Most people know that Idaho is famous for potatoes, but the hundreds of people who descend on Sun Valley every February know it’s special for another reason. It’s the reason these devotees are huddled on a frosty morning in Senate Meadows, clutching hot chocolate for courage. It’s the reason they’re wearing spandex suits and clunky boots. And it’s the reason that they’ll soon gather under a large banner, wait for a signal, then fly across the snow.

By Ashley Sanders

Photos Courtesy of Boulder Mountain Tour and Festival

Photos Courtesy of Boulder Mountain Tour and Festival

Photos Courtesy of Boulder Mountain Tour and Festival

Photos Courtesy of Boulder Mountain Tour and Festival

Photos Courtesy of Boulder Mountain Tour and Festival

Photos Courtesy of Boulder Mountain Tour and Festival

They’re here for the annual Boulder Mountain Tour, a 34-kilometer Nordic ski race in the wild white yonder north of Ketchum, and the crowning event of the Sun Valley Nordic Festival (Feb. 2-5). And they’re here because they know Sun Valley as Nordic Town USA: A sweet spot of earth where the sun never stops and the snow falls fast and crumbly.

 

Not Just for Pros

Just ask Kelly Allison, a competitive Nordic skier and BMT regular who now directs the race in cahoots with her husband, Glen. “Sun Valley didn’t get its name because we live in a rain forest!” jokes Allison. It just really is that sunny. But Allison says weather is just one reason why racers return to the tour every year. “The BMT attracts people of all ages and abilities because of its gentle yet challenging terrain and stunning backdrop,” Allison says. Beginner or novice, young or old, the race threads the needle perfectly — as Allison says, the course is both “fast and forgiving.”

This magical combination of sun, snow and action explains why the race is headed into its 42nd year and boasts nearly 1,000 participants. And you don’t have to be on the Norwegian Nordic Olympic Team to participate (though they train in the area too). Allison says the race “attracts people from 5 to 95” because Nordic skiing is so welcoming and versatile. “You can participate at your own level,” Allison says, “and everyone comes away with a unique experience.”

 

Cold Snow, Blue Sky, Warm Hearts

If that doesn’t convince you to strap on some skis, the festival itself will keep you entertained alongside a throng of fellow spectators for days of winter fun in the sun. Festivities kick off with the Feb. 2 opening ceremony, then it’s off to the Town Sprints race to watch elite BMT skiers go head-to-head for prize money on a loop through downtown Ketchum. Wind down your trip on Feb. 5 at the Sun Valley Nordic Center Demo Day where you’ll find the best cutting-edge equipment for your new favorite hobby. If all the excitement starts to rubs off on you, you can always try out your winter legs privately on the 200 kilometers of trails in the area.

Wherever you stray, head back to the race in time to enjoy one last glimpse of fleet feet on flat snow, as racers young and old, tourist and local, amateur and professional sail across the finish line, a little tired and a whole lotta happy. Or, as the festival motto puts it: Fill up on “cold snow, blue sky, and warm hearts.” And who knows? Maybe eat a baked potato for good measure.

Photos Courtesy of Boulder Mountain Tour and Festival