Eddie Bauer First Ascent snowboarder Wyatt Caldwell knows where to find a good line. From tapping into the Idaho backcountry to shredding the burn in Sun Valley, our perpetually stoked snowboarder has solved the mystery of southern Idaho’s secret terrain. From abandoned mining claims and long, logging road access to building backcountry booters on mine tailing piles, he has harvested the state’s rich resource history and heritage for a new type of exploration and exploitation that ties back to Idaho’s mining and pioneering roots. With the new season on and his sled fully pinning, Caldwell checked in with his local lowdown on what makes his home turf such a private paradise for sled-accessed, approach-ski shredding. –LYA Editor
Words and Images by Wyatt Caldwell
Exploring the mountain ranges surrounding Sun Valley, Idaho is like having a private amusement park for you and your friends to ride in all winter long. On any chosen day, I can go on any ride my heart desires and not wait in any lines, cross any other tracks, or see any other people in the mountains all day. There is a true feeling of serenity and remoteness while touring through the Idaho backcountry that I don’t feel in most other mountain ranges. I often think of what it must have been like for the first pioneer explorers to crest a ridge top only to see more jagged mountains as far as the eye can see.
The Boulders, The White Clouds, and the Famous Sawtooth Mountains are the three predominant ranges just north of Ketchum, Idaho near Historic Galena Summit. In 1924, early pioneer settlers Alexander Ross and Jedidiah Smith traveled north out of the desert into the wilderness, over Galena Summit and into the Sawtooth Valley in search of gold, sliver and beaver pelts. They settled in small mining towns and began building mining roads and digging holes in the hillsides. These early pioneers where truly roughing it by endured long winters and staving off famine and disease as they waited for spring to come so that they could prospect for gold. Every time I cruse by an old run-down mining cabin on my snowmobile it baffles me to think that people lived through the winter in these hazardous conditions. I guess those beaver pelt coats must have had enough insulation to stay warm before the era of premium goose down and PrimaLoft®!
Little did Alexander Ross and Jedidiah Smith know that the roads they created for mining back in early 1924 would give us such great snowmobile access to desirable terrain for snowboarding. Their roads allow us to climb up into high alpine basins at elevations between 9,500 and 10,000 feet, to hike couloirs and ride deep, dry powder to our hearts’ content. The mine tailing piles that spill down the hillsides make for ideal kicker spots because of their long, steep, smooth landing run-outs. The old mining equipment and buildings provide shelter while eating lunch or cleaning your goggles, and also make great makeshift jumps.
Almost 90 years after the pioneer miners had their day, my generation is lucky enough to still have the great Sawtooth National Forest to explore and recreate in. Life for us is similar to life for the early settlers in some ways, but very different in other ways. They traveled on horseback and by foot, wearing leather, hide, and fur while trying to keep warm and dry in poorly insulated log cabins. Today, our backcountry sled technology allows us to ride 160 horses between our thighs, climbing strait up 3,000 vertical foot mountains in five feet of deep powder. We can snowboard multiple runs a day and cover 15 to 30 miles of wilderness in a quick period of time. It becomes easy to take for granted our ultimate clothing kit of First Ascent goose down and waterproof outerwear that keeps us warm and dry in all conditions, compared to what the early pioneers were equipped with. Our backcountry yurts and mobile truck campers allow us to wake up toasty warm each morning with a new mountainous view, freshly fallen powder, and creative ideas on where we will go next to prospect an exploratory mission.
I feel privileged and honored to be a part of this generation of explorers and thankful for those pioneers before us that blazed so many good trails for us to follow. I am curious to see how our generation will be viewed in 90 more years, and if our great mountain ranges will be vacant or filled with people prospecting Idaho’s powder and having as much fun as we are.
To see more of Wyatt shredding the Idaho backcountry, check out episode three of Smith’s Prospecting Idaho.
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