Thursday, February 9, 2012

Try visiting Lick Cr. yurt in McCall to ski/ride fabulous big mountain wonderland in Idaho

Marianne Nelson, our trip leader

Laura floats through the sugar-like powder snow

Payette Powder Guides yurts at Lick Creek Summit

Eric Young and Eric Schneider take us and our gear to Lick Creek with their sleds

Typical powder field scene ... quite nice!
Hi all,

I felt like a lucky guy last weekend. It was one of those rare times when the combination of impeccable weather, luscious powder, great people, smooth logistics and fine backcountry accommodations all blended together into an awesome three-day trip near McCall, Idaho.

Apr├Ęs ski, sitting in the afternoon sunshine on the wooden deck of a fine yurt provided by Payette Powder Guides, and sipping on a beer, I felt my cheeks radiating the feeling of good times all around.

Three days previous, I was doing logistical backflips getting my kids situated at my moms for the weekend, finding a baby sitter for our new puppy, and getting all of my business affairs squared away so I could leave town. Now I can say it was all well-worth the hassle.

We had a nice party of 7 for the trip. My friend Marianne Nelson, with whom I backcountry ski and mountain bike with a fair bit, was our trip leader. Her son, Tim, a 20-something hard-bodied ski-flier, came along with us. A recent hire at Hewlett Packard, Tim had met Eric Schneider, an HP engineer who happens to be an avid backcountry skier and an experienced hand with the whole snowmobile-supported backcountry skiing routine. Eric has a partner in crime, another HP engineer named Eric Young, who has two snowmobiles and not only rips it up on skis, but also climbs with a splitboard and snowboards for variety.

So we had a great crew, and with the participation of the two Erics, we avoided paying $160/person for a snowcat or snowmobile ride 11 miles from McCall to Lick Creek summit. Instead, we loaded our packs and food into snowmobile sleds, and rode on the snowmobiles (well, three of us got towed) up the hill. And paid the Erics gas money. Lucky!

It took us less than an hour to reach Lick Creek Summit. Once on top, the scene is truly magnificent. Big mountain peaks surround the summit area, and you can see beautiful ski slopes for miles in every direction. So then it's a question of hummm, where to go first?

The Erics took us over to Hum Lake the first afternoon. We skinned up to the Hum Lake saddle, and then to the peak above. From the bottom, the climb involved 1,800 vertical feet of zig-zagging up the mountain in full sun. We all had to strip down to minimum layers to avoid sweating buckets. Just a gorgeous afternoon. The southwest slope skied beautifully, being near 8,000 feet, the snow was plenty cold and nice and fluffy. Wendy and I did two runs there.

Part of the group skied into Hum Lake on a northeast slope, and they said it was like skiing super-light sugar.

The snow was fantastic everywhere in all three days of our trip. Marianne Nelson was whooping it up while carving perfect signatures in the snow, and her cheeks were positively glowing in the yurt in the evenings. "I thought it was the best backcountry ski trip ever," she says. "It was my Canada."

Marianne hasn't been backcountry skiing in Canada yet, but I have, and I would say that the skiing terrain around the Lick Creek area is positively world-class. If you skied with Payette Powder Guides or other people who know the area well, they could take you out for a week and never cross your tracks twice.

PPG has two yurts at the summit -- a primary yurt with all of the kitchen and cooking stuff in it, plus enough bunks to sleep 6 or more. The second yurt is a sleeping yurt, also capable of sleeping at least 6. PPG says groups of 10-12 are probably as large as you want to get. So we had plenty of extra elbow room with a smaller group of 7. The cost to stay in the yurts is $40/person/night, 6-person minimum on weekends. Very reasonable! Here are PPG's prices for guide service and snowmobile support, etc.
The yurt set up at Lick Creek is pretty similar to all the yurts in SW Idaho (meaning deluxe), but PPG also has a first-class sauna. And that's a bonus! It really makes it nice to do a sauna after dinner or after the ski day and clean out the pores. You don't need a suit, but remember to bring a towel! I had to use a long-sleeved T-shirt. Guys will be guys.

Plus ... PPG has an outside propane BBQ grill. We brought salmon fillets for one night, and flank steak (marinated for 4 days ... thanks Marianne!), which were cooked to perfection by Eric Young.

To set expectations appropriately, skiing in the Payette National Forest around Lick Creek seems like you're in the wilderness, similar to being in the Sawtooths. But the area is managed as a multiple use area -- that's why we're able to snowmobile into the yurt. The country to the north of Lick Creek Road is open to backcountry snowmobiling, so you may hear sleds out there high-marking in the high peaks while you're skiing. There are a bunch of very-skilled riders from McCall. Once you're away from the road, however, and skiing behind the yurt, you can't hear a thing.

If skiing/riding in the Lick Creek area sounds appealing, PPG has a couple openings on a guided trip coming right up over President's Day weekend in the Feb. 17-20 time frame, and they've got some spots available on a guided trip March 16-18, and there's a private yurt rental opportunity on March 24-25.

Check with PPG for details. You can reach co-owners Marty Rood at 208-634-3189 or Chuck Rea at 208-634-4263.

I took an Avalanche Level 1 class from Marty and Chuck a number of years ago, plus I worked with them at Tamarack Resort. They're both extremely competent backcountry skiers and avalanche safety experts, but most of all, they know how to find great snow and big fun!

- SS