It was February, and snow was hard to find—in Pocatello, anyway. Two weeks of temperatures in the fifties and sixties had stolen the white from the schoolyard and mountains and convinced my kids it was time for shorts.
But I was not convinced, and neither was my wife, Wendy. We shared our view with our three kids one evening and made a plan to find snow on President’s Day. We were going to put away our shorts and retrieve our sweaters and fleece. We were going to the woods. We were going to cross country ski. The kids agreed. When the day came, we packed the car with skis, boots, coats, kids, sled, and headed north in an attempt to recover winter and to make good use of the Idaho Park N’ Ski Pass we had purchased at the beginning of what looked like a promising season. Continue reading →
The fresh, white blanket on the ground isn’t staying down for long. The wind is blowing fifteen miles per hour, yanking snowflakes sideways.
It reminds me of what you see when you blow dust off an old album, white particles exploding off a shiny black surface. That surface is Craters of the Moon National Monument. It’s a solitary place, but even on the worst-weather days, there are trucks in the parking lot. One of them belongs to me and my family. We’re looking out our truck’s ice-crusted windows waiting for the wind to die down. When it does, we’ll start skiing.
I think of the comment made by Doug Owen, Craters of the Moon National Monument park education specialist and geologist, when he was prepping me for the winter trail system. “This is my favorite time of year because of the stark contrast between white snow and black lava,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
As I ski past the campground, I watch the black-and-white contrast slowly slide by. Coal-colored lava rock pokes out of the soft snow like peppercorns accidentally dropped in a salt shaker. I like the contrast, just as Doug does. I like the sparkle, too. Continue reading →
When I backpacked thirty miles through the rough and rocky Sawtooth Range in July 2013, I met many people, from England, Oregon, Connecticut, and elsewhere. Last February, when I dragged the same backpack on a sled over a snowpack eight feet deep, I saw none of these people.
I didn’t even see the mountains. They were veiled in cloud. The only person I saw was my friend Will, whom I had convinced that skiing to Idaho’s Imogene Lake via the Hell Roaring Creek trail in winter was a good idea. Will had shared my summer view of this coldwater lake, which reflects the crumbling granite of the serrated Sawtooth peaks reaching all around to ten thousand feet. I had convinced both of us that the quiet beauty and isolation of the high mountain valley could be even better experienced in winter—and maybe we would even see wolves. But that wasn’t how it worked out.
Perhaps we just picked the wrong weekend. The weather worked against us. The larger Sawtooth Valley, so reliably cold through most of the winter, was experiencing a warm spell. The snow that had fallen for two days before we arrived was slushy, thanks to the weather phenomenon known as the Pineapple Express. Our skis sank eight to ten inches with each forward kick. The lead skier carved a deep trough for the man who followed. Neither breaking trail nor following was easy. I had to shorten my ski poles to match the new difference in height between the trough that I stood in and the snow at my sides. And when I stepped out of my skis to adjust my gear, I sank past my waist and floundered desperately in wet snow. Continue reading →
It looks like something out of a science fiction movie, man blended with machine. The mind of man is hidden behind a mass of metal, in a half-million-dollar, thirty-three-thousand-pound behemoth.
This man-machine moves forward with deliberation, metal claws reaching out like the appendages of an ocean crab—the jaws opening, then closing, powerfully moving, pushing, leveling everything in its path. The Beast, this mega-machine, is the world’s largest snow-groomer. And in a few minutes, I’ll be in the cab, taking the ride of a lifetime.
It’s 4:30 p.m. in Sun Valley, and there’s excitement in the hallways of a two-story building beside the main ski lift as the ski patrollers kick off their boots. They’ve made their final sweep of the mountain, more than two thousand acres, signaling to all, “Mountain closed to the skiers,” and also signaling, “Mountain open to the snow-groomers.” Continue reading →
My friend Betty and I crouched in the sagebrush taking pictures of the flowers up on the Midvale Hill. She said, “My neighbor used to ski up here.”
“What?” I replied. “Skied? You can’t be serious.”
“Yes. A rancher pulled skiers uphill in his logging sleds.”
She must have been mistaken. There wouldn’t have been enough snow for a ski area here. I snapped a few more photos, thinking only of focus and aperture, trying to capture the vast hillside of buckwheat and arrowleaf balsamroot in bloom, the gold and the cream flowers accented by purple evening shadows.
A few years later, when my oldest son Doug got a Christmas present of a book on Montana’s former ski areas, he said, “Mom, you should write a book on Idaho ski areas, all the lost areas. I bet Idaho has more than Montana.”
I told him no, I didn’t know enough about skiing. He should find someone in the ski business to do it, or write it himself. “You’re the one who knows about skiing,” I said. He had been head coach at a Wyoming ski area for seven years and for a Colorado area for another year before he got tired of the parents of the young racers and went to grad school. Doug kept after me for a year, until I agreed to write the book. I agreed only after he said he’d help me. Soon I was receiving long lists of ski areas from him by e-mail, and bits of information on famous skiers I had never heard of.
That’s how I found myself in the Weiser library, scrolling through microfilm of the Weiser Signal and Weiser American on an ancient reader that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. I had remembered what Betty said, and had asked her what year it was that her neighbor skied. She told me it was in the 1930s, and I started looking through the papers beginning after Sun Valley opened in December 1936. Continue reading →