Banks Gilberti leads a swath of Sun Valley-born skiers returning to where they grew up
WORDS • DONNY O’NEILL | PHOTOS • JAKE STRASSMAN
There’s a reason Felix Schaffgotsch chose the wild, uprooted terrain of the central Idaho as the site for America’s first ski resort. Here, the land backs up to the rugged Sawtooth Range, themselves named for their jagged, intimidating formation. Yet, while Sun Valley has always held a label as one of the country’s premier ski destinations, the vast wilderness that can be accessed from its borders has gone relatively unexplored. It’s this combination of wild land and unmatched access that spurred pro skier Banks Gilberti to lay down roots here four years ago.
Gilberti was born in Denver, Colorado, but his family relocated to the Ketchum, Idaho, area when he was four. The skier, easily identified by his curly blonde mane, spent the next decade-plus cutting his teeth on the slopes of Sun Valley Resort. Naturally, after spending those formidable years amongst the Sawtooths, Gilberti became an impressive skier. Learning to ski on the steep 3,200 vertical feet of Bald Mountain has that effect on people. But, at the age of 15, his family moved east to Burlington, Vermont. Coming from Idaho, Gilberti yearned for the impressive mountains of the west, and enrolled at in the freestyle skiing program at Carrabassett Valley Academy (CVA) in Maine to satiate his appetite for bigger peaks. This allowed him to travel the country competing in slopestyle and halfpipe contests.
“I moved from Idaho, so I was skiing constantly, and I wanted to continue that,” says Gilberti. “So I ended up at CVA my junior and senior year, and that was kind of awesome. I was able to travel out west, and pretty much all winter long we spent in Colorado or Utah just traveling around and competing.”
As soon as he graduated high school, Gilberti migrated to Breckenridge, CO, where he focused on competing and making a career out of skiing.
“I ended up doing that for quite a few seasons, just hitting the competition scene as hard as I could, but never really was that fixated on it,” says Gilberti. “It was just never that exciting to me, I always felt that their were parts of skiing that I enjoyed more.”
Gilberti also grew tired of the booming population in Summit County, and began searching for new places to call home. He considered Lake Tahoe or Mammoth, California, but upon further examination, decided his former home was the ideal choice.
“I would come back to Sun Valley every once in awhile in the summer, and I just realized, ‘Why don’t I just move back there?’” says Gilberti. “And I just packed up all of my stuff and moved back here over four years ago now.”
Coming from Colorado, a popular destination for tourists, city-dwellers, pro skiers and ski bums, alike, the mostly undiscovered potential of Idaho was what drew Gilberti home the most. And, the raw, rugged beauty of the Sawtooths were the perfect backdrop for his personal video web series called Adventures in Transition. The series, shot by friend Jake Strassman, is an authentic representation of Gilberti’s skiing sensibilities—simple, smooth and all about fun.
“I decided I would try and build a career out of skiing in Idaho, and pretty much no one was trying to do that at that point,” says Gilberti. “I shot some videos with Jake, and we’d pretty much just try to get people to come up and ride here, other athletes, people that wanted to check it out.”
After a few years and several videos shot in the Sun Valley area, Gilberti began to notice his pro skier peers returning to Sun Valley like he did, flocking back to their hometowns seeking the same community as him.
“People who grew up here started to realize that there’s great stuff here, and that we can make it work [as pro skiers],” says Gilberti, referring to skiers like Karl Fostvedt and Collin Collins.
While Gilberti, along with Fostvedt and Collins, has an incredibly strong park skiing background, which translates seamlessly to the world class setups on Sun Valley’s Dollar Mountain, the backcountry access in Sun Valley is what’s really opening his eyes to the possibilities the area offers—specifically when it comes to sled skiing.
“There’s a huge opportunity for snowmobile access and that’s definitely turned into a lot of winter exploration to different areas I didn’t think were possible to get to,” says Gilberti. “And so that’s been really fun to just always be trying to see new places, new things, whether they’re skiable or not, the snowmobile aspect has become a huge part of my love for this area.”
And, of course, when he’s keeping it close to home, the snow sliding greatness provided inbounds at Sun Valley is more than enough to satisfy Gilberti’s skiing appetite.
“It’s the resort I grew up skiing, so there’s obviously a lot of nostalgia there for me,” says Gilberti. “There’s awesome inbounds skiing, it’s one of the steepest mountains in the U.S. by far—it just has this sustained pitch that is just insane.”
The remote wilderness access and world class skiing may have been the initial draw for Gilberti’s return to Sun Valley, but, in the end, it’s the community that keeps him there.
“The people that are here are really what brought me back. Some of my best friends being here,” says Gilberti. “People that make skiing that much more fun and make every day of life that much more fun to be around.”
In the end, it’s the authentic, down-to-earth and welcoming atmosphere that draws skiers, tourists and outdoor adventurers the world over to Sun Valley, and it just so happens to be the reason the locals stick around, too.