Skiing & Riding

Spend an Hour with a Ranger

If you have spent time on Bald Mountain this season, chances are you have seen the signs outside Lookout inviting you to “Ski with a Snow Ranger.” I have, too, and was admittedly curious about this opportunity.

On a gloriously sunny picture-perfect morning this week, after a few stunning warm up runs, I made my way to the map kiosk outside atop Baldy and was quickly welcomed by the erudite and friendly Joe Miczulski. Joe retired from the Ketchum Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest in 2014 after 32 years of service. To say the man knows the history of the mountain and the region is an understatement.

Joe Miczulski served on the Forest Service for 32 years. He is now sharing his vast wealth of knowledge during bi-weekly tours on Baldy

Two others joined our 10:30 a.m. group: Tom who hails from Chicago and lived in Sun Valley in the early 80s, and Brad from Seattle who often skies at Snowbird but wanted to learn more about Sun Valley. Both expressed an interest in hearing more about the surrounding mountain ranges that were on full unfiltered display in a 360 degree arc from the top of the mountain as well as some Sun Valley history. I asked to learn more about the Resort’s plans for the future.

The purpose of the “Ski with a Snow Ranger” program is to learn more about the area’s rich history, the Resort, geography and topography, even flora and fauna. It is not a ski tour in the sense that guides will show you around the mountain. Rather, during four stops between the summit and Lower River Run, the Ranger addresses the group’s questions and provides information that brings Sun Valley to life.

The first stop is at the map of Baldy where Joe took us back to Sun Valley’s earliest days. He recounted the story of how Sun Valley was put on the map and became the country’s first destination ski resort. Though many of us know the basic tale of Averell Harriman founding Sun Valley as a resort for riders of the Union Pacific Railroad to enjoy, Joe’s depth of knowledge offered many additional anecdotes. As a local, I felt pretty confident that I knew the history of Sun Valley but I definitely learned something new.

During a stop on the tour, Joe discussed the surrounding mountain ranges as well as the history of mining and sheepherding in the valley

After a few turns, we stopped again at the top of College to peer out over the sublime vista and learn more about the area’s mining and sheepherding roots. Never dull or overly academic, Joe again brought the history of the Wood River Valley to life from the 1800s to present day. I finally learned why some of our foothills look like they have stripes on them – it was due to overgrazing in the era when, for thousands and thousands of sheep, the valley was one big moveable feast.

Another short run took us to the top of Lower College where the conversation focused on the history of the mountain from a ski and recreational perspective. The final jaunt was two-thirds of the way down Lower College to discuss the health of the forest and new glade initiatives for skiers and riders and mountain bike trails for summer recreationists. Joe was full of fun facts, from the esoteric to the more mainstream.

Sun Valley enjoys a great relationship with the National Forest Service, leasing public lands on which to operate the resort.  The rangers who offer this program are all incredibly informed about the mountain as well as the surrounding Idaho wilderness.  

Rangers take groups on Baldy on Tuesdays and Thursday, morning and afternoon

Ranger ski opportunities take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at both 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. They are free and available on a first-come basis. 

If you have an hour and have ever wondered which mountain range is which, how extensive Sun Valley’s amazing snowmaking system really is, or why they built a world class resort in the middle of the Idaho wilderness, I highly recommend this opportunity. The tempo is very mellow, the information provided worthwhile. If you are visiting, it’s a great way to get a sense of this very special place. Brad and Tom in my group were excellent skiers, but the tour is appropriate for anyone comfortable skiing College top to bottom.

Thanks to Joe for a very informative and enjoyable tour. And if anyone else was wondering, his favorite run  on Baldy is Lefty’s Bowl!

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