If Leonardo Da Vinci is out there in a time machine somewhere in the cosmos, he is sure to hit Sun Valley at some point to test out the progress of humanity's most elegant invention: the bicycle. Of course, bikes still have greasy chains and it takes a few rough tumbles to learn how to ride in the mountains, but for artists, anglers, horse people, David Hockney and blown glass fans and at least one bicycle, Sun Valley has many affordable outdoor options for active travelers, even if they really came for the arts.
Top billing for 2011 is the first Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival (ridesunvalley.com) presented by Sun Valley bicycle manufacturer Scott. From Monday, July 11-Sunday, July 17, visitors can learn about the Sun Valley riding scene from the experts while watching the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country National Championships (usacycling.org/mtb).
Greg Randolph, a former cycling champion and spokesman for the event, said the highlight will be the Local Stoker Rides--a free tour of Sun Valley's single track. And this is a full-service tour, including a ride, shuttle and a guide.
Randolph said the Sun Valley course designs make for an excellent set of spectator races, from Bald Mountain downhill to Ketchum Town Square Fat Tire Criterium.
"It is the most spectator-friendly mountain biking course I have ever seen," he said.
Better yet, it's free.
Away from the hubbub is yurt biking at Sun Valley Trekking's Coyote Yurt, the only backcountry yurt in the Sun Valley area open summer and fall to hikers and bikers.
Offerings may be expanded with the Forest Service recently announcing Sun Valley Trekking and Galena Lodge will receive new permits for guided mountain biking this summer on National Forest trails. Be sure to check in at the Ketchum Ranger District office on Sun Valley Road for more information. Check with Sun Valley Trekking (svtrek.com) for yurt and guided hiking prices.
Something similar but definitely more youth oriented is the Galena Summer Camp (galenalodge.com), which is a mix of local and visiting children who come to "get dirty and play" in the outdoors, said chef Don Schepler, who with his wife, Erin Zell, manages Galena Lodge.
Famous as a former mining town, the heritage of Galena comes to life in summer. There is a wagon ride and barbecue every Thursday--the same wagon that has transported many a bride to be wed in the regal backdrop of Senate Meadows. Mystic Saddle Ranch offers daily horse rides. Camp costs $250 to $395 per week.
Horseback riding and llama treks in the Sun Valley area are a huge opportunity to transform a cowpoke into a swashbuckler able to clang spurs with the best wranglers. There are eight outfitters listed on the visit Sun Valley website (visitsunvalley.com) that cater to travelers interested in animal-guided adventures, which can include pack mule aid during hunting season. Those willing to muck out a stall or two might even find a free riding lesson. Mystic Saddle Ranch (mysticsaddleranch.com) charges adults $75 for a half-day ride.
Another free way to play in the dirt is at the pump parks, where kids and adults test dirt bike skills in Ketchum and Hailey. The already popular Ketchum park--located across from Hemingway Elementary School--was expanded last fall. The Hailey park--adjacent to the Blaine County Aquatic Center--boasts a beginners' area. Both parks were built by the volunteer Wood River Bike Coalition, which is largely responsible for the stewardship of Sun Valley's 400 continuous miles of world-class single track.
Sun Valley biking is not all about dirt, however. Local outfitters (read "bikeshops") offer weekly free group rides, including Wednesday night road rides. Meet at The Elephant's Perch (elephantsperch.com) for a prompt 5 p.m. start.
The Wood River YMCA (woodriverymca.org) in Ketchum has a 30-foot-high climbing gym with about a dozen belay stations that can help prepare the vertically inclined athlete with a climbing waiver and ambition to tackle the Mountaineers Route on the Elephants Perch in the Sawtooth Mountains or any one of the hundreds of climbs, many pioneered by Wood River Valley climbers, at the City of Rocks down south. The gym charges $3 each for harness and shoe rentals or $5 for both. Staff belays are $5 for two climbs and $10 for five climbs. Check with Sawtooth Mountain Guides (sawtoothguides.com) for climbing guide prices.
On the Water
More than a dozen outfitters listed on the visit Sun Valley website (visitsunvalley.com) will point anglers and rafters toward water sports on the rivers of the Sun Valley area. Hiring a guide and buying licenses will cost, but like most activities in the Sun Valley area, the greatest expense is really transportation, food and shelter. Famed spots such as Silver Creek, the Big Wood River, the Big Lost River, Copper Basin and the Little Wood River all lure those with a penchant for fish and game.
Although the word "fore!" sounds something like the wartime adage "fire in the hole!" when used appropriately, it is reserved as a mild declaration of warning for the most gentlemanly of Sun Valley sports: golf. The valley boasts half a dozen courses and tee times rarely include a wait. Knickers, cleats and other golf attire are welcome--the more vintage the better, especially at the Sawtooths Putting Course at the Sun Valley Club (sunvalley.com/golf/sawtooth), the resort's latest lodge addition. Putting is $3 for children and $5 for adults.
The same attire plus kneepads and a helmet can also be used for the Ketchum and Hailey skateboarding pools, ramp lips and pipes. Just ask for a tour. The Hailey park is located by the Snow Bunny Restaurant and the new rodeo grounds and visitors' center now under construction. The Ketchum park is located on Warm Springs Road west of the Wood River YMCA and it's free for users.