Just last week, a Saturday night dinner at the Ram Restaurant in Sun Valley Village seemed like a great idea. One member of our party was anxious to try the nightly $25 special of Hungarian Goulash, and an evening spent at the beautiful eatery, accompanied by live piano music, and noshing on delicious food sounded perfect. Our decision proved even more prescient when the server announced that the Ram was running a spring special: fondue for two (free!) with the purchase of any two entrees. It was a bubbling, gold prize at the end of the proverbial rainbow!
Fondue for two with...
When you ask most runners why they love the sport, they’ll usually give you a three-part answer.
They’ll say they love to run because it allows them to escape from the daily grind of life. They’ll say they love to run because it challenges them and rewards them with better health and a sense of accomplishment. And many will also tell you they love to run because “runner’s high” is real and it’s a feeling that’s tough to top.
Add all those elements together and it makes a lot of sense why backcountry running around Sun Valley is becoming more and more popular. However you describe runner’s high, there’s no better place to find it than the mountains of Idaho.
Since 1983, The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum has been hosting an annual backcountry run. This year’s race takes place on July 16th and offers runs of 3 and 9.5 miles. I asked Nappy Neaman, the Perch’s longtime sales manager, about why backcountry running was getting so popular and what makes Sun Valley such a good place for the sport.
“We have an incredible running situation with a ton of nice trails around here,” said Nappy, who’s been running around Sun Valley since first moving here from the East Coast in 1978. “There are lots of beautiful runs you can do right from town. Adams Gulch is very popular and close. The White Clouds have great, soft trails. There are good runs out Corral Creek. The Harriman Trail is perfect for those who want longer, low-impact runs. The backside of Dollar is a fabulous run and Baldy offers a lot of really good runs as well. The River Run Trail is excellent for hiking or running. There’s just so much to offer right out the front door here.”
While there’s always been great access in Sun Valley, and trails are regularly being added and improved throughout the Wood River Valley, there are a few other reasons why backcountry running is on the rise.
“Communications improvements made a big difference,” Nappy said. “If you get in trouble now out there, you can get help. Advances in electrolytes also allow folks to go longer and further. Water carrying devices are now lighter and easier and more comfortable to carry. Shoes and clothing are always advancing. There are just a lot of reason why it’s become easier and more enjoyable to get out there.”
Besides the improvements in gear, Muffy Ritz, who’s also part of the team at the Elephant’s Perch, said the biggest appeal for most backcountry runners is that it allows them to get away and get new experiences.
“People want to get out of their normal routines. They want more of an adventure and a challenge,” said Muffy, who’s best known as the founder of the very popular women’s Nordic ski program, VAMPs. “The great thing about running in the backcountry is it allows people to escape the stresses of their day-to-day lives and take on more adventurous challenges. You never know what you’re going to find around the next corner.”
Backcountry Running Tips
While backcountry runs can be fun and down right breathtaking in the mountains of Idaho, they do require a bit more preparation. Muffy passed along some advice.
Be Prepared: Bring sufficient water and food. Make sure all gear—from shoes to water supplies to cellphones—are in good shape.
Know Before You Go: Have a good idea of where you’re going, what to expect on the run and when you’ll return. Carrying a map of some kind and letting people know where you’re going and when you should return are always good ideas.
Be Weather Ready: “The weather here can change on a dime,” Muffy said. So always check weather forecasts before you go and carry clothing that can keep you warm and dry in case the famously fickle weather of the Northern Rockies decides to throw a curveball ball at you.
Know Your Limits: Only you know what you’re capable of, so don’t attempt any runs that are beyond your skill set or fitness level. At over a mile high, Ketchum alone can cause folks altitude issues. So make sure you’re attempting a run you’ll enjoy and not one you’ll regret. The staff at local shops like Pete Lane’s Mountain Sports and The Elephant’s Perch know the local terrain well and can help you find the kind of backcountry run you’re looking for.
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