Three Northwest Nordic Retreats

Sun Valley, Idaho

Snoqualmie Pass, Whistler Blackcomb and Ketchum offer miles of groomed cross-country skiing and views from another world

written by Kevin Max featured photo courtesy of Sun Valley Resort

Many years ago, while living in New York, I’d abscond five hours north to Vermont to Nordic ski in the Chittenden area. Mountain Top, it was called. There were other places, but none too good and none too extensive. Who was I to snub the Northeast after a childhood of extruding pine tar to slide around thinly wooded spots in the Detroit area? The Pacific Northwest, however, is tracked with great networks of Nordic trails.  We have wider spaces, more trails and, frankly, more stunning settings than our East Coast cousins.

In this piece, we look at three such places, all within a day’s drive and known for massive trail networks—Snoqualmie Pass, Washington; Whistler Blackcomb and Ketchum’s North Valley Trail System.

Summit at Snoqualmie Pass

snoqualmie passThe first thing that appeals to Nordorks, like me, is the 15-kilometer Mt. Catherine Loop. There are easier routes that are just as scenic, overlooking Keechelus Lake, the source of the Yakima River, which flows 214 miles southeast past Yakima and into the Columbia Basin. While Keechelus may mean “few fish” in a Native American tongue, it could take on a new interpretation as “many trails” today. In all, Summit at Snoqualmie Pass consists of 50 kilometers of cross-country skiing. Just more than 50 miles east of Seattle, Summit at Snoqualmie is not the isolationist dream. It is, nonetheless, a world apart from the bustling Seattle scene. For $45 roundtrip, you can catch the Seattle Ski Shuttle from various points downtown on Saturdays and Sundays. Get a Nordic pass at the Nordic center. The day-pass includes two lift rides to access the scenic upper cross-country trails.

If you’re thinking of booking next year, check out the Snoqualmie Loppet in late January, when skiers rally for a 30-kilometer tour around Mt. Catherine.

Sun Valley Nordic (Ketchum to Galena)

Known mostly for its Hollywood Alpine skiing royalty, Sun Valley also abuts storied cross-country trails. Nordic ski trails snake into Ketchum along Big Wood River, whose origins and headwaters begin more than 20 miles northwest of town outside of the Galena Lodge.

Galena Lodge is a classic log cabin built on the site of the remote mining town that once stood here. The interior of the lodge was constructed with material from the old mining camp. Today it is owned by the local recreational municipality and is the hub for 50 kilometers of trails in the Sawtooth National Forest’s Boulder Mountains.

The network includes some easier trails that offer great views over the Sawtooth Range and more athletic trails such as Jenny’s Way. All of these trails lead you into solitude, then beckon you back for a hearty lunch at the lodge.

Sun Valley, skiing
Photo by Nils Ribi

Much like the star-studded walls of Sun Valley properties, Galena, too, has its own icon—ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry, who donated funds in 1992 to save the lodge. Inside is a full-service cafeteria and an adjacent rental shop. For beginners, Galena Lodge concessioner   Don Shepler recommends a skate ski lesson. “You don’t want to learn from your spouse,” he said. “A lesson is cheaper than marriage counseling.”

Intermediate to expert Nordic skiers will be interested in hitting the Harriman Trails, which run for 23 miles from the lodge gently downhill and back into Ketchum. If you’re a classic fanatic like me, you’ll want to ski the Harriman Trails in the opposite direction, or gently uphill from Ketchum to Galena. A shuttle from town to Galena Lodge—back this year—runs thrice daily Thursday through Sunday from December 22 to February 5. For those who don’t want the burden of a marathon ski, park at one of the trailheads along State Highway 75 and measure your own out and back.

Shepler’s ideal itinerary involves skiing the Harriman Trails, sharing a lunch at the lodge (“Our lunches are huge!”), then heading back to the new Middle Eastern-inspired Town Square Tavern for a cocktail, or perhaps a lamb burger ($12 lunch, $16 dinner).

From the Mason family, owners of mountain cozy Ketchum Grill and chic Enoteca, Town Square Tavern is a new example of their culinary creativity, with this well-designed minimalist venue.

Whistler Blackcomb

Nordic skiing in the Whistler Blackcomb area takes place on 160 kilometers of trails and three venues—Lost Lake Park,  Callahan Country and Whistler Olympic Park.

Lost Lake, Whistler Blackcomb
Photo by Mike Crane

On the edge of Whistler Village is a gateway to scenery along Lost Lake Park’s 32 kilometers of trails. These groomed trails take skiers past Lost Lake PassiveHaus, the former Olympic home of the 2010 Austrian Nordic team, and into the cradle of the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Beginners should consider taking the easy jaunt out and around Lost Lake on the Lost Lake Loop trail. This 4-kilometer loop is lit at night and offers photographic views of the silver tarn and snow-covered andecite of the surrounding mountains. Skiers seeking a strong fitness regime will look to the longer, more challenging terrain of Centennial, Hydro Hill and up to Black Loop on the Fairmont Whistler Golf Course. Of course, no one should leave without stepping into a cabin of the 4.4 kilometers long Peak2Peak Gondola and soaring up to Christine’s restaurant for a hearty red wine and confit lamb shoulder.

Want to take it back to nature? Head to Callahan Country just a 2-kilometer drive west of Olympic Village at Whistler. Drop in to the full-service shop at Alexander Falls Ski Touring Centre and be treated to 130 kilometers of skiable terrain. A sucker for mountain lakes, I suggest taking Mainline out to Callahan Lake or the shorter Madeley Road out to Woods Lake.

Lost Lake, Whistler Blackcomb

Remember the Nordic events of the 2010 Winter Olympics? The Whistler Olympic Park trails where Norwegians, Swedes and Germans skied to many medals are preserved in groomed perfection for the rest of us. With 90 kilometers of trails for classic and skate (30 kilometers of these are dog-friendly for a $5 charge), you can explore some of the same trails we watched during the Olympics. While adult day-passes are not nothing at $27, Wednesdays are marked down to $5

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