For many years, backcountry skiers and snowmobilers, as well as Nordic skiers, have used unofficial parking areas and turnouts on state Highway 75, from the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Visitors Center to the Sawtooth Valley, in order to access the surrounding terrain.
This winter, though, the sides of state Highway 75 north of Ketchum have been more packed with automobiles than usual, due in part to a significant increase in backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.
The nonprofit Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance hopes to ease that congestion. On Dec. 4, members attended a meeting of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee to discuss parking issues with representatives from the Idaho Transportation Department and Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Paddy McIlvoy, managing partner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum, presented a map of these parking areas to the committee, and suggested areas for increased snowplowing to make more room for parking.
“We have a growing problem,” McIlvoy said in an interview. “This is due to the increase in backcountry participation, but also due to COVID. People are still skiing with friends, but they are driving alone in separate vehicles.”
Of particular concern were the nearly 40 highway-side parking locations typically used between the SNRA Visitors Center and Smiley Creek.
McIlvoy and other members of the Skiers Alliance recently surveyed the usual winter parking areas using GPS and imported the data onto the map. They also talked with ITD snowplow drivers about “swiping” areas that would be useful for parking.
“We want them to swipe as deep as possible,” McIlvoy said.
McIlvoy said the snowmobiling community is as concerned as the non-motorized users about the increasing use of these parking sites, many of which can only accommodate a few vehicles.
“This is something we are definitely together on,” he said.
Two recommendations McIlvoy made at the meeting were to plow areas already available for parking on the west side of the highway at Anderson Creek (across from Russian John Guard Station) and at Goat Creek (near Wood River Campground).
The Anderson Creek site would alleviate congestion at Billy’s Bridge to the north, said McIlvoy, and allow for ready access to the popular Boulder Yurt backcountry area.
“This could take some summer development of the site to allow for snow plow swiping,” he said.
The Goat Creek site about eight miles to the south is already paved and used in summer as a parking area for RVs. McIlvoy said swiping it for winter use would allow for easy access to an area known by backcountry enthusiasts as “The Devils Triangle,” an expansive backcountry area on the east side of state Highway 75 along the foothills of the Boulder Mountains.
“Right now, to access this area people need to park at Phantom Hill and walk on the highway, which can be dangerous,” McIlvoy said.
The recommendations were taken into consideration, said McIlvoy, with no date scheduled for future talks.
“ITD said they would research the issue of easements on the side of the highway at Goat Creek for snow swiping,” he said.
County Commissioner Angenie McCleary, a member of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee, said she expects ITD to meet with Forest Service officials to address parking concerns and possible solutions.
“Hopefully some action can take place this winter,” McCleary said.
McIlvoy said the Skiers Alliance plans to work with Visit Sun Valley and the Blaine County Recreation District to develop a final map of parking options.