Thursday, January 28, 2016

Great lineup of wild and wacky activities at the McCall Winter Festival in 2016

This was the grand prize in a recent Winter Carnival. Pharoah's Tomb. 
Love this snow sculpture 
Marti Gras Parade ... People in McCall know how to have fun! 
Hi all, 

The McCall Winter Carnival kicks off tomorrow, and the weather forecast is calling for lots of snow this weekend! Perfect! If the forecast holds true, 10-20 inches of snow could fall in the higher elevations tonight, Friday and Saturday. That'll make things feel just right for the Winter Carnival, which runs for the next 10 days in downtown McCall. 

Even if you don't have any lodging lined up for the weekend, it's worth going up to the Winter Carnival as a day trip, especially on Saturday to watch the Marti Gras parade (noon - 1:30 p.m.), view the spectacular ice sculptures (theme is "Beyond Tomorrow"), and work in an activity such as ice skating, snow golf, alpine skiing at Brundage, xc skiing or snowshoeing at Bear Basin or Ponderosa State Park, and much much more. 

Activity Barn tubing hill is great for the whole family. 
Check out the activity schedule -- there's also a fat bike race this weekend, monster dog pull at 11 a.m. Sunday (any dog can enter), great food specials at various restaurants, food vendors on the street, live music, beer garden, and tubing at the Activity Barn. Or, maybe you've been growing a beard to enter in the longest beard contest or you're a woman who's neglected the razor to compete in the hairy legs contest.

I saw that there's a shuttle bus running from Eagle to McCall for $43. 

Quite simply, there's nothing else like the Winter Carnival in Idaho or the Pacific Northwest for that matter. Many thanks to the residents of McCall and the McCall Chamber of Commerce for always putting on a great show! 
Drew and Huck on the Salmon River 
Speaking of snow, I'm already thinking about running rivers next summer. In case you didn't realize it, the deadline for submitting private party permits for running the Selway, Middle Fork of the Salmon, main Salmon River - River of No Return, and Hells Canyon is Jan. 31st. It's called the "Four Rivers Lottery." See for details on applying. It only costs $6 per application. 

Snowpack looks favorable for a great whitewater season! 
If you are lucky enough to draw a permit, you will be a very special friend to every whitewater boater who knows you, and you can leverage that to invite your friends or loved ones on a trip of a lifetime on any of those four rivers. Good luck! 

Friday also marks the beginning of the Sun Valley Nordic Festival in Ketchum/Sun Valley. They have a lot of fun stuff lined up for that week-long event, leading up to the 30K Boulder Mountain    
Tour on Saturday, Feb. 6th. They've got curling, Dutch oven cooking and skate skiing clinics lined up in Stanley on Feb. 1st, the Banff Film Festival is running on Sunday, Jan. 31st, there's a fat bike race nearly every day. 

Enjoy the snow! 
- SS 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

It's always fun to visit Stargaze Yurt, a perfect place to go skiing, sledding with the kids

Quinn at the Stargaze Summit 
Look at all the snow! 

Hardly a human print anywhere after all that new snow! 

Beaver Creek Summit is next to the trailhead 
Almost there ... Stargaze is on top of the mountain directly ahead. 
Hi all,

I went up to Stargaze Yurt last Monday on MLK day with my 18-year-old son Quinn and Wendy. Quinn plays on two hockey teams, Boise High and the Boise Hawks AA U-18 Midget travel team, so it's always challenging to find a free day with that lad when he doesn't have practice, dry-land training, games or tournaments.

Here's my radio segment about this trip on 94.9 The River (9:15 a.m. on Fridays). 

The backcountry around Stargaze Yurt, located 1.2 miles from Idaho 21 at Beaver Creek Summit between Idaho City and Lowman, is a perfect place for playing in the snow, whether you want to take your kids sledding, snowshoeing, xc skiing or backcountry skiing. It's got some rolling terrain near the highway, and steeper slopes directly below the yurt and on a north- and east-facing mountain next to the yurt.

The best part about this area is the accessibility. It takes 1.5+ hours to reach the trailhead from Boise. But once you're there, you park next to the highway, and within an hour, you're on top of the mountain, ready to ski down. Or you can take the kids sledding. Or you can cruise around on snowshoes and make your own adventure.

This is why we took all four of our kids up there about 4 years ago over a long weekend, and we had the yurt booked for the duration. That's definitely the optimum way to go, but as everyone knows, the yurt is popular and hard to book. Check the calendar here.

On Monday, we had a bluebird day after finally driving out of the fog in Idaho City. That was half the reason we wanted to go to the mountains -- to get out of the gray foggy crud layer hanging over Boise for much of last week. We were greeted by warm sunshine at Beaver Creek Summit. What a pleasant afternoon of skiing!

There was a ton of new snow at the trailhead -- at least a foot of new had snowed-in the cars in the pull-out. Fortunately, some snowshoers had broken the trail up to the saddle next to the yurt, making our climb much easier than it could have been. We met some folks staying at Stargaze; they said it snowed 8 inches overnight. Plus in the previous week, it had snowed at least several feet. I poked my pole into the snow about 2-2.5 feet before I hit the next layer. It was pretty much bottomless snow. I was excited to take some turns.

We skied up to the yurt and took off directly below. The deep snow was pretty thick ... but it was still great to cruise through virgin snow to the bottom of the slope. My Solomon Guns cruise on the surface nicely. Skinning back uphill for a second run was very taxing because of the thick snow, but we had Quinn to break trail! Perfect!

The people staying at the hut had some extra PBR's when we got back on top. How sweet to hang out at that beautiful perch looking over at the Sawtooths while munching a sandwich and sipping a beer. Our new friends had a big bunch of kids with them who were sledding up and down a slope next to the yurt. Love it!

Anyway, I highly recommend visiting the Stargaze yurt area for a day trip or overnight experience. Once you've been there, I promise you, you'll go back.

Reminder: A couple of big winter events are coming up ...

  • The McCall Winter Carnival starts next weekend, Jan. 29 and runs through Feb. 7. I've heard that lodging is filling up fast. Check with InIdaho about getting a cabin or a condo reserved. 
  • The Boulder Mountain Tour, a 34K event from Galena Lodge to the Sawtooth NRA headquarters, is Feb. 6th. 
  • The Hagerman Bird Festival is coming up on Feb. 12-14. It's a perfect event to learn how to identify birds or expand your birding knowledge.   \
Have fun!
- SS 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Winter birding is a fun activity; Hagerman Bird Festival offers opportunities to learn

Great blue heron along the Boise River (courtesy Ken Miracle)
Juvenile bald eagle on the Boise River (courtesy Ken Miracle)
Merganser on the Boise River (Courtesy Ken Miracle)
Kingfisher (Courtesy Ken Miracle)
Hi all,

To me, it's always a treat to see birds and wildlife as part of an outdoor recreation outing. But every once in a while, I like to make seeing birds or wildlife the central focus of an outdoor adventure. One of my favorite winter bird walks in Boise is along the Boise River, particularly when it's colder outside, with temperatures below freezing. My main objective is to see bald eagles perching on the top of cottonwood trees. But you'll also see a variety of ducks, geese, kingfishers, herons and songbirds. The variety of ducks can be pretty darn cool. I especially like to see the colorful wood ducks.  

About 15-20 bald eagles typically winter along the Boise River urban corridor, between Lucky Peak and Eagle. If you're lucky, you'll see an eagle swoop down to the river to catch a trout or whitefish breakfast with its talons. And that's a beautiful thing to behold. Nature in action.

This week, my outdoor tip is to take a moment to look for birds and learn about them. Consider starting a bird list! According to an article in Audubon, all you need is a pair of binoculars and a basic field guide to birds to get started in birding. I've recently learned about another way you could get into birding -- attend the Hagerman Bird Festival, Feb. 12-14. The Festival provides guided outings to see particular types of birds, such as night walks to see owls and boat tours to see waterfowl on the Snake River. I wrote about the festival for Southern Idaho Tourism, and I thought my readers on Stueby's Outdoor Journal would want to know about it, too.
Mallard ducks on the Snake River (Courtesy SITA)
Here's my blog post:

Maybe you've been wanting to become a "birder" -- a person who goes out to look at birds, learns how to identify them and keeps a list -- or perhaps participate in a bird-watching outing and see if you like it.

The upcoming Hagerman Birding Festival, scheduled for Feb. 12-14, is a perfect event to learn how to get started. Pre-registration is open for the event, which is limited to the first 150 people who sign up. There are classroom sessions where you learn how to identify different kinds of birds and field trips with birding experts. That's where the rubber hits the road. The multiday event costs $80 for adults and $25 for children 16 and younger,  including food and field trips.

Inspiration. Usually, a person's interest in birding is started by an inspirational moment. For me, it was watching bald eagles swoop down and catch crimson kokanee in West Glacier, Montana. Even since then, I've always been interested in birds of prey in particular. I must have taken 300 photos of eagles catching fish on that snowy day in December.

We learn in the Twin Falls Times-News  that Burley High School senior Joseph DeTemple is a budding birder after earning a Boy Scout merit badge through identifying eight species of birds. He's working with veteran birder Wallace Keck, superintendent of City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park, to learn about birding. DeTemple already has identified more than 130 species. He's off and running!

Sharp-shinned hawk at the City of Rocks
(Courtesy Wallace Keck)
Keck, whose life list hovers near 460 species, was inspired by taking an ornithology class in college at Arkansas State University. Campus was near a number of mountains and rivers that made birding fun and exciting for Keck, who frequently blogs about his birding adventures. Keck recently blogged about "The Big Year" in which he hopes to add more species to his life list and surpass 500 species.

So how about making 2016 a year in which you start birding? The greater Southern Idaho region is a wonderful place to see birds -- from lots of waterfowl, bald eagles, and great blue herons in the Hagerman area along the Snake River, to more waterfowl at Lake Walcott State Park and Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge, songbirds at City of Rocks National Reserve and a variety of species at The Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve near Picabo. With every stop, you'll pick up more species. 

At City of Rocks, you can see a variety of songbirds such as pinyon jays and scrub jays and a variety of other birds surrounding the feeders they have at the Visitor Center, plus Keck photographed a beautiful Cooper's hawk perched in a tree nearby, looking for a morning meal.

Christine Gertschen, the organizer of the Hagerman Bird Festival this year, lives in Hagerman and enjoys seeing all the birds in that area. "The birds come here because of the open water on the Snake River," she says. "Last night, I was watching a pair of great-horned owls. Birding is just crazy around here in the winter ... it's definitely a hot spot."

How to get started?
According to an article in Audubon, all you need is a pair of binoculars and a basic field guide to birds. Perhaps a small pocket notebook would be handy for noting species. My partner Wendy Wilson is an expert birder, and she likes to use the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America for identifying birds. That guide is very well-done and very detailed. But there are quite a few available.

Audubon suggests thinking about a particular species that you'd like to identify, and then go out and find it. The Hagerman Birding Festival would be a perfect way to learn how to get started birding from the experts and go out in the field and start your own bird list.

To sign up for the festival, 
visit For more information, call 208-352-3175 or email See you at the festival!

If you plan to be visiting from out of town, look for lodging deals here at the Southern Idaho Tourism web site.

Another resource for learning about birds is to join the Idaho Birding Facebook page. You'll see a lot of birders and photographers posting close up and spectacular bird pics on the page. And you can learn tips about identifying a particular species.

Enjoy the birds!
- SS

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Free xc ski, snowshoe day a fantastic opportunity to learn outdoor winter sports

This all happens on Saturday at Ponderosa Park, Lake Cascade State Park,
and the Idaho City Park n' Ski areas in SW Idaho! Just do it! 
Wendy skate skiing at Ponderosa State Park. Did you notice that she's smiling!  
Free xc ski day at Lake Cascade State Park in Cascade 
Fetching views of Payette Lake from the trail leading to Osprey Point
My autistic son Drew loves to snowshoe. He's been doing it since he was 10.
Here, we're doing the Meadow Loop in Ponderosa Park.  
Hi all,

After many snow storms in December and early January, the mountains are chock-full of snow and just about any winter activity that you'd like to do is now in prime-time mode for snow play!

On Saturday, all of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation Nordic cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snow-biking destinations are open free of charge in hopes of luring folks to the mountains to try xc skiing and snowshoeing and playing in the snow.

I highly recommend that you go for it. It's great exercise after the holiday season, and the weather looks favorable on Saturday with temperatures in the mid-20s and maybe a little light snow. Anyone who can walk, can snowshoe. Cross-country skiing is a little more challenging, but once you learn how to balance and glide, it's a real joy.

If you go to Lake Cascade State Park in Cascade or Ponderosa State Park in McCall, they've got free gear for people to use along with free lessons (xc skiing or skate skiing). And the trail fees are waived, too! How can you beat that! Free food and hot drinks, too! Try to get there between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. for the best shot at the free food and instruction. See more below about the trail systems at both parks.

At the Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas, parking fees are waived on Saturday at all of the Park n' Ski areas. But you'll need to bring your own xc skis or snowshoes. Free hot chocolate and snacks are being served at the Rocky Ridge yurt, accessed from the Whoop-Um-Up parking lot, and at the Whispering Pines yurt, accessed from the Gold Fork parking lot and trail system. These areas are located northeast of Idaho City via Idaho State Highway 21. Travel time is about 1.5 hours from Boise.

XC skiing and snowshoeing should be stellar at all three of these locations. All of the trails are freshly groomed, and there's a huge amount of snow off-trail for adventure-seekers. Make sure you bring a pair of ski poles for the best experience if you plan to do off-trail snowshoeing. In addition, be sure to dress for cold weather (long underwear required) and wear some type of snow pants to stay comfortable. Wear a winter hat and warm gloves/mittens.

Ponderosa State Park has over 12 miles of ultrawide, groomed xc trails and 3.5 miles of marked, super-cool snowshoe trails in a meadow and ridgeline setting.

Lake Cascade State Park has about eight miles of groomed xc trails, starting from the Van Wyck Boat Ramp area in the city of Cascade. You can ski  from Van Wyck to the Ridgeview trail and cross Lake Cascade by the dam to ski or snowshoe on the Crown Point Trail. Parks staff at this location are serving hot dogs and burgers for lunch on Saturday, that's a bonus!

The Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas feature multiple trailheads and an integrated trail system that connects between the Gold Fork/Skyline trailhead and the Banner Ridge trailhead. There's about 40 miles of trail total. Saturday would be a great day to check it out and try one of the trails to see if xc skiing or snowshoeing are your cup of tea.

If you need some inexpensive gear, try to pick up some xc skis, boots and poles or a pair of snowshoes at Backcountry Pursuit in Boise or Eagle.
The new goomer stuck in the ravine

Leo goes to work on a tree with a chainsaw ... 
Realize that it's a small miracle that the Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas are open this weekend, considering the major snow storms in December created a huge amount of wind, and blowing and drifting snow, dropping more than 100 trees across the trails, many of them green trees (harder to cut). And a new groomer slid off the trail into a ravine, forcing Leo Hennessy of IDPR to summon multiple crews of volunteers on multiple days to dig out the groomer and cut trees out of the groomed trails. Happily, all of that has occurred. Thanks to everyone!

"Pretty much the whole trail system is groomed," he said. "The trails are a little soft in the middle for skate skiing and fat biking, but the conditions are excellent for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing."

Don't miss out on this opportunity get into snowshoeing or xc skiing! Thanks to IDPR for putting it on!
- Also, this weekend is the Western Idaho Fly Fishing Expo in Garden City. If you're into fly fishing, this is a great event to attend. Good for newbies, too! There's a casting pond, instruction, videos, fly tying, banquet and more.