Thursday, February 16, 2017

Drip drip drip snow snow snow? Go to high elevations for best skiing; or go hot springing

Big series of wet storms coming our way ... area in green is expected to get 13-28 inches of snow by Monday.
Courtesy Idaho Daily Snow Report
The Springs at Idaho City 
Bonneville Hot Springs near Lowman 
Hi all,

We've got another big burst of storms coming our way this weekend, and continuing into next week, and it's a pretty warm system, so pay attention to the snow levels to find the best skiing.

This weekend also kicks off season pass sales at Bogus Basin, Brundage Mountain, Tamarack and Soldier Mountain. See their web sites for details. But this is the time to plunk down the bucks to buy a discounted season pass for next year, and you can use the pass for the remainder of this season as well. Good thing to do to support your favorite ski areas into the future.

As I drill down on snow levels, it may be a bit soggy at times at Bogus Basin, which will be on the cusp of rain and snow, according to the National Weather Service. At least it's going to freeze on Saturday night and Sunday night, so that should bode well for the following mornings on this long weekend. Watch the Bogus Basin web cams for the latest.

The situation at Brundage Mountain looks to be slightly better because it will freeze at night, every night, in the coming days, and snow during the day. According to the Idaho Daily Snow Report, put together by a skier who's also a professional meteorologist, she's predicting 13-28 inches of new snow by Monday in the West Central Mountains. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing might be good, too, especially in the mornings.

The upper chairlift at Tamarack will be good because it services the top 1,000 feet of the mountain, and that should be above the snow line. Same goes with skiing Sun Valley ... the top chairlifts will be in the snow zone and the bottom chairs may not be ... at least in the afternoons.

In Stanley, they're hosting the Sawtooth Winter Fest on Friday-Sunday, but the main event is on Saturday with a long calendar of activities, including a snow bike race, ice skating, street party, live music, three-legged races and all kinds of fun stuff. Unfortunately, highway Idaho 21 is closed due to avalanches, so you'll need to get there via Sun Valley if you decide to go.

Meanwhile, it's going to be rainy all weekend in Boise, so if you don't want to go play in the snow, maybe you could take an umbrella hike on the Greenbelt (foothills trails are very muddy; please stay off  of them), or go for a road trip and go visit your favorite hot springs. Maybe you'll decide to do a movie marathon at home. Go ice skating at Idaho Ice World. Catch up on the laundry ... who knows?

Some hot springs suggestions include:

  • The Springs in Idaho City - Hang out in the pool and order drinks and food with the pool-side service. Fun place to go! Be sure to call ahead and make advance reservations. 
  • Gold Fork Hot Springs south of Donnelly - Beautiful pools, reasonable price, but it can get crowded in the tiny changing rooms when it's busy. 
  • Thousand Springs Resort, Miracle or Banbury Hot Springs near Hagerman. All great places to take the kids and family. Private pools available. 
  • Primitive hot springs like Skinny Dipper, Kirkham or Bonneville Hot Springs near Garden Valley and Lowman. See the Idaho Hot Springs web site for details. 
  • Givens Hot Springs near Marsing. I've heard mixed reviews about this commercial hot springs, but you be the judge. 
Have a nice long weekend!
- SS 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Drip drip drip ... outdoor tips for the weekend despite the soggy weather; sunny days ahead!

Elk in Garden Valley along the Banks to Lowman Road (courtesy 
Pine Flats Hot Springs next to the South Fork Payette River 
Hi all,

I suppose you could try to ski this weekend, but it seems the conditions might be pretty weird depending on how much it rains or snows after the rain goes away. We've been receiving a big deluge of rain mid-week with snow levels over 8,000 feet on Thursday, which really screws up the snow in the mountains! Plus, flooding is expected Friday in multiple locations -- cross your fingers that there aren't any major mud slides! Avalanche danger is very high as well. Be safe!

The good news is that it's supposed to be sunny and clear on Saturday and Sunday in Boise, with temperatures in the 40s during the day. So for this weekend, I'm recommending a low-key Greenbelt loop in East Boise or a scenic drive to see wildlife in Garden Valley and maybe hit a hot springs as part of the trip.

Marianne Williams Park-Barber Park Loop - Foothills trails are going to be duck soup, so I'm recommending that you take a 4-mile hike starting and finishing in Bown Crossing, with optional coffee, lunch or beer afterwards. Pick up the Greenbelt on the north side of the Boise River in Marianne Williams Park and follow that pathway east to the nature trail. Go right on the nature trail and continue to the Eckert Road bridge. Cross the river, and walk west through Barber Park on dirt pathways back to Bown Crossing. Be sure to wear your snow boots for the walk! The dirt trail will be muddy or slushy. Carry some water, take your time, bring the bino's and look for birds and wildlife along the way.

Garden Valley Wildlife Tour - Take Idaho 55 north to Banks and drive east on the Banks to Lowman Road through a deer and elk winter range to see wild turkeys, elk and deer. Bring your camera and bino's. You should see quite a few animals, particularly between the Garden Valley airstrip and Pine Flats Hot Springs.

Potential primitive hot springs to visit on the trip include Skinny Dipper, Pine Flats, Kirkham Hot Springs, or Bonneville Hot Springs, 25 miles east of Lowman. See the Idaho Hot Springs site for details. Circle back through Idaho City on the way home via Idaho 21, if you wish, to make a big driving loop. If you do that, the Springs in Idaho City would be another potential hot springs stop. Advance reservations are required.

Let me know if you see some wild game!

Just so you know ... river season is upon us! I posted a snowpack map on my Facebook page today, noting the big numbers, and then I checked on Idaho river flows, and the Owyhee River is flowing 8,000 cfs at Rome, Oregon, and the Bruneau is running at 2,000 cfs. Several people said they're hiking in to run Five Mile Rapids on the Bruneau ... hard core! I bet there will be some people running the Owyhee, too! The Payette was just barely rising, 2500 cfs ... that might be different tomorrow!

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Big *pow* predicted at Bogus & Brundage; where to go xc skiing, snowshoeing in McCall

Winter Storm Warning predicts lots of snow at Brundage Mountain and Bogus Basin Friday and Saturday
My son Drew loves snowshoeing. Here he's enjoying a trail in Ponderosa State
Park. See link to story below about where to go xc sking, snowshoeing and
fat biking in the greater McCall area during the Winter Carnival. 
XC ski trails at Bear Basin are well-groomed and extensive! Dogs are allowed! 
Fat biking at Jug Mountain Ranch on a bluebird day
Hi all,

For those of you who still like snow, it appears that we're going to get slammed pretty hard tomorrow and this weekend in the mountains of SW Idaho and Central Idaho. The weather forecasts are predicting a Winter Storm Warning, with 3-7 inches at Bogus Basin tomorrow (Friday), 1-3 inches Friday night, and 2-4 inches on Saturday, for a total potential of 14+ inches, considering more is expected Saturday night and Sunday. Woo hoo for the powder hounds!

A similar scenario is supposed to play out in the West Central Mountains, benefiting Tamarack and Brundage Mountain, during the second weekend of the Winter Carnival. Brundage is actually predicted to get 3-7 inches Friday, 4-8 inches Friday night, 2-4 inches Saturday and 2-4 Saturday night, with more coming on Sunday. That adds up to more than 20 inches of snow Friday and Saturday! Oh baby!

Brundage is trying to entice women to head their way on Saturday with Diva Day, $30 lift tickets for women 18 and over (discounted from $64). They'll have a "snowga" session at 1:30 p.m., and Rebecca Scott will be playing in the afternoon after 2 p.m. in the bar. In downtown McCall, you can tour the world-class ice sculptures, enjoy live music, see fireworks Saturday night, and try to win a Polaris Ranger UTV via a raffle. Tickets cost only $10. Drawing is Saturday night. Someone has to win it! Why not you? See event schedule for more details.

There's still some lodging available in McCall and surrounding areas. Check ASAP with the McCall Chamber or to inquire further.

Earlier this week, I wrote an outdoor story for the Idaho Statesman about where to xc skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking in McCall during the Winter Carnival or anytime this winter. I talked about visiting Bear Basin, Ponderosa State Park, the Activity Barn/North Valley Trail and Jug Mountain Ranch. See my article for details. Excellent way to burn off some calories while you're enjoying all the great food, drink and entertainment at the Winter Carnival!

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Secret hut in the South Hills, McCall Winter Carnival, Kegs 4 Kause fund-raiser Monday

The Thompson Creek hut, very nicely appointed and taken care of by the High Desert Nordic Association in Twin Falls. 
Skier-packed trail leads to the hut, 1.3 miles up the trail from the Penstemon groomed trail. 
Penstemon Trail is wide and buffed. There is no charge to xc ski, snowshoe or snow bike on the trails by Magic Mountain.
The mountains in the South Hills have a lot of natural openings, tree stringers and aspens ... cool country to explore. 
Hi all,

First, I wanted to make sure everyone knows about the Kegs 4 Kause event Monday, Jan. 30 at Payette Brewing, to benefit the Idaho City Yurt and Trail Restoration project. The event runs from 5-10 p.m. There will be many silent auction items and a live auction for some bigger-ticket items. Leo Hennessy reeled me in as the guest auctioneer! OMG! Get ready to give! Gotta dig deep!

In case you've been living in a cave, the event is being held to restore four backcountry yurts and many trails that were damaged by the Pioneer Fire last summer.

It's going to be fun sipping on Payette River beer, knowing that 50% of the proceeds will go to restoring the Idaho City Park n' Ski yurts and trail system. As the evening progresses, we'll get into the live auction. Check out the Facebook event page: I know there's a bike that's been donated by World Cycle, I saw a GoPro video camera on the list, plus bike tune-ups, growlers, pint glasses, outdoor books, totes, concert tickets and more! Jenn Okerlund of IDPR has been posting many auction items on the Facebook page.

And for a total bonus, if I might say so myself, there will be two live auction items involving a Leo Excellent Adventure and a Steve Excellent Adventure for groups of 6-8. I'm offering the choice of taking people paddle rafting on Cabarton, hiking or mountain biking adventure in the Owyhees or Boise National Forest, your choice. I'm not sure what Leo's trip is going to be, but you know it will be memorable! Hope to see you at Payette Brewing Monday night!

Wooden bunks and a kitchen table in the hut. All you need
to bring are your clothes, sleeping bag and food.   
Now, about that secret backcountry hut! Some of you might have read my story in the Idaho Statesman recently about where to go yurting in Idaho "for a guaranteed great time," but my list didn't include the Thompson Creek hut in the South Hills, south of Twin Falls. I just wrote a blog post this week about visiting the Thompson Creek hut for Southern Idaho Tourism, so I am sharing the secret with you.

The Thompson Creek hut is a totally solid wall tent that sleeps a maximum of seven people, but the hut meister told me that it's probably most comfortable for four people. It's not a huge wall tent, but it has plywood bunks all set up, a main kitchen table, a large propane double burner stove (propane provided), and a wood stove. Plus it's outfitted with pots and pans, plates, cups, etc., and sleeping pads.

Wood stove and propane cook stove. Propane is stocked. 
The amazing thing is that the hut isn't booked hardly at all this winter. The calendar is pretty much wide open! The hut is located about 3.5 miles from the Nordic trailhead next to Magic Mountain Ski Resort. It's an easy trip to get in there with skis and skins or snowshoes. The hut is operated by the High Desert Nordic Association in Twin Falls. They charge $10/night/person for members, and $20/night/person for non-members. What a bargain! Many of the yurts and huts in the Sawtooths cost at least $175 a night!

I haven't checked out the backcountry ski terrain because I was on lightweight Nordic touring gear for that particular outing. But I am curious and hope to do some field research! The hut is situated on a mountain-side, about half or two-thirds the way up to the top of a ridge adjacent to Magic Mountain. There seems to be quite a few slopes that one could skin up and ski, and for snowshoers, there's plenty of terrain to explore. Plus, the hut is situated among a 23-mile xc ski and snowshoe trail system. About 10 of the miles are groomed weekly.

Magic Mountain is only about a 2 or 2.5-hour drive from Boise, depending on road conditions and driving speed. It's a beautiful area with lots of natural openings for skiing. Contact the High Desert Nordic Association if you'd like to inquire about availability of the Thompson Creek hut. See details and a topo map in my blog post.

Don't forget, the McCall Winter Carnival is cranking up this weekend! Here's the McCall Chamber web site with details about the events and ice sculptures. I always like to promote the Winter Carnival because it's packed with so many fun events, and it's always great just to be in McCall to go xc skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, alpine skiing, tubing or sledding.

Here's an event schedule with all the details. Friday night opens with a Children's Torchlight Parade, and there's fireworks over Payette Lake, a Black and Blue hockey game, beer garden and drink specials at Foresters and the Yacht Club. Saturday at noon is the Mardi Gras Parade, a can't-miss event! It's also fun just to cruise around town and check out the ice sculptures. Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bald eagle viewing near Hagerman is excellent right now, plus other tidbits

Pair of bald eagles in flight (courtesy Gordan Hardcastle)
Wood ducks and golden-eye in flight (courtesy Gordan Hardcastle)
A variety of ducks take flight at the Hagerman WMA (click to enlarge)

Red-tailed hawk in the morning sun
Bald eagles near the Westpoint store/cafe ... 12 in one tree! 
Hi all,

I wanted to share a blog post I wrote this week for Southern Idaho Tourism about viewing bald eagles, waterfowl and other birds near Wendell and Hagerman right now. In a matter of two hours, I saw more than 35 bald eagles near Wendell in the early morning hours last Saturday ... and I saw a ton of ducks and geese at the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area.

I love to see bald eagles, so it was a thrill to see so many birds in a short amount of time. See the blog post for driving directions and a map. It's only 1.25 hours to the Hagerman area via I-84 when the roads are dry. There also is a birding list of all the birds you can see in the area right now. Make sure you bring your binoculars, camera and a bird book!

While you're in the 'hood, think about visiting Miracle Hot Springs after you go eagle- and bird-watching ... that'd make for one heck of a great day! Top it off with a meal at the Snake River Grill in Hagerman. The restaurant is famous for it's exotic menu and excellent food!

What a humdinger of a snow storm last night! Brundage and Bogus got more than 16 inches of snow, and the lucky folks who were in position to go powder skiing today had a bonanza! Both areas needed more snow after all the ski traffic they've been receiving ... and more is on the way this weekend!

A couple of tidbits:

Chadd Cripe's feature story on pond hockey in Ketchum in the Idaho Statesman got a lot of hits when I shared it on my Facebook page. I'm a pond hockey player from way back when in Minnesota. Tuck this one away for future reference in case you might be able to field a team for next year's event! Or you can just reminisce about playing pond hockey!

Lift ticket discount for bus riders at Bogus: If you ride the bus to Bogus, you'll get a $10 discount on your lift ticket. Everyone knows that parking can be a challenge at Bogus, especially on busy days, so if you have the flexibility to ride the bus everyone benefits! Here's more information on bus transportation to Bogus.

River applications are due at the end of January for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Main Salmon River, Selway River and Hells Canyon. Go to to fill out the form and submit your application.

Have a great weekend!
- SS

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Finally, clear cerulean blue sky! Make your own outdoor adventure in the snow!

Powder alert! Soldier Mountain will be reopening Friday after being closed all week!
They couldn't open today (Thursday) because they had too much snow!  
Brundage is hosting a Beer and Gear Festival on Saturday and Sunday
Make your own adventure in the snow ... this is a group of guys skiing
from Deer Point to the city of Boise last week ... 
Huck having fun on Crestline Trail recently 
XC trails at Jug Mountain Ranch ... conditions should be perfect this weekend! 
Hi all,

It's been quite the winter so far, eh? We've got great snow in the mountains, providing plenty of thrills for the powder hounds. And we've got consistent snowpack in the Boise Valley, allowing people to make their own adventure close to home, whether it's sledding, snowshoeing, boot hiking, running, snow biking or cross-country skiing.

I wasn't able to talk about it on the radio last week, but some of you might have seen last week's post about three buddies and I making a big backcountry ski trek from the top of Deer Point lift at Bogus Basin to the city of Boise, ending up at the bottom of the Corrals Trailhead. That adventure would still be doable, but given how the snow in the lower foothills has become encrusted by rain this week, it would be quite the bobsled run down icy trails!

For my outdoor tip this week, I'm making a mixture of recommendations for you to enjoy the snow at a time when the weather has finally cleared after a seemingly nonstop onslaught of precipitation in the last week. It's beautiful to see the cerulean blue sky gleaming in the sunshine once again! Be sure to bundle up and dress in layers ... it's going to be fairly cold this weekend:

  • Here's a powder secret: Soldier Mountain is opening on Friday after being closed all week. They couldn't open today (Thursday) because they had TOO MUCH SNOW! Their lifts and buildings were buried in snow! Soldier will be open through Monday for the MLK holiday. 
  • Brundage Mountain is hosting the Beer and Gear Festival on Saturday and Sunday so skiers can demo new equipment and sample local hand-crafted beers from Salmon River Brewery, Payette Brewing Co., Mad Swede, Mother Earth Brewing and County Line Brewing. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 11-4 on Sunday.  
  • Are you interested in learning how to cross-country ski? Bogus Basin is hosting a lesson series called the Nordic Passport program that offers four lessons -- two class lessons and two skate-ski lessons -- and rental equipment for a package price of $150. The cool bonus about this program is after you complete your lessons, you get a free Nordic season pass for the rest of the season at Bogus Basin. 
  • Go snowshoeing, boot hiking, running, snow biking or cross-country skiing on Boise Foothills trails. After everything froze hard following the rain, however, I have found that boot hiking with solid boots or snowshoeing are more manageable than xc skiing or snow biking. The trails were very soft with 5-6 inches of slush before they froze solid, so the tread on the trails is pretty rough. 
  • Go backcountry skiing or snowshoeing at Mores Creek Summit. The skiing in the upper elevations of Pilot Peak and Sunset Mountain should be fabulous! You just have to climb for your runs! Come prepared with avalanche safety gear and check the local avalanche forecast for the latest conditions. 
  • Go boot hiking or snow biking along the Boise River Greenbelt. The Greenbelt is plowed on a regular basis so it's very passable right now ... however, it can be quite icy in places, so be careful out there!  
  • Go cross-country skiing or fat biking in McCall area. Winter conditions are fabulous in the McCall area and at Jug Mountain Ranch right now. See conditions on McCall Nordic. The warmer temperatures and rain never lasted long in Valley County, so the snow quality is still excellent on the xc ski trails at Bear Basin, Ponderosa State Park and Jug Mountain Ranch. At Jug, you can fat bike all of the xc ski trails. Great fun! 
Have fun out there!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Plenty of snow makes adventure ski tour possible from Bogus Basin to Boise, plus free xc ski day in Idaho

L-R, Mark Utting, Roberto Negron, Mark Anderson and Steve at the conclusion of our big ski tour
from the top of Deer Point to the Corrals Trailhead in the lower Boise Foothills. 
Hi all,

Well, this has been quite the winter so far! We've got more snow on the ground in Boise -- approximately 15 inches or more, depending on where you live -- than any time since records were first kept in 1940, according to the National Weather Service.

My friend and backcountry skiing pal Mark Anderson decided to ski from Bogus Basin to the city of Boise last week in much less snow, and he made it. When he mentioned the idea to me on Monday, I thought, I've always wanted to do that! But in 30 years of living in Boise, it seems the conditions have never been quite right. It rarely stays cold enough in Boise for the snow to stay around that long in the lower Boise Foothills, but this year, it's at least 15-20 inches deep! So I started calling backcountry skiing friends and earmarked Wednesday (yesterday) to do the big tour.

Mark, a computer science lecturer at Boise State University, was able to go with us along with friends Roberto Negron and Mark Utting. We rode the Deer Point ski lift to the top of Deer Point (elevation 7,100 feet), and started the long trek through lots of light, fresh powder snow to Boise.

Our route would take us "down" the Boise Ridge Road to Hard Guy trail, and then down Hard Guy to the Corrals Trailhead. We parked a rig at the bottom of Bob's Trail, hoping we'd have time to ski down the Highlands Trail to finish up the tour, but as things turned out, we made it to Corrals Trailhead at 5:45 p.m., and it was close to getting dark. So we asked our friendly shuttle driver, Molly Negron, to pick us up.

It took us 4.5 hours to make the trek because of all the new snow. Travel distance was about 11.5 miles, but it felt much longer than that. Vertical drop was 4,500 feet. It took us 2.5 hours just to travel along the Boise Ridge Road to Hard Guy trailhead. Three of us used backcountry skis and climbing skins. Mark Utting had a pair of lightweight backcountry skis with fish scales and metal edges, and that worked just fine for him.

Taking off at the gate at the top of Deer Point at Bogus Basin 
The Boise Ridge Road has so many ups and downs that I left my skins on for most of that segment of the trip. There were a couple of downhill pitches where we de-skinned. On the way down Hard Guy, we had to pole or walk in between the steep downhills because of all the new snow. It would go much faster after the trail is packed down by a number of skiers.

But still, the novelty of the whole trip made it totally worthwhile. All of us had scaled the Boise Foothills on our mountain bikes many times, riding up Hard Guy or Corrals-Scotts-8th Street, and it's always a thrill to zoom down Hard Guy or Dry Creek from the ridge road. It usually only takes me about 20 minutes to descend Hard Guy on my bike. Yesterday, it took us almost 2 hours to ski down the trail.

Making our way down Hard Guy ... 
In the steeper sections, we were able to make turns in the soft fluffy snow in the trail corridor, and then poled, pushed and walked to the next hill. We had to put on our skins at the Crane Creek crossing to climb up to Corrals, and we were home free from there, but still had to pole and push with all the new snow.

Roberto's wife, Molly, was our hero yesterday, driving us up to Bogus in snowy road conditions to drop us off, and then picking us up at the end of the day. Thanks Molly!

If you decide you'd like to do the tour, make sure you go with someone who knows the Boise Ridge Road route ... it's a major dirt road in the summer, but right now, it can be hard to follow. After it stops snowing for a few days, it will have more snowmobile or skier tracks on it. We found that it was pretty easy to follow the Hard Guy trail corridor because we know the trail so well from mountain biking on it.
Free cross-country ski day at Idaho State Parks 

On Saturday, Jan. 7th, Idaho State Parks will offer free trail fees, plus demo equipment and hot chocolate at Lake Cascade State Park in Cascade and at Ponderosa State Park. IDPR officials also will lead a snowshoe trip up to the Stargaze yurt on Saturday, starting at 9 p.m. You must provide your own snowshoes and ski poles.

See the IDPR web site for details about free xc ski day. This is a great time for folks to get acquainted with the sport of cross-country skiing and snowshing. Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman wrote a nice article in the last week about what it's like to learn how to xc ski at Bogus Basin.

Have fun out there!
- SS