Thursday, January 7, 2021

Idaho's xc ski & snowshoe areas are in great shape - 15 destinations where you can't go wrong!

Sunset on the Boulder Mountains while skiing the Prairie Creek Loop north of Sun Valley.

Hi all, 

I hope everyone had a fun Christmas and New Years with their families, friends and loved ones! 

I felt blessed to be with my family over the holidays in McCall, and I also felt very fortunate to see all of the snow storms dumping fresh powder in the Idaho mountains in recent weeks. Snow depths in the Boise Mountains and Central Mountains have vaulted from less than two feet of snow in early December to the 50- to 60-inch range here in the first week of January. That means the mountains are totally "in shape" for backcountry travel, xc skiing and snowshoeing. 

On Monday late afternoon in McCall, I was xc skiing at Bear Basin with Huck. There was 3-4 inches of new snow on the trail. There was only 1 other car in the parking lot at 3:30 p.m. The Christmas crowds from the valley had gone home. 

Snow was falling lightly and steadily as I was kicking and gliding on the trail. I turned off on Camas Trail to climb over to Mack's Loop, and when I reached the top of the Camas hill, it seemed so quiet and magical. I had the whole place to myself. It's such a beautiful scene to watch the snow fall in the midst of a cathedral of snow-flocked fir and pine trees.  

These are the kinds of moments that I cherish in McCall in the winter-time. But you can experience the same feeling wherever you might want to go for a xc skiing or snowshoeing outing in the Idaho mountains. You just might have to work a little harder to find solitude like I had on Monday.   

For my outdoor tip of the week, I'll recommend a number of key destinations for xc skiing/snowshoeing right now, and provide the latest information on snow conditions: 

Bogus Basin Nordic trails - Packed powder conditions with 7 inches of new snow in the last 24 hours, 9 inches in the last 48 hours; 37Ks of trails open for xc skiing and snowshoeing. Go to the Bogus Nordic site for for a trail map, rental gear information, etc. Day tickets are $12 for a half day, $18 for a full day. Purchase tickets at the Frontier Point Lodge. No advance reservations are required. 

Kelley and Kirk Bachman, left, and I xc skied at Bogus on a stellar bluebird day. 

  • Idaho City Park n Ski Areas - 55-inch base in general, based on the snotel site at Mores Creek Summit. Snow depth at Mores Creek has increased from 35 inches on Dec. 15 to 45 inches on Dec. 31 to 55 inches today (Jan. 7). Make sure you have a Park n Ski pass to use the Idaho City Park n Ski trails. The parking passes can be purchased at IDPR or at the Sinclair gas station in Idaho City (recommended). 

    For the latest grooming information on the Park n Ski trails go to the IDPR Non-Motorized Trails Facebook page. 
    Thanks to Danny Tappa at NRCS Snow Survey for this graph ... so far, we're tracking pretty much right on the average median line for snow water equivalent (SWE) at Mores Creek Summit.
    Basin-wide, snowpack levels are 95 percent of normal in the Boise Basin. 

    FYI: Please stay away from the Mores Creek Snotel site and snow pillow. 
    Human tracks around the snow pillow can adversely impact snow measurements. 
    Thank you. 
    • Gold Fork-Skyline parking area - Best for xc skiing, snow-shoeing and snow-biking. The trails are getting groomed weekly, including this week, according to IDPR.  
    • Whoopum Up - Best for snowshoeing (no grooming). 
    • Banner Ridge - Best for xc skiing, snowshoeing and snow-biking. 
    • Summit Trail - Connects Skyline trails with Banner Ridge Trails. This trail is being groomed on a weekly basis this winter. 
    • Stargaze at Beaver Creek Summit - Best for snowshoeing (no grooming) or backcountry skiing. 

      FYI - All of the Idaho Park n Ski yurts are booked solid every weekend through June. Some mid-week dates are available in April. Watch for any last-minute cancelations mid-week. 

      Breaking trail to Stargaze Yurt, near Beaver Creek Summit. 

  • McCall Nordic trails 
    • North Valley Trail - 6-8 miles (North Valley Trail and Activity Barn trails combined) of groomed xc ski trail open to snowshoeing and fat biking as well. 15-inch base freshly groomed on Jan. 7. 2 inches of new snow. New loop trail climbs from the North Valley Trail around the top of the Activity Barn tubing hill and then descends to a flat meadow and circles the meadow before returning to the North Valley Trail. Nice new loop to try this year. No trail fee. 

      Snow biker hamming it up on North Valley Trail 

    • Ponderosa State Park - Ponderosa has a great variety of xc trails and snowshoe trails. 20-inch base. Trails are being groomed daily. My favorite loop is to xc ski out to the top of Osprey Point via Fox Run and come back next to the lake. Daily ski passes cost $5. You'll need a pass for your vehicle too (I buy the statewide park access pass when I register my vehicles ... that gives you free admission to any state park in Idaho; awesome deal). Generally, no dogs are allowed except on Rover's Roundabout, a 1.5-mile loop. 

      Looking across at Brundage Mountain from Ponderosa Park before the lake froze ... 

    • Bear Basin - We love Bear Basin because they have more than 10Ks of groomed trail and they allow dogs on all of their xc ski and snowshoe trails. Day pass costs $12. Our favorite circuit is to ski Polar Express, Mack's Loop and Lyle's Loop and then return over Moon Ridge to the start. 
    • Jug Mountain Ranch - There's a 15-inch base at Jug with 3 inches of new snow today. JMR  trails are groomed on a regular basis. Trails are open to dogs, xc skiing, snowshoeing and snow biking. Daily trail fee is $10. Allow for enough time to climb up to JMR Reservoir and take a nice tour through the trees on your way back. Jug is generally not as busy as the park or Bear Basin if you want plenty of elbow room.   

      Freshly groomed xc trail at Jug Mountain Ranch 

    • Tamarack Resort - Meadow and forest trails are groomed on Mondays and Fridays each week. Rentals are available at the Sports Dome. Trail map.   
  • Blaine County Winter xc and snowshoe trails -  You must make the drive to Sun Valley and check out the Blaine County Nordic trail system because it's absolutely world-class in all respects. The trails are groomed daily, and they're extensive - 160Ks of xc ski trails and 36Ks of snowshoe trails. Trail fee is $18/day. You can buy a trail pass from most outdoor ski shops in Ketchum. 
  • Galena Lodge is on the north end of the Blaine County Winter Trail system. Galena has a super-extensive system of Nordic trails and snowshoe trails, and they have a great lodge where you can buy soup and sandwiches and hot beverages.  
There you have it! 

Please be courteous and use basic covid-19 precautions and mask-up in parking areas or in areas where you can't socially distance. 
- SS