I awoke, or rather rose from bed, after 4 hours of attempting to sleep, at 3:30 AM to start the journey. I was too excited to sleep, because I knew in a few short hours I’d be skiing untracked snow, with my best friends, in one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. I scarfed down a bowl of cereal, donning my headlamp to gather my things, and walked out to the truck. As I normally do when starting an adventure, I cranked the stereo to some Warren Zevon. Don’t ask why, I just do it. The trip had begun.
Getting to Stanley, Idaho is never easy, but during the winter, it becomes even harder. The small outcropping of civilization is an hour and a half from the closest commercial airport- if you are lucky enough to make it there. The mountainous area of Sun Valley frequently traps thick clouds, and the airstrip is a one shot deal. Flights landing here are often diverted to another airport 2 hours south. My flight was one of these diverted trips, as a few inches of snow had recently fallen. Fortunately, there was a bus to Sun Valley, where friends driving from Utah were planning to pick me up. We were greeted to the tiny airport by a grandmotherly women, yelling directions as friendly as one possibly could, through a megaphone. She also encouraged us to stop by the bar while waiting for the bus to board, where we could take drinks to go.
I heeded her advice, and grabbed a beer to go. The lack of sleep, beer, and high altitude quickly knocked me out, and I soon awoke to a very snowy Sun Valley. Jake and Forrest met me in the parking lot, with a lifted, light bar outfitted, wheel drive, 2 seater Tacoma, stuffed with groceries, beer, and ski gear. 3 people on the tiny bench seat of the truck made shifting challenging, and leg circulation non-existent. We drifted, slid, and skidded our way across the snowy highway into Stanley, blowing donuts in front of our hosts house upon arrival.
Tanner, a deep voiced, mustached, mountain man has taken residence in Stanley, guiding ski trips in the winter, and river rafting adventures in the summer. The top-of-his-class engineer decided the mountain lifestyle was calling, and packed his Element after graduation, and has never looked back.
Mike arrived that evening, and the five of us caught up, drank some more beer, and talked avalanche safety. While our talk was filled with jokes, screams, and flatulence, the mountains we would be skiing were no laughing matter. The Sawtooth Mountains, and other peaks in the proximity are steep, deep, and unforgiving. If something bad happened, we would be on our own.
The next day we spent the morning doing avalanche rescue drills. Finding a buried beacon seems easy when reading about it, but in reality is actually harder than it looks. After brushing up on our skills, we headed uphill. The pace was fast. The company was made up of bike racers, so when there is an opportunity for competition, it is taken fully advantage of. Now, some of us have gotten faster, while some have slowed a bit. The professional mountain guide, and pro mountain biker had a good time ripping everyone’s legs off. The rest of us were just happy to reach the top. The skiing was incredible. Deep, soft, light snow, coupled with mild temperatures and light wind made for unforgettable turns.
Emily Arrived that night, bringing cookies, whiskey, and a children’s accordion. We told stories, sang songs, and drank more beer. The crew at this point included, Tanner, Jake, Forrest, Mike, Emily, and myself. We all know each other through the the University of Vermont cycling team. We spent countless hours driving up and down the east coast, mooning opposing teams, and heckling each other on the racecourse. We all now live about as far apart as possible in the U.S. We are residents of Idaho, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and California, but once together, all the jokes we laughed at in college seem to be even funnier now.
Our next day we ventured to Gelena Summit, for a few laps in deep snow, under bluebird skies. At the top of each run, we peeled off our skins, buckled our helmets, and ate our squished PB&J sandwiches, taking in the serene beauty of the white landscape.
That evening we soaked in one of Stanley’s numerous hot springs. We enjoyed the whiskey Emily had brought- the spoils from winning a cyclocross race the week before, and filled each other in on what was going on in our lives. After finishing the whiskey, we walked home, our hair freezing solid in the sub-zero temperatures.
The next morning was a bit slower, thanks to the whiskey the prior night. We were awoken from our slumber in the unheated laundry room by the sound of Emily playing her children’s sized accordion. We made eggs and potatoes, and ventured out to the mountains. We were pretty tired from 2 days of hard skiing and one night of heavy drinking, so we ended up spending the majority of our time building a backcountry jump, and attempting various tricks off it in the afternoon sun. Highlights included 360’s, backflips, and an errant ski sliding to the bottom of the mountain.
It was only a 5 day trip, but man, did it feel great to ski with good friends. While we only spent a few days together, we quickly remembered what it was that made us all such good friends in the first place. While we all returned to our very different lives in different parts of the country, we all share the great experience, and you can bet that we’ll do it all again next year.