Guest Post by: Joe St.Onge
I recently came across a piece of paper that Sun Valley Trekking founder, Bob Jonas, scrawled upon with the words: “I will not allow the village to enter the life of the backcountry. The huts are rustic and should remain so. They are a place that people escape the hustle of the village and experience nature and wildness on her terms.” I found this statement buried in the file cabinet a few days after installing the first Goal Zero solar power system at one of our huts and I wondered if we just crossed the line.
My wife Francie and I had taken over the Sun Valley Trekking operation and stewardship of the huts 15 years ago. Over this time, we have wrestled with the many challenges of maintaining six rustic huts way back in the Idaho backcountry. Some challenges can be covered with temporary band-aids but eventually most required the demolition of the old huts and starting anew. After 15 years, we basically rebuilt every hut to meet the demands of a growing powder-loving backcountry community.
The huts are designed and built to provide a cozy home in the backcountry. The basic needs that we provide are shelter, heat, water, toilets, a cozy bed, a well functioning kitchen, a gathering area and lights. I have struggled the most with the lights. We inherited a fleet of gas lanterns that were expensive to run, temperamental to start and maintain and were akin to time bombs awaiting a hut user to drop one. They also required our shuttling many gallons of fuel imported from far off lands every winter. I knew that solar could work and looked into to many possible systems, but it wasn’t until I found Goal Zero that I was truly impressed and ready to make the switch.
Over the past two years, we have installed Goal Zero solar power systems at each of our six backcountry hut locations and we couldn’t be happier. For each hut, we’re harvesting sun power via two Boulder 60 watt panels and storing the juice in two Extreme 350s or Yeti 400s that power 3-8 Light-a-Life LED lights. The batteries also power various devices and provide tunes for the backcountry dance parties that frequently erupt at the huts. We just went through a three week storm cycle in the Sawtooth Mountains, where the sun hardly came out and over 10′ of snow fell in glorious blizzards. The solar systems maintained power and lights for all the groups throughout!
Gone are the days the hissing white gas lantern slowly dimming and humping loads of gas in the backcountry. A new era has arrived in the Idaho backcountry that harvest power from the sun right on site. And even Bob Jonas approves.
“Having GOAL ZERO gear has been awesome for all us. Being able to simply turn on and off lights has been a huge asset. Our previous experience with the hassle, danger and inefficiency of gas lanterns is a night and day difference. The ability to charge devices has/is becoming increasingly important. As guides, we are finding our smart phones have become a critical navigation, record keeping and safety tool and the ability to keep them juiced on long backcountry trips has been a huge benefit. Having tunes, especially with the new GZ speakers, is pretty sweet too. The guests have been blown away, both by the simplicity of the systems and their reliability. “ -Joe St.Onge
A little more on Sun Valley Trekking
Sun Valley Trekking began in 1982. Joe and Francie St.Onge own and operate a network of huts in central Idaho along with a team of guides, interns, and a beloved office manager named Molly. The huts were primarily built to provide access to the amazing backcountry powder and peaks to skiers. Of the six huts, one is open for use in the summer and provides phenomenal mountain biking, trekking and backcountry fun. In addition to the huts, they have a team of 10 professional mountain guides that guide skiers/boarders on multi-day adventures at the huts, day trips on the many peaks surrounding Sun Valley and summer treks and mountain biking trips. They also run guided expeditions year round both locally and in Yellowstone, Alaska and abroad.
A day in the life of a Sun Valley Trekker
Wake up to the crackling of the fire in wood stove (maybe the new powder sliding on the roof!) and flip on the GZ light above your bunk. Wander over to the kitchen area to brew up some coffee with hot water from the wood stove while watching the first rays of light hit the peaks out the window. Give a cup coffee to your friends in their bunks and let them know it time to go skiing. Enjoy a great breakfast while discussing the itinerary for the day and acknowledging the snow conditions and any hazards. Head out for an awesome day of powder skiing in your own private Idaho, not seeing another person or rarely another track. Slide back to the hut after you’ve had your fill. Crank up the wood stove in the sauna, enjoy a celebratory beverage with appetizers while sharing stories about the day. Have a deep sweat and snow bath in a cedar sauna and enjoy a great meal around a hand hewed dining table. Things might get wild or folks may just crawl into a cozy bunk a crash to save energy for the next day. Wake up and repeat.
Visit Sun Valley Trekking online at svtrek.com