Thursday, February 3, 2011

Backcountry skiing by the new Stargaze Yurt plus hot springs and elk = all-Idaho day

Elk grazing on winter range (courtesy NPS);
Kirkham Hot Springs, below (courtesy Sunset mag)

Hi all,

Last Sunday, Wendy and I and our friend Amy Haak wanted to find some fresh powder in the mountains, even though it hasn't snowed significantly for weeks. So we went up to the Stargaze Yurt area in the Idaho Park n' Ski system to check out the skiing terrain. We've got the yurt rented in the first weekend of March, so we wanted to pre-scout the area.

It was well worth the trip! Here's a video from our outing. Note how Wendy practically skis over the videographer (me)!

From the looks of the topo map, there appeared to be some nice, long north slopes that take off from the top of Stargaze Point, just a few hundred yards from the yurt. As things turned out, the northeast slopes were filled with sugary nice *pow*, so that's where we skied. The north slopes were too crusty.

We also saw quite a few folks who were up there to go snowshoeing for the day. The Stargaze area has lots of potential for snowshoeing. The terrain is moderate - not very steep - so you can pretty much go wherever you want, especially on a clear day. A 3-mile loop trail has been created by users, so you can try to find that or just go out and back to the yurt.

The trail to Stargaze Yurt climbs at a very moderate pace for 1.3 miles to the yurt. It features about 500 vertical feet of gain. It took us less than an hour to get there. We had lunch on the deck of the yurt and enjoyed the 360-degree view of the Boise National Forest and the western edge of the Sawtooth Mountains. Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation officials found a perfect spot for the yurt. Thanks Leo!

Everyone was all smiles on Sunday. We were thrilled to be out of the guk (foggy gray inversion) in Boise, and it was a pleasant surprise to be blessed with a full day of warm sunshine. We were really skeptical that we'd find virgin snow to ski, but we were pleasantly surprised.

We took two runs on the northeast slope of Stargaze Point in the afternoon and shot some video. There is a groomed snowmobile trail at the bottom of the ski slopes, so we followed that around to the ridge, and climbed back to the Stargaze Trail for a second run.

Since the trailhead to Stargaze Yurt is just short of Beaver Creek Summit, we decided to head down ID 21 to Lowman, and go to Kirkham Hot Springs, which is about 8 miles east of Lowman next to the highway. Kirkham has dependable hot water pools even in the cold of winter. You just never know how many people will be there. Because the springs are so close to the highway, swimsuits are recommended.

Once in the hot springs pools, we kicked back and relaxed while watching elk graze on the opposite mountainside, their brown butts and thick winter coats reflecting in the full sun.

To me, a day of skiing sweet powder in the sunshine, topped off with a hot springs soak and elk-watching adds up to an all-Idaho day.
- SS


Ryan said...

Very nice post. I found your blog today through OBN. I like it. In fact I will hit the "follow" button right now. =)

The Average Joe Fisherman

Steve Stuebner said...

Thx, Ryan, I'll look up your blog as well! Have a great day.