Ask Me: Where Should We Go Backcountry Skiing Around Sun Valley and Idaho’s Sawtooths?

Hey Michael,

Nice Blog! Just spent a bit of time checking it out. So I have a question. My husband and I are heading north (we’re from Colorado) to do some backcountry skiing and mountain biking. Usually we end up in the Tetons. The couple times we have gone to Ketchum/Stanley, Idaho, zone we’ve been shut out though—once with bad weather and also lack of snow. I heard that the Sawtooths got a lot of snow, so once again we want to explore.

Our deal is that we would prefer to not stay at one of the huts in order to ski since we have an RV Camper that we love to camp in. We will be coming to Ketchum sometime between April 20-30. We would LOVE it if you could just give us two or three basic simple backcountry ski tours that might be say a 5-6 hour day, 2-3 hour approach. We are huge backcountry skiers but we are kinda into quicker access than long slogs in. (I’m 50 and he’s 60!) We will have all the gear—boot, ski crampons, axe—but we certainly don’t need the steep, gnarly gnar either. Someone told me to check out Titus Bowl? Or if you think another mountain range nearby is better suited for us, we would love to know.

I have a lot of maps of the area already so you don’t need to give me great detail, just maybe a few quick suggestions. Thanks so much. And if you are ever cruising through Colorado and need beta, please ask. We have skied much of our own state for the last 20 years!


Breckenridge, CO

Backcountry skiing north of Sun Valley, Idaho.
Backcountry skiing north of Sun Valley, Idaho.

Hi Ellen,

Glad you found The Big Outside, thanks for the nice words. You will probably find a huge range of snow conditions, as you’d expect. Galena Summit area will give you the quickest access. Titus Bowl is on the Smokies (west) side of the summit, maybe an hour skin to reach it? On the Boulder Mountains side (east), there are abundant meadows and glades to ski at easy to moderate angles. There’s a big parking turnout right at Galena Summit (8,800 ft.). South of the summit, on ID 75, you’ll also find a big parking turnout on the right, just below some easy/moderate, open slopes, at around 8,700 feet (that’s from memory, could be slightly lower). Took my 13-year-old there in early March, easy stuff with little/no avalanche hazard, very fun.

As you’re driving north from Ketchum, you will see a wealth of skiable terrain on both sides of the highway, especially west side (left). Maybe 15-20 minutes north of town you’re looking straight at a huge, south-facing bowl called Durrance, a classic, about 2,000 feet vertical or more. It’s hard to hit it right because it can melt out fast or be unstable. Farther up the highway, but well before Galena, you’ll see some mountains on the left side that can be skied in a one-day tour from the highway, and turnouts below them.

The Sawtooth Mountains tend to have longer approaches, which is why skiers usually go for the yurts. If you’re up for a full day, the area above Bench Lakes (lead photo, above, and photo below) may be the best choice (directions and pix in this story). The advantage is that you park in a plowed turnout on ID 75 at the end of Redfish Lake Road, and ski up Redfish Lake Road, which is used by snowmobiles and packed out nicely. At the trailhead, you will find a skin track leading to Bench yurt. From there, you’re looking up at The Triangle, a 1,500-foot slope about 30 degrees that forms a big fan on the east side of serrated Mount Heyburn. Gorgeous area and fun skiing. BTW, I stay on the Triangle’s eastern aspect; I’ve seen big avalanches blast down the steeper southern aspect.


Bench Lakes, below Mount Heyburn, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.
Bench Lakes, below Mount Heyburn, Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho.

I hope that’s helpful. Have fun, let me know how it goes. Keep in touch. See a menu of all of my stories about the Sawtooth Mountains, including backpacking there, at this link.


We appreciate this info. Perfect for us. Usually we just need a couple tours to get us going and then one thing leads to another. Can’t wait!


Note: In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at, message me at, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.

—Michael Lanza



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