A Dream Shared

How Backcountry Skiing Came to Idaho

Story and Photos by Joe Leonard

My grandfather Bill was an original Idaho cowboy. His whole life was about cows and horses. He grew up while sitting in the saddle of his favorite horse. His education was hard-gained and his mentors and heroes were the rough-and-tumble cowboys of the Idaho range whose lives were as wild and free as the land they rode. He could break a green horse and lasso a calf from the saddle and hogtie him before he was old enough to grow hair on his chin. He loved the rowdy life, learned to drink at an early age, and soon became a favorite among the boys, on account of his stories. He could keep his cowboy friends laughing, slapping their knees and drinking their whiskey dry until the lights went out.

My grandmother Nellie was crafted of different clay. A pioneer before she was ten years old, she had left her home in Oklahoma with her mother and father in the late 1800s in a covered wagon, and headed northwest to Idaho. They had heard of an exquisite place called Indian Valley, a paradise where the weather was perfect and the tribes were friendly. The soil was as black as coal and so fertile that you could raise vegetables from early spring to the verge of winter. The warmth from the low surrounding mountains prevented the killing frosts that visited much of Idaho so unexpectedly at almost all times of the year. It was claimed that the climate and land were so perfect you could even grow grapes. Water was abundant, flowing everywhere, and rainfall was dependable. Grass was as high as a horse’s withers and your livestock would never grow hungry.

That was the story they were told, in any case, and in full faith they headed for the land of opportunity, where plenty awaited.

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Joe Leonard

About Joe Leonard

Joe Leonard was born and raised in Idaho. Guiding and photography took him abroad to Africa, the Arctic, Costa Rica, Kodiak Island, Canada, Mexico, and many wild places in America. He guided and taught kayaking on the Salmon River and in 1973 organized the first whitewater rodeo in the US, now a worldwide event. He retired to Sardinia, but his heart remains in Idaho’s mountains.

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