Why Karl Fostvedt is turning down trips to Japan to ski backcountry in Idaho
WORDS • SAM TAGGART | PHOTOS • WYATT CALDWELL
Professional skiers have plentiful opportunity to travel the world. Trips deep into the wilderness of British Columbia, to powder-laden slopes of Japan and high above treeline in the European Alps are commonplace for sponsored athletes. But journeys to far-off destinations aren’t necessary when you’re sitting on a pot of gold at home—like Karl Fostvedt is in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Fostvedt grew up in Ketchum, the mountain town that sits at the base of Sun Valley Resort, learning to ski at an early age. As a teenager, he was one of the best performing mogul skiers in his age group of 12- to 15-year-olds, often winning the competitions he entered. His coaches viewed him as a rising star, but Fostvedt yearned for more from his ski experience.
“Probably when I was 12 or 13, [pro skier] Collin Collins starting showing me all the Poor Boyz flicks, Propaganda, Happy Days… that kind of era,” Fostvedt explains. “The reason we loved the mogul team so much is that we got to hit those kickers, but by the time we were 12 or 13, we were starting to get into a little bit of a rebellious era, starting to get over all the mogul skiing, the bump humpin’ and we just wanted to be like the freeriders in the backcountry.”
Recognizing that skiing, especially in the Sun Valley area, could encompass far more than lapping zipper lines within resort boundaries, Fostvedt set his sights on the various mountain ranges that surround his hometown. With multiple zones—including the Sawtooths, Smokys, Soldiers, Boulders and White Clouds—all within a few hours drive of Ketchum, Fostvedt has found that he can access new terrain on any given day of the week. In order to hit these spots when they’re at their very best, he’s spend the past 10 years stationed in the heart of it all and is just now finishing building out a new campervan, so he won’t miss a beat when the next storm rolls in.
“If you’re in Utah, you’ve got the Wasatch; if you’re in Jackson Hole, you’ve got the Tetons. But for us, we’re right in the middle of this epicenter,” Fostvedt says. “There’s just so much terrain out here, you can spend your whole life skiing here and just barely scratch the surface. You never get bored and we’re rarely skiing the same slopes.”
And with a snowmobile—or a dedicated ski touring attitude—even more terrain makes itself available to backcountry skiers in Sun Valley. “Pretty crazy once you do have the sled, the amount of terrain you open up,” Fostvedt notes. “There’s a good approach from the highway to the base of the mountains here. Having that sled, you just grab a fist full of throttle and, next thing you know, you’re at the base of what you want to ski.”
Not only is the access plentiful around Sun Valley, the type of terrain varies greatly from range to range, helping Fostvedt hone his skills in a variety of big-mountain scenarios. “If we want to go do more jump-oriented, freestyle terrain, we’ll spend a lot of time out in the Smoky Mountains; if we want to go ski big peaks or big couloirs, we’ll get out in the Sawtooths or the Boulders; if we just want long, open powder descents, we’ll go over to the White Clouds,” Fostvedt explains. “As a 28-year-old, with about 10 years of experience truly backcountry skiing, I’m just now cresting on being step ahead of the weather and hitting it right.”
For Fostvedt, skiing the backcountry terrain surrounding his hometown of Ketchum is a manifesto of sorts. Laying new tracks in new zones is a seasonal occurrence; interpreting variable weather patterns and avalanche forecasts keep his focus sharp; and, expressing himself by skiing the natural fluctuations of the Earth serves as his creative outlet. With so much to explore, Fostvedt doesn’t see himself going anywhere anytime soon.
“I find myself turning down more and more trips outside of Idaho because I know there’s so much terrain out here, and so little time to ski it all,” Fostvedt says. “When you’ve got all this in your backyard, even a trip to Japan is that much less enticing. I just want to keep working out here, keep skiing lines that haven’t been skied and pave the way for the next wave of freeride skiers coming out of the valley.”