster surface in bounds than Picabo’s Street, let me know.

On the deck in the sun at River Run, we had a cold pint of Gretchen’s Gold. The bus took us back to the lodge and a nap. Later John treated us to a memorable feast at the Ram in the Challenger Inn, about a five-minute walk from the Sun Valley Lodge.

One of the coolest things about the Sun Valley Lodge is Sun Valley Serenade, a classic Hollywood romance made on location in the early 1940’s. It plays again and again 24 hours a day on a cable channel piped into your room.

Sun Valley Serenade could be the first ski movie ever made. Filmed in black and white, the familiar vistas take on an ethereal quality. The skiers performing on camera in place of the actors were the best of their time. The movie inspired adventure in the golden age of film. After a perfect day at Sun Valley, that will never change.

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