Thursday, December 29, 2011

High-elevation snow destinations will be best ... or, go hiking in the Snake River canyon

Beautiful smooth ice on Lake Cascade in Cascade. Photo taken on Christmas eve.

Halverson Lake

The trail to Halverson Lake is sandy.

Rock petroglyphs at Celebration Park.

Hi all,

Well, the warm rainy weather in Boise is just totally inspiring, isn't it? Here we've been waiting a month for new precipitation, and then it comes in the form of a pineapple express? How cruel!

I was glad to see that Brundage Mountain is opening on Friday, and Tamarack has opened the Summit chairlift, meaning that you can ski the top half of the mountain where the snow conditions are likely to be best. Either Brundage or Tamarack should be a good bet this weekend, especially after things cool off on Saturday. Probably going to rain at the base areas on Friday, according to the weather forecast. Cross-country skiing at Bear Basin is quite good ... we skied there last week and enjoyed it. See my video.

Downhill skiing at Sun Valley has been excellent on man-made snow in all of the main parts of the mountain, including Seattle Ridge, Warm Springs and River Run. The upper chairlifts at Sun Valley will be best because rain is forecast at the lower elevations through Friday.

The web cams at Bogus Basin indicate that the warm wet weather has not been kind to our favorite local ski mountain. Hopefully, they'll get more snow and open soon.

Cross-country skiing in the Wood River Valley has been excellent -- probably the best anywhere in the state -- because of all the groomed trails open at Galena Lodge, Harriman Trail and everything in between. If you like to xc ski, this is your Shangri-La.

For any snow activity, higher elevations will be best ... particularly above 7,000 feet. That has been the approximate snow level this week. A cold front is supposed to move through on Friday evening, which will bring temperatures down to winter-like conditions. But I don't see any new snow is forecast for the next week.

The Stanley area would be a good bet for backcountry skiing this weekend, but unfortunately, Highway 21 has been closed because of avalanche danger. Dang!

If you're in Boise for the holidays, and you're not necessarily interested in heading for snow-bound areas, I would recommend going to Celebration Park in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area for a good hiking destination, a cool place to see Indian petroglyphs more than 10,000 years old and learn about the Bonneville Flood.

Celebration Park is about 45 minutes from Boise, south of Nampa on state Highway 45. Turn left on Ferry Road just before you cross the Snake River and follow signs to the park. The park and hiking areas nearby are featured in my guidebook, Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home, available on my web site and at many Boise-area book stores and outdoor stores.

The hike to Halverson Lake is about 5 miles round-trip. It's a good place to hike when it's been wet because the trail is sandy. The non-motorized hiking trail follows the Snake River for a ways upstream, and then beelines for Halverson Lake. You may also see people on horseback on the trail. The trip is suitable for mountain bikes as well.

Before hiking to the lake, take some time to look at the petroglyphs on the rock boulders next to the parking area. Sometimes it's easy to understand the message that Native Americans were trying to convey; other times, not so much. But it's fun to guess. The rock inscriptions are apparently about 12,000 years old.

If you'd like to go hiking closer to Boise, check the Ridge to Rivers web site and see what they recommend in the trail blog. It's supposed to rain for much of the day on Friday, so the trails will probably be wet and muddy. Saturday morning, they should be frozen and usable until they thaw out. Please tread lightly!

One other possibility after it gets cold on Saturday ... go ice skating on Lake Cascade in Cascade by the Van Wyck boat ramp. Last week, the ice was absolutely fantastic!

Have a Happy New Year!

Steve shares his weekly outdoor tips with Ken and Tim on 94.9 FM The River each Friday morning in Boise at approximately 7:10 a.m. If you miss the program, you can hear the segments on River Detailed descriptions and color maps of Steve's hikes, bike rides and paddling trips are available for 99 cents each, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What's up with this December weather!! Weather experts say there may be hope in sight

10-day outlook is not promising (courtesy NOAA)

90-day outlook calls for wetter than normal (courtesy NOAA)

30-day outlook calls for wetter than normal (courtesy NOAA)
Hi all,

Well, geez, our snow dance moves must be totally uninspiring or just plain lame. It's not working!!!

The December precipitation for the greater Boise area so far this month is a big fat ZERO. According to the National Weather Service, December is supposed to be our wettest month!

I checked with NWS officials today to see if they still are expecting a La Nina winter. The answer was, yes, but it is a weaker La Nina than last year.

The 30-day outlook from the NWS still calls for above-normal precipitation or "wetter than normal" conditions ... that should mean some big snow storms! But Colin Baxter, NWS meteorologist in Boise, says that the location of the polar vortex is to blame. "We're locked in this pattern where the polar vortex is hovering over Hudson Bay and the Bering Sea, and that's forcing low pressure to the south along the Pacific Coast."

The NWS model shows the polar vortexes shifting, but the big question is WHEN? The NWS National Climate Prediction Center "has been hinting at that for several weeks, but it hasn't happened," Baxter notes.

A storm was supposed to come through today (Thursday, Dec. 15), but it's not expected to bring any measurable snow. Dang! Another system is expected in a week, Thursday, Dec. 22, but that storm front, Baxter says, "doesn't look terribly impressive."

"We should be switching out of this pattern between now and New Year's and changing to a wetter pattern," he says.

Let's all hope that happens! Bring it, oh great one, Ullr!

In the meantime, in all likelihood, it's going to be a brown Christmas in Boise, and everyone will be hoping that Bogus Basin opens before its latest opening in recent memory -- Jan. 6, 1989. Brundage Mountain opened on Dec. 21 that year. Its latest opening was in the terribly bad drought winter of 1976-77 when Brundage opened on Jan. 8.

"We were expecting a whole lot more snow in December because it was supposed to be a La Nina year," says Bogus Basin spokeswoman Gretchen Anderson. "There's only three years when we weren't open before Christmas going back to 1969, so this is really unusual. We are ready, and we're waiting."

Brundage has a nice blog post with good photos explaining the situation there ... they need about a foot of more snow to open. Brundage plans a 50th birthday party bash on Dec. 28, no matter if they're open by then or not. "If we are not able to open before that event, it will certainly turn into the mother of all Pray-for-Snow parties," says Brundage spokeswoman April Russell.

In the meantime, turn your Christmas parties into snowdance parties and shake it, baby!

If you really want to play in the snow, check out my recommendations from last week. Plus, Tamarack Resort is opening today with man-made snow on top of natural snow on the beginner chairlift, and they're doing to open Showtime via the Tamarack Express quad on Saturday. Tickets are $45 for adults.

Sun Valley is open with several long groomers open and a 20-inch base, including Warm Springs from top to bottom, Upper and Lower College, and a few others. They have a pre-season special going on for one night's lodging and a lift ticket for $79 each.

Otherwise, go boot-hiking in the snow for fun, go soak in a hot springs, or go hiking, biking or running in the Boise Foothills, the Snake River canyon or the Owyhees.

Steve shares his weekly outdoor tips with Ken and Tim on 94.9 FM The River each Friday morning in Boise at approximately 7:10 a.m. If you miss the program, you can hear the segments on
River Detailed descriptions and color maps of Steve's hikes, bike rides and paddling trips are available for 99 cents each, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Head for the high country to find snow in SW Idaho, Galena, Bear Basin and Banner Ridge

Galena Trails in late November (courtesy Galena Lodge)

Bear Basin trails (courtesy Steve Jones/McCall Nordic)

Bear Basin (courtesy Steve Jones/McCall Nordic)
Hi all,

Well it's time to fire up the outdoor tips again now that the big game hunting seasons are pretty much over, and the mountains are cloaked in snow ... well, not a lot of snow, but at least it's a start!

This week I'll focus on places where you can go to recreate in the snow in SW Idaho ... either snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing or alpine skiing.

Galena Lodge, located 23 miles north of Sun Valley, has 35 kilometers of cross-country trails open with an average 12-inch groomed base. "The skiing is pretty fricking good considering," says Erin Zell, co-owner of Galena Lodge. "The days are nice and the nights are cold, so that's good for snow retention."

On Saturday, Galena is hosting a free demo day featuring Backwoods Mountain Sports, the Elephants Perch and Idaho Mountain Touring from Boise will be there as well. This is a great chance to try out the latest and greatest xc skis and boots from all the major sports reps. If you participate in demo day, the $15 trail pass is waived, and demos are free as well!

Zell mentioned that even the Harriman Trail is being groomed from Galena clear down to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters north of Ketchum, so if you like to xc ski on the Harriman Trail, that's available too. Please see the Blaine County Recreation District web site for details on xc trail conditions in the Wood River Valley.

Don't forget that Galena has three very cool yurts that you can rent during the winter. Check their calendar if you'd like to book one.

Bear Basin is pretty much the only place where you can go cross-country skiing on groomed trails in the McCall area right now. The latest grooming report from McCall Nordic indicates that there is a 7-inch base with 15K's open for skiing right now. Longtime Nordic skier Gregg Lawley of McCall skied Bear Basin on Sunday. "It was actually surprisingly good!" he says.

While you're in McCall, stop at the Hub and check on yurt dates available with the Payette Powder Guides at Lick Creek Summit.

The Idaho City Park 'n Ski Areas are open for snow-shoeing and xc skiing, but the skiing is pretty marginal at this point with only 12-18 inches of snow, according to Leo Hennessy, non-motorized trail coordinator for Idaho Parks & Recreation. He recommends snow-shoeing as the best bet. Banner Ridge and Beaver Creek Summit/Stargaze areas will be the most promising because they're above 6,500 feet and have the most snow.

If you're into backcountry skiing, I've heard good reports about skiing in the Pilot Peak/Sunset Mountain areas near Mores Creek Summit. I've also heard that backcountry skiing at Brundage Mountain is pretty good in higher elevations. Near Stanley, I've heard the skiing is excellent on the slopes above Williams Peak Yurt in the Sawtooths. Be sure to bring climbing skins, an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe if you venture into the backcountry.

If you go to Sun Valley or McCall, look for low-cost lodging deals at this time of year. Check with the Sun Valley chamber or McCall chamber for lodging options.

And if you're thirsting for some lift-served downhill skiing action, you could head to Sun Valley, Pomerelle, Grand Targhee, Schweitzer, Silver Mountain or Lookout Pass in Idaho. I skied Solitude in Utah last weekend on a 27-inch base. There was some great skiing in Sunshine Bowl and some other high-speed groomers. Here's some video from our outing last Sunday.

Even if you get out in the snow this weekend, we need more snow! Do the snow dance thing and do it good!
- SS