Thursday, January 30, 2014

Please! Stay off muddy trails this weekend! Go higher people - to frozen trails or ski trails!

Nuf said! 
Hi all,

Officials with Boise's Ridge to Rivers trail system are pleading with dog-walkers, hikers, runners and bikers to stay off the lower trails in the Boise Foothills. They've been putting out messages daily on their Facebook page and trail blog. But some people aren't getting the message.

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So they've put up chains across some trailheads to get people to stop and take notice of the sign: "Don't Use Muddy Trails!" The damage is continuing to occur.

Starting today, temperatures will be warming up into the 40s in the afternoons, so the trails are bound to be slurpy. "The Table Rock trails are a mess, and the Military Reserve trails are a mess," said David Gordon, Ridge to Rivers Trail Coordinator. "This is a time when our trails really suffer."

The key is to get out early in the day when the trails are frozen, or just head for higher-elevation trails that are more likely to be snow-covered or frozen. Last weekend, I hiked with some friends on the Orchard Gulch Trail (accessed via Rocky Canyon Road) almost to the ridge road, and it was snow- and ice-covered the whole way. We finally broke out of the inversion 500 feet below tree line.

Other alternatives include Rocky Canyon Road itself, the Boise Greenbelt and Eagle Greenbelt.

Even better, I heartily recommend heading into the mountains this weekend to enjoy fresh snow and winter fun:
Winter Carnival in McCall! Hunt Lodge won the grand prize with "Pharaoh's Tomb"  
Inside the "Pharaoh's Tomb"

  • Head to McCall for the second weekend of the Winter Carnival and ski Brundage or Tamarack. It's Diva Day at Brundage on Saturday, with $25 lift tickets (that's less than 1/2 price) for women 18 and up. If you want to ski Sunday, too, show them your Diva Day lift pass from Saturday, and you'll get the same price. Brundage had 10 inches of new *pow* as of this morning, and Tamarack reported 5 inches of new. I wish I were in McCall today!
  • Events at the Winter Carnival this weekend include: Fireworks over Payette Lake and closing ceremonies Saturday night, ice skating entertainment, snowshoe golf and snow sculptures. The Hunt Lodge Holiday Inn Express won the grand prize ice sculpture and Salmon River Brewery took first place.  

The Salmon River Brewery took 1st Place with "Crystal Eye's Bar".
You've got to try their beer and food, it's all awesome. 

  • The Sun Valley Nordic Festival culminates with the 32-kilometer Boulder Mountain Tour race from Galena Lodge to Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters on Saturday. Hundreds of skiers participate, it's a big event. There's also a big fund-raiser going on Saturday night for the Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center along with movies from the Banff Mountain Film Festival. 
  • The Idaho City Park n' Ski areas got a fresh douse of snow this week -- approximately 5-6 inches in the higher elevations near Banner Summit and Mores Creek Summit. Trails are being groomed today and Friday, so the whole trail system should be freshly groomed by Saturday. Be sure to pick up a Park n' Ski parking pass at the Sinclair station in Idaho City on your way up there.  
Get out of town, it'll be great! 

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wow, Fat Bikes Rock! Try riding at Jug Mountain Ranch, frozen foothills trails, Park n' Ski Trails

Dave Williams cranks it up in last year's Snowy 45 relay race.
From left, Bryan Powell, Dean Cromwell, Rich McChrystal, Scott Reagan, Gregg Lawley
and Ryan Andrus at Jug Mountain Reservoir near Lake Fork.
Hi all,

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've probably noticed that Fat Bikes are becoming all the rage as a unique and robust human-powered vehicle for winter and summer recreation. I decided to rent an XL Salsa Mukluk 3 from Meridian Cycle last weekend, and I met up with a bunch of guys from McCall and Boise at Jug Mountain Ranch (JMR) to try it out.

I had so much fun on the ride that now I want a fat bike of my own! Ha! Imagine that.

Gregg Lawley of McCall, who runs the groomer and Nordic Center at JMR, is allowing both fat bikes and dogs to run free on their cross-country ski trails. They've got 15K's open for fat biking and skiing. Trail fees are $10 per day. It's an awesome place to ride!

We only touched a portion of the trails as we rode up some singletrack and xc ski trails up to to Jug Mountain Reservoir, made a loop around the lake on a groomed ski trail, and then flew downhill on xc trails to the Landing, and then rode singletrack trails through the woods to more xc trails in the bottom of the valley, and circled back to the Nordic Center, where we started. It was about a 10-mile ride, and everyone was grinning ear to ear. What a blast!

"That was the most fun I've had in a long time," Lawley said.

All of the xc trails at JMR were packed nice and hard by Lawley's groomer, so it didn't seem like we were making any impact on the xc ski trails. I could barely see any of the tracks from the faster rides who were ahead of me. I had no problem getting traction on the way up or the way down. If it had been warmer (above freezing) and the trails were soft, then I'm sure it would have been a different story. We started the ride in the morning to make sure things were firm.

All of the McCall guys we rode with had fat bikes of their own. "It's been a blessing this year because of the horrible ski season so far," said Scott Reagan, one of the McCall riders. They've been riding at JMR frequently, and they ride on local snowmobile trails and snowshoe trails as well.
Riding fat bikes is a blast! 
They're all training for the Snowy 45, a super-fun fat bike relay race at JMR on March 2 this year. They held the event for the first time last year, and "everyone had so much damn fun we decided we've got to do it again," Lawley says. Entries are open for this year's race. Each team needs to pull together 4 riders for the relay race. Plus, costumes are encouraged, there will be music and beer and the whole deal.

Reagan said he and his wife, Michelle, got intrigued by fat bikes when they saw they were catching on in the Teton Valley, and as the owners of Gravity Sports in McCall, they thought they'd pick up a few bikes for rentals and sell them as well. They've proved to be quite popular. "We decided to get them initially to bridge the shoulder seasons in McCall," he said. "But as time has gone on, we've used them a lot more than we thought we would."

In the Boise Valley, Meridian Cycles has been renting the bikes for more than a year, and offering rentals of several sizes and models as well. "We can't keep them in stock," said Paul McKenna, shop owner. "We've been going through like three of them in a week. It's pretty amazing."

Word is that even the manufacturers can't keep up with demand. I made a quick survey of the Boise-area bike shops and at this point, Meridian Cycles and Idaho Mountain Touring have bikes for rent, and the other shops like George's, World Cycle, Bob's Bicycles and Ken's Bicycle Warehouse are trying to get more fat bikes on hand for sales, but they don't have any for rent.

So if you are heading up to McCall for the wonderful Winter Carnival this weekend, and you want to go fat biking, you might reserve the lone rental model at JMR in advance (call Gregg Lawley at 208-315-0575), reserve one at Gravity Sports (208-634-8530), or rent one from Meridian Cycles or IMT and take it with you.

In McCall, the city has plowed the golf cart paths on the city golf course, so you can cruise around all over the golf course on a fat bike. I did that on Saturday before I went skate skiing at Bear Basin.
Getting ready to ride at Jug Mountain Ranch Nordic Center. 
Where else can you ride? You could ride Boise foothills trails when they're frozen, and another cool option is that the Idaho City Park n' Ski Area groomed xc trails and snowshoe trails are available for fat biking, according to Leo Hennessy of Idaho Parks & Recreation.  "I'm open-minded about it, and I've been encouraging it," he said. "Conditions are pretty ripe for it right now in the morning when things are frozen."

"But people should stay off the trails if they're getting soft and you're putting a big groove in the trail with your tires."

If you ride on the Park n' Ski trails, use common sense. Don't ride on top of the set classic track and upset the xc skiers. Probably the best place to ride will be on the side of the xc trails opposite of the set track, Hennessy said. "The middle of the trail will probably be the softest area."

The McCall guys are riding on groomed snowmobile trails, but apparently, local snowmobile clubs around the state have different policies about whether fat bikes are allowed on snowmobile trails. Check with them first to be on the safe side. It wouldn't hurt to give them a contribution to the grooming fund or buy a snowmobile registration sticker and put it on your fat bike.

BTW, if you want to buy a fat bike, they run from $1,200 to $2,500, depending on models, construction and components.

Have fun!
- SS

Steve talks about his weekly outdoor tips on The River 94.9 FM each Friday morning at about 7:35 a.m. with Ken Bass and Misty Taylor. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What does your Idaho bucket list look like? Try Boise State Public Radio's Idaho 75 for starters

Hi all,

I ran across this great blog by Emilie Ritter Saunders this week on the Boise State Public Radio web site. It talked about how Idaho is huge, topsy turvy, quirky and wonderful, and in the spirit of looking ahead to great trips in 2014, they came up with an Idaho 75 bucket list. It's got a lot of outdoorsy things in it, and some foodie things, too, so I thought it'd share it with you.

I went through the list, and checked off the items that I've done. Out of the 75, I checked off 57 items that I've done once or multiple times. But their list got me thinking of other things I'd add to the list, and I bet you've got some other things you'd add, too. Consider it a creative incentive to do some trip-planning!

Before I show you the list, I wanted to remind folks of two things you should do before the end of January:

  1. River trips! Pick dates for spring/summer river trips and get your applications submitted by Jan. 31. This is for getting permits to float the Main Salmon, Middle Fork Salmon, Selway River and Hells Canyon of the Snake. Go to to apply to reserve trip dates. 
  2. Make reservations for your favorite camp site, cabin or fire lookout before they all get taken. Go to to reserve federal camp sites, cabins and lookouts. Go to the Idaho State Parks web site to reserve their camp sites, cabins or yurts.   
Now, here's Boise State Public Radio's Idaho Bucket List: 

The 75 Things All Idahoans Should Try (At Least Once):

Taft Tunnel on the Route of the Hiawatha. Big, long, dark tunnel - quite unique.  
75. Bike the Hiawatha Trail.
74. Have a picnic at Shoshone Falls on the Snake River near Twin Falls.
73. Swim in Idaho’s deepest lake, Pend Oreille. It's measured at 1,170 feet and is one of North America’s deepest lakes.

72. Stand directly under the Idaho Capitol dome and snap a photo.
71. Pick fruit at an Emmett orchard.
Please visit the Boise State Public Radio web site to see the rest of their list ...

After pondering the Boise State Radio bucket list for a moment, tell me what you would add? What are the truly special things about Idaho's outdoors that you'd add to the list? 
Here are a few that came immediately to my mind ... 
1. Camp under the stars in the Owyhee Canyonlands - miles upon miles away from any artificial light. It is absolutely amazing.
2. Eat a piece of pie a la mode at Manley's Cafe. Sorry, they closed a long time ago, but the food portions there were truly legendary. Pure decadence. 
Mesa Falls 
3. Visit Mesa Falls on the Henrys Fork. The water plunges more than 110 feet. 
4. Find your own private Idaho at a natural hot springs in your birthday suit.
5. Go hut-to-hut skiing or snowshoeing. A group of lively friends in a mountain-top yurt can be one heck of a fun party. 
6. Ski in a torchlight parade. 
7. Ride a century on a road bike. Lots of options in Idaho for a gorgeous tour.  
8. Ride from Boise to Garden Valley on a mountain bike. 
9. Catch a wild steelhead on the Salmon, Clearwater or Snake river. 
10. Walk the length of the Sawtooth Range.
11. Walk across the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. 
Roger Williams and Syd Tate on the Idaho Centennial Trail, Bruneau desert 
12. Hike the length of Idaho on the Idaho Centennial Trail or do it with a mix of different modes of travel ... whatever you like to do! 
13. Climb Borah, Idaho's highest peak. 
14. Hike to the summit of all nine 12,000-foot peaks in Idaho. 
15. Try to bag 50 10,000-footers in Idaho - several people have done it. 
16. Kayak or raft the Middle Fork, Selway or Hells Canyon  
17. Do multiple outdoor activities in a single spring day - Ski, kayak, tennis, fly fishing, golf, etc.
18. Visit the Bruneau River Overlook. 
Bruneau River canyon 
19. Float the Jarbidge/Bruneau River. 
20. Ski the Boulder Mountain Tour - 30K from Galena Lodge to Sawtooth NRA headquarters. 
21. Fly over the sea of mountains (the Sawtooths and "the Frank" in Central Idaho) in a Cessna at 11,000 feet.
22. Float the Owyhee River. 
23. Experience the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. 
24. Ride the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.
25. Do an epic mountain bike ride in the White Cloud Mountains.
26. Ski Baldy top to bottom non-stop. 
27. Go cat skiing at Brundage.
28. Go backcountry skiing by Mores Creek Summit and carve up fields of luscious powder all day long.
29. Experience the Lewis & Clark Trail on the Lolo Motorway #500 road.  
30. Go morel hunting in McCall and eat fresh morels on a rib eye steak for dinner. 
What else? Tell me about your list! 
- SS 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hi Ho! Go play in the snow! Latest storms create lots of fun for xc skiing, snowshoeing and more!

Fresh pow! 
Time to find fresh tracks this weekend. Be safe out there! 
Hi all,

The slow start to winter this year has certainly tried my patience, and I'm sure you feel the same way. But finally, we got a great dose of snow in the last few days, with more on the way, so it's time to get out and play in the snow!

The kids already get that as they've been making snowmen and sledding in the foothills. But finally, there's enough snow in the mountains to enjoy xc skiing, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing and alpine skiing.

Leo Hennessy of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation tells me the Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas got hit with 14 inches of new snow in the last two days! Finally, they'll be able to groom more than 35K's of trails in the area. Leo said they'll be grooming through the weekend to make sure they get all of the trails smoothed out and ready to xc ski or snowshoe.

But this means that all of the key Park n' Ski Areas, including Gold Fork, Skyline Loop, Banner Ridge Loop, Whoop 'em Up and the trails leading up to Stargaze Yurt are all ready and poised for you to enjoy.
Getting read to skin up to Stargaze Yurt 
Getting there: Go east of Boise on Idaho 21 to Idaho City. Stop at the Sinclair gas station in Idaho City to pick up a Park n' Ski pass (either daily or season passes are available). A three-day pass costs $7.50 and a season pass costs $25. Pretty cheap, and the parking passes pay for the grooming operations, so it's a good cause.

Mores Creek Summit received another 5 inches of snow in the last 24 hours. And there's more on the way. So Pilot Peak, Sunset Mountain and Freeman Peak should all be great skiing. That's where I'm going to go! Be safe, dig a pit and check on avalanche conditions before you ski down.

High winds coming Saturday afternoon: I'd get out and play in the snow today and early tomorrow, because Saturday afternoon, high winds are moving in from the West Coast, and that may create white-out conditions and severe avalanche issues.


The lucky ducks who have the yurts booked this weekend are going to have a blast! 
In the Idaho Statesman Outdoors section on Thursday, I read the following snow forecasts coming up for the greater SW area through the weekend:

Sock it to us, I say to the great Ullr, the snow Norwegian snow god. Bring it on! 

New snow also provides a fresh base on the xc ski trails in McCall and the Wood River Valley. 

McCall Nordic reported 4 inches of new snow today. All of the trails at Ponderosa State Park, Bear Basin and Jug Mountain Ranch have been freshly groomed for you to enjoy. If you're going to be in McCall, the xc skiing should be sweet! 

In the Wood River Valley, the Blaine County Recreation District reports improved conditions with fresh snow. The entire Harriman Trail is being groomed from Galena Lodge to Sawtooth NRA headquarters. Prairie Creek is open. Most of the lower valley trails are still closed. Alturas Lake xc trails are groomed and ready to go, too ... wouldn't that be a nice place to go!

Have fun out there! Hope you get some fresh tracks!
- SS