Thursday, March 24, 2011

Go with the Flow - Enjoy the Spring Snow in Idaho

Hi all,

Well, sometimes you have to go with the flow ... and lately, the weather flow has been decidedly wet, and that means gray, rainy weather at low elevations, and awesome powder at high elevations.

So this week's outdoor tip focuses on enjoying the powder snow in the backcountry or at your favorite ski resort while you still can. Only three weeks left before the resorts plan to close in mid-April. If snow permits, however, some may stay open longer ... Brundage Mountain already is saying it plans to do so.

Lately, the powder days have been stacking up one after another, just like a row of spring storms.

Get this: Brundage reports that it has received 53 inches of snow in the first 20 days of March. “We’ve had some of the best powder days of the entire season in the past few weeks,” says Brundage spokeswoman April Russell.

Sun Valley reported receiving 2 feet of snow last weekend. Tamarack got nailed with similar storms that Brundage received. Bogus Basin got dumped on last weekend, Monday and Tuesday of this week, forcing me to play hooky :)

Some must-do late-season opportunities for skiers and riders:
  • Brundage is offering free skiing for Moms and kids under 17 this Sunday. It also is holding the O-Wimp-Ic Games on Saturday, involving an obstacle course and other goofy stuff. The one I don't want to miss? The Pond Skimming Contest on April 2. I've always wanted to do that.
  • Bogus Basin has a "Shop Wars" freeride event on Saturday, and an "Alley Cat" freeride event on Saturday, April 2. The events are sponsored by KTIK 93.1 FM.
  • Soldier Mountain closes for the season on Saturday. I bet there is a ton of powder to be skied there in the trees.
  • Tamarack is open all week for spring break, and they have some fun events planned, including a Poker Run and a Treasure Hunt. On Saturday, April 2, Tamarack is offering a Vertical Challenge contest. Ski the most verts and get a free season pass for next year. Who's got legs of steel?
  • Watch for great ski-and-stay packages at Sun Valley this time of year. It's an excellent way to save money on lift tickets. There are a slew of spring events planned in Sun Valley, including Hawaiian citizen ski races, comedy, movies and more.
  • The Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas are in great shape for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and skate skiing. Snow pack is deep (60-80 inches above 6,000 feet), and the powder is everywhere. Note: The ski trails were groomed today (March 24) for the last time this winter season.
  • Many ski and snowboard retailers are holding big sales right now, offering discounts of 30-50 percent on big ticket items. It's a great time of year to buy an expensive set of skis or a snowboard that wouldn't be affordable at full price. Same goes for ski coats, pants, gloves, helmets and more. Now is the time to buy!
  • Brundage, Tamarack and Bogus are offering deep discounts on season passes for next year right now. Prices will go up after the ski season ends. Buy 'em now!
There you have it! Have fun on your spring break. If you're going south to the beach, just know that I'll take a few turns in the powder for you - if you soak in some rays for me.

- SS

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Greenbelt bridge in Boise is a winner!

My GPS tracks from riding the loops yesterday. (Click on map to enlarge)

Boise Mayor David Bieter and Garden City Mayor John Evans cut the ribbon

Hi all,

I've been watching the construction of the new Greenbelt bridge near Veterans Memorial Park all winter long, so it was cool to attend the bridge dedication yesterday and finally get a chance to use the bridge!

I shot some video of the mayor's speech and helmet cam video of a new 3-mile Figure 8 loop that one can do thanks to the new bridge (see above).

The new $750,000 bridge -- built with federal stimulus money -- spans the Boise River between Pleasanton Avenue on the Boise side of the river and 36th Street on the Garden City side. It will be a key aspect of the Ray Neef Whitewater Park when that becomes reality in the near future.

I live near Veterans Park (one of Boise's largest parks), so I often go jogging on the Greenbelt between Veterans Memorial Parkway Bridge and the Main Street Bridge near the Double Tree-Riverside Hotel. The loop is 3 miles long from bridge to bridge, but if you start in Veterans Park, it adds about a half-mile to the run. You can lengthen the workout by doing a second loop around Veterans Pond, which is 1.2 miles long.

With the new bridge in place, now walkers, bikers and runners can do a 3-mile Figure 8 loop from the Vets Parkway bridge and Main Street bridges, crossing the river half way to add diversity to the views and the workout.

If you want to add mileage to the workout, you can simply do another lap on one part of the Figure 8 or another. The loop from the new Greenbelt bridge to the Main Street is 1.2 miles long. It's 1.8 miles to go from the Greenbelt Bridge to Vets Parkway bridge and back. Pick your pain or pick your pleasure.

As Boise Mayor David Bieter pointed out yesterday, the new Greenbelt bridge also opens up new commuting possibilities for Garden City and Boise residents. From the Garden City side, it'll be much nicer to take the bridge across the river and ride quiet side streets into downtown or wherever their destination may be vs. taking the Main Street bridge or Vets Park bridge.

The Greenbelt bridge also creates safer routes to schools for Anser Charter School kids and Whittier Elementary School kids. That's big.

For river people, the bridge creates a direct route to Idaho River Sports on Pleasanton for Garden City residents. I saw IRS owners Jo Cassin and Stan Kolby at the dedication yesterday. And it also provides an easier way for Boise residents to reach Maravia and Cascade Outfitters on the Garden City side near 45th Street and the Boise River.

Quinn's Pond, directly adjacent to the bridge, is one of our favorite swimming holes in the summer. The bridge will probably make the pond even MORE popular than before. Oh well.

Anyway, check out the maps and the video, and try out the new loops! Make a note of the location of things, and you'll end up using the bridge for bike commuting around town as well.

If you think back to the construction of our many Greenbelt pedestrian bridges over the last 20+ years, you realize how every single one of them is a treasure. They all add more access and opportunities to our stellar Greenbelt pathway system and become a community asset.

Thanks to the City of Boise and the City of Garden City and President Obama for making this happen!

Have fun!
-- SS

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bike or hike to Wees Bar on the Snake River

Petroglyphs at Wees Bar are believed to be 800 years old. (Courtesy
Canyon view looking down at Swan Falls Dam
Many pairs of golden eagles nest in the Snake River canyon
Map to Wees Bar from the Boise Trail Guide
Hi all,

Well, we're a little stuck in between winter and spring right now, but with temperatures reaching into the mid-50s, the weather is suitable to do a little exploring in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area by Swan Falls.

This week I'm recommending going hiking, biking or running from Swan Falls Dam to Wees Bar, where one can view a variety of cool Native American petroglyphs, on the south side of the Snake River. It's 12.2 miles to Wees Bar from the dam round-trip. The biking trip is detailed in my guide, Mountain Biking Idaho, and the hiking and trail-running trips are detailed in my book, the Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home.

It's not clear how wet it's going to be this weekend, so the trails to Wees Bar may be relatively dry or they may be a bit wet. The area around Swan Falls is typically quite dry, compared to most other areas in SW Idaho at this time of year, so it could be a good bet.

When you're on the way to Swan Falls or you're on the trail, be sure to watch for birds of prey activity. About 800 pairs of hawks, eagles, falcons and hawks nest in the birds of prey area. Bring a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. Springtime is mating season. That means you can see the birds flying together in courtship. The aerial maneuvers can be quite impressive. Some birds nest in the cliffs, so you can check out nesting areas as well. Watch for large blotches of white in the rocks for bird nests or perching activity.

Here's a video about raptors in the the birds of prey area.

To reach Swan Falls Dam, take Interstate 84 to the Meridian Road Exit. Go south on Meridian Road to Kuna. In Kuna, follow the signs to the birds of prey area. You'll turn left on a paved road going dead south to the Snake River canyon rim. The BLM has a nice road-side stop with a rest room where you can hike out to the rim and watch for soaring birds of prey and enjoy a major view of the canyon. That's worth a stop.

Here's an overview map of the roads in the area.

Proceed on the paved road to Swan Falls Dam. It's a nice place for a picnic if nothing else.

To reach the trail to Wees Bar, cross the river on the dam walkway, and pick up a dirt singletrack trail to the left, heading upstream. Turn right at the first fork and follow the two-track uphill for a short distance. At mile .9, turn right on a two-track, and then at mile 1.1, turn right again to follow the main two-track that runs alongside the Snake River to Wees Bar.

At mile 3.2, you'll pass by an old ranch site. At mile 4.5, the trail bends to the left to climb around a small butte. Pass through a narrow slot in a gate and keep heading west. At mile 6, the trail becomes braided and many large boulders appear in the flood plain area called Wees Bar. Look around for the petroglyphs (ancient Native American inscriptions) on the rock.

Take a break, watch for birds of prey in the cliffs above, and retrace your tracks to the trailhead and Swan Falls Dam.

If the trail to Wees Bar seems too wet, you can bike or hike along the dirt road on the north side of the river, or drive it with a 4WD until you're ready to get out and walk and look around. There are a number of places where you can can car-camp along this road.

When the weather warms up, it's also possible to kayak, canoe or raft the Snake River down to Celebration Park. It's about 10 miles to do that float trip, and a 12-mile vehicle shuttle.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Time to dust off the road bike and explore some of Boise's road biking loops

Hi all,

Well, here we are in the beginning of March, the tulips are beginning to sprout in my front yard, the days are getting longer, and the roads around Boise are free of snow and ready to ride.

It might be wet or a bit chilly in the next several weeks, and it might even hail or snow on a given day. But if you dress for it, now is a great time to dust off the road bike and start getting your legs in shape for a great summer of biking. Plus, the city is begging people to stay off the dirt trails in the foothills, so there's another reason to jump on the road bike. Give the foothills a break, put the hammer down and see how your legs feel.

I just re-printed the Boise Road Cycling Guide after the first edition sold out after Christmas. I'm excited about it because Northwest Printing in Meridian had a line on some cool printing stock that is made out of rock powder. The maps are still waterproof, tear-proof and, with this stock, they won't fade from sunlight or whatever. The maps are chlorine-free and take zero water to produce. That's a real plus for a printed product.

The guides cost $12.50. They've available in all of the bike shops in the valley, including REI. I don't want to toot my horn too much but the two-sided map with 30 rides valley-wide is the only road biking guide in the Boise area. Here what Mark Solon of Boise said about the guide. "It's my bible for road biking in the Boise area."

In this blog, I'm recommending four particular road biking rides to get your legs warmed up, starting with a couple of easy rides and working up from there. All of them are less than 30 miles. The road cycling guide has more than 30 rides overall, and almost all of them, with the exception of the Ride to Bogus, are snow-free.

1. Municipal Park to Barber Park Loop - Rated easy. 10 miles. Ride time: 1 hour.

Start from Municipal Park in east Boise, near Idaho Fish and Game headquarters on Walnut Street. Go east on the Greenbelt 4.2 miles. Turn right and take the path to Barber Park. Follow the paved path to the left of the park entrance and follow that through a number of neighborhoods for several miles. Ride on the detached pathway along ParkCenter Blvd., turn right on River Run Driver, follow the bike lane to the paved Greenbelt access and ride to Broadway bridge. Cross the river at Broadway, turn right, and return to Municipal Park.

2. Municipal Park to Discovery Park (foot of Lucky Peak Dam) - Rated easy to moderate. 9 miles one-way, 18 miles round-trip. Ride time: 1 to 1.5 hours.
Start from Municipal Park near Warm Springs and Walnut. Go east on the Greenbelt 9 miles to Discovery Park. It's slightly uphill - 140 feet of gain. But wind will be a much bigger factor on the ride. In the winter, you may ride into the teeth of an east wind on the way out, and zoom back with a tail-wind. In the summer, it's the reverse. Take a breather at the park; do some stretching, have a snack, drink some water, and ride back to Municipal Park.

3. Municipal Park to Hilltop Summit and back - Rated strenuous. 27 miles round-trip. Ride time: 2.5 hours at a recreation pace.

Now is a good time to ride to Hilltop because the traffic isn't nearly as heavy as it is in the summer. Watch for mule deer and elk. Start from Municipal Park near Warm Springs and Walnut. Go east on the Greenbelt 9 miles to Discovery Park. Jump on Idaho Highway 21 and climb the grade to the top of Lucky Peak, and keep going to Hilltop Summit. It's an additional 4.5 miles from Discovery Park to Hilltop. Don's Kodiak Grill is at the summit if you want to stop for a beverage or something to eat.

4. Boise Bench Airport Tour - Rated moderate. 21.2 miles. Ride time: 2 hours.

This is a good tour of the upper Boise Bench. It can get really windy out on Gowen Road so be ready for that. Start at Municipal Park near Warm Springs and Walnut. Go east on the Greenbelt 6.7 miles and turn right on the Idaho 21 connector to Gowen Road. There is a good shoulder. At the junction, with Gowen Road at mile 10, go straight and beeline to Orchard. Enjoy the tour of the National Guard facilities and the Boise Airport. At mile 14.3, go right on Orchard. Go three miles and turn right on Kootenai, a leafy neighborhood on the bench. At mile 19, go straight on Protest, drop down the hill, follow Beacon over to Broadway. Turn left on Broadway, cross the river, and take the Greenbelt back to Municipal Park.

- SS