Lost Rivers Ski Safari

Justin was back for his annual ski pilgrimage to Idaho, and this season we decided to explore the remote east side of the Lost River Range. Guilty of tunnel vision for the mountains immediately adjacent to Stanley and Sun Valley, we neglect entire mountain ranges within a few hours that offer incredible skiing. The Lost Rivers contain Idaho’s highest peaks, and with an often shallow and finicky snowpack, late spring is the time to go. While the vertically-fractured granite of the Sawtooths provide their reputation for narrow couloirs, the layered and tilted sedimentary rock of the Lost Rivers offers unique faces and complex ski objectives. Not to mention significant vertical relief!

The Lost Rivers have no avalanche report, only one low-lying weather station, and a weather forecast that is approximate at best (no offense NWS!). Armed with so little information, it’s best to approach any trip to the LR’s with a sense of adventure and humility. On our first day out, we found that a recent spring storm had dropped 12-16″ at upper elevations; the Sawtooths had only received a couple inches from the same system. With so much new snow and stormy spring weather, our ambitious itinerary needed some re-examination.

Our first day out we were lucky enough with visibility and snow stability to ski the north face of Leatherman Peak in boot top powder – a memorable run to say the least! Day two we kept waiting for a visibility window that never arrived. We managed to get just above 11,000 feet but found ourselves in whiteout conditions normally reserved for glaciated regions such as Alaska and Canada. Staring into the white, we still felt dwarfed by large peaks we knew were there but couldn’t see.

Our third and last day was the one we had been waiting for. With the forecast calling for improving weather, we saved our most ambitious objective for last: the north ramps of Mount Church. As the sun rose in clearing skies, we made our way through thrashy forest with thin snow cover until we finally reached the open terrain below the peak. Our long-awaited sunny weather was accompanied by warming temps, and as we reached the base of the face the heat felt nearly oppressive. Significant new snow and warm temperatures are a poor combination in such big terrain, and 1000 feet below the summit, we made the difficult to decision to pull the plug. As we skied 1500 vertical feet of spring powder to the lake below the peak, it was difficult to feel too disappointed. Having a goal is fine, but the journey is what often provides the greatest reward.