Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bogus Basin

My tour of Idaho came to a close at Bogus Basin on an especially busy Saturday. I grabbed my ticket at the ticket office in town to avoid any lines on the hill, and found the drive a little slow, but not unbearable. I suited up and headed to the slopes, and started with a tour of the hill, taking a series of runs clockwise around the hill until I returned to the base area for lunch.

After a bite to eat, I continued to explore the backside of the hill, and found every run very inviting, and nothing particularly steep or problematic. I had a blast seeking out powder in the trees, and the groomers held up quite nicely through the day. The layout of the hill, and heavy crowds, meant that the base area lifts had lines most of the day - but the lifts on the other slopes were moving very smoothly, and the lines all were very orderly.

I could hardly hope to see all of Bogus Basin in one day, but from the exploration I did accomplish, I found the hill an enjoyable cruise, with some great sections to interest most any rider. Aside from the large crowds due to Boise's proximity, there is little to complain about at Bogus - despite the name.

As a tribute to my final day in Idaho, I thought it fitting to visit the run at Bogus known as "Last Chance" - a fine back diamond that held wonderful powder, and proved once again that Idaho has some of the finest snow around.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Magic Mountain

It was a dream-like experience driving the snow-covered roads to Magic Mountain, where I found myself comforted by a family friendly hill, with days of fresh snow accumulation awaiting me. The hill was open the previous day, but there were few tracks, and it snowed overnight and through the morning filling most of them (and some of mine).

A fixed double is the workhorse at Magic, and reaches to just below the ridgeline of the hill, protected from the wind. Two easy runs frame the valley between, where powder accumulates in soft pillows. There is a nice pitch to the face below the chair, and the liftline provides a powder-hound's paradise, while those in search of more open runs head out along the ridge to any of a series of chutes down from the ridgeline.

Farther down, there are cliffs to beware of below, and rails set up for jibbing along the ridge. I found so much powder and wonderful cruising here, I continued to ride until the lift operators had to turn me away. This is a fine hill for exploring, and holds enough stashes to last for days after powder stops falling.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I had heard before I arrived that Pomerelle was very friendly for beginner skiers and riders. The day before my arrival, the area was closed - 26 inches of snow had closed the road, and it took all day and night to clear the blockage. Anticipating ample fresh powder, and plenty of pristine groomers, my father and I set out for the base area, at an elevation around 8,000 feet.

We arrived early, and located the critical service areas for food and rentals. I set out for a lap in the powder while dad checked out some gear to begin his day on the slopes. He elected to add a private lesson along with his rental, so I spent the morning exploring the gentle rolling slopes, and charting trails through the powder-rich trees.

Once the lesson was done, we grabbed a bite to eat before heading out to try a run together on the lower chair. We made our way down the slope, and all the way down successfully, but after three hours on the board, dad was done - I took off for a few more hours of turns, fresh powder for the whole day, and plenty of fun cruising. Nothing at Pomerelle was steep enough to cause me any worry, so I roamed the mountain from one end to the other.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Pebble Creek

Fortune was smiling on me today, as I found myself in a powder playground at Pebble Creek. This little treasure is located just south of Pocatello, barely a thirty minute drive from town, and is well-loved by locals for the quality of terrain and easy access. I was concerned about the report of an 11 inch base, but I found that the coverage on the hill was actually not too bad, and the fresh powder was fantastic.

The folks at Pebble Creek were also kind enough to provide me with a personal tour of the slopes, and I discovered that with a little traversing, there were quite a few runs , and most were reasonably steep. I enjoyed a few runs beyond the ropes as well, which I have learned is standard practice in Idaho. Unlike Oregon ski areas, Idaho areas have very liberal open boundary policies, allowing unparalleled backcountry access.

The pitches at Pebble Creek are very consistent, and steep enough to satisfy my need for speed, but what really made this a great day was the abundant powder - and locals who were more than happy to show off the goods. I never lacked for company, and always had a chance to chat on the lift, as well as a point in the right direction.

With the amount of backcountry terrain around Pebble Creek, there is certainly something for everyone, and as the coverage improves, the steeper pitches will only become more and more enjoyable. In bounds or out, Pebble offers slopes for all skill levels, and the locals couldn't be more friendly.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Kelly Canyon

Kelly Canyon is a relatively small hill, served by a set of fixed double chairs. Their weekday operations begin at 12:30pm, and shortly thereafter they have a lesson session for local youngsters, who crowd the slope by the rope tow, and do laps on the shorter chair run above the tow. The big kids were riding the summit lift, which was the main lift serving the hill today. There is also another lift that reaches a little farther up the hill to access the back bowl, but today this lift was not turning.

I had another very nice powder day, and wasted no time ripping fresh tracks all over the hill, from the terrain park to the face, and all the way around the powder-filled areas to skier's right. It was a windy and low visibility day, but the turns were very nice, and although there were plenty of people on the hill, most were occupied in lessons at the base area, leaving abundant fresh tracks for those heading to the top of the hill.

Although the cruising on the lower mountain was great, and there were even some well-placed jumps which I greatly enjoyed, I had an urge to see what I was missing on the powder chair runs. I nabbed an off-duty employee, and we hiked to the top for a run of fresh tracks around the backside of the hill. It was a perfect finale for a fine day of cruising.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sun Valley

There is little I could say about Sun Valley that has not been said before, and probably more eloquently. This is a posh resort if ever I have seen one, and everything is done well. Despite less than perfect weather, and equipment malfunction, I found Sun Valley a very nice place for riding - there is a very good range of terrain, the grooming is generally very good, and there are ample runs to keep a person busy for days.

Unfortunately for me, Sun Valley still caters primarily to the skiing public, and when I found myself with a broken binding strap two hours into my day, the repair shop at the base area directed me to a snowboard shop in Ketchum. Apparently Sun Valley does not carry any Burton equipment or parts. After a detour into town, I resumed my day on the hill, doing laps in the lesser-used corners of the ski area, seeking and destroying powder pockets and smooth corduroy.

I grabbed lunch on Seattle Ridge, did some laps on the wonderfully long Warm Springs chair, and eventually wore myself out with moguls and called it a day.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Soldier Mountain

It was a serious powder day at Soldier Mountain today, and I was lucky enough to get first tracks down the liftline. Visibility was very poor for the first hour or so, but then the clouds burned off to reveal pristine white runs all over the hill. Many of the best powder stashes required either a little hike, or a long runout, and this preserved the best snow for those willing to do a little work. It was nice to see folks being courteous enough to farm their turns a little as well.

I got a little greedy, and ended up chasing some fine powder out of bounds, followed by a healthy bootpack to get back to the ridge. Some of the best runs required some climbing, but I found a lot of untracked powder on the back side of the ridge (Dare Ya'), as well as through the trees on the front (Drop In). Overall, there was a light crowd for a weekend, which made for very nice conditions for the whole day.

One thing Soldier cannot offer is significant steeps - most of the ski area is very gradual in slope, very good for cruising, but nothing here is heart-stopping. However, on a powder day, the open slopes provide plenty of room for turns, and the dual-ridge access spreads the skiers well across the terrain.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


Tamarack provided an example of a mixed blessing. It was snowing hard, with a load of fresh powder - but the wind and visibility prevented summit access, and stopped all backcountry riding as well. Instead of a scheduled cat ski trip, I joined a first tracks group - which turned out to be possibly the best snowboarding experience I have had to date. In spite of the weather, I followed our guide to powder stashed all over the lower mountain.

The blanket of white was deep and soft, and we cut lines through it all as part of a photo session - it was a blast to be on the hill before the crowds, farming turns with a crew of experienced guides and guests. I was having such a good time, and the conditions were so good, that I found myself nearly overtaking the guide at times.

By the end of the guided riding, I was familiar with the main runs on the hill, and started to branch out to areas farther afield as the day progressed. Later I ran into a gentleman from the morning's group, and we did some laps on the Wildwood chair, racing from powder stash to powder stash on our way back to lunch.

After lunch, it was time for trees, and I made my way along the boundaries where the trees were well-spaced for cruising. Once I had worn myself out, I walked back to the lodge for a massage. After a week on the slopes, it was wonderful to have some tension released, and I gathered myself for the drive ahead.

Friday, January 4, 2008


I arrived early at Brundage, in time to survey the lodge, and learn my way around the facilities. News of my arrival preceded me, and I was greeted by the snow reporter for Brundage, who sent me off to take a run on my own in Hidden Valley, and then met me at the lift for my second run, and proceeded to give me a fresh tracks tour of the mountain. I had a great time with the fresh powder on top of groomed, about three inches of very light and dry snow which was ideal for turning with speed.

It was a beautiful morning, just a little windy, and once I knew my way around the lift system, I started mining for powder. At Brundage, I found it to be a very easy task - and as the day went on, heavy snow developed, and the whole mountain quickly became a powder playground. I especially enjoyed the new Lakeview area, which has some wonderful glades and also some splendid groomers. The area known as Mexico also was very nice - it held shocking amounts of powder, with nary a track to be found.

As the morning went on, the snow continued to pile up, and I started to run laps through the terrain park in between powder runs just to give myself a little rest. The hint of snow provided by the Little Ski Hill the previous night became a raucous assault of powder at Brundage, and made this one great powder day to remember. The layout at Brundage is very nice, and most of the runs require very little runout, which is especially appreciated on a powder day.

One of Brundage's landmarks can be seen below. In case you are having trouble discerning - this is a tree with festive ornamentation consisting of undergarments.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Little Ski Hill

Just north of McCall, there is a small hill with a T-bar, run by the McCall ski club. The area has very limited hours, operating mostly in the evenings - today it was from about 3:30 to 8:30, but they open earlier on the weekend. Opening so late preserves territory not under lights, which apparently sees very light traffic.

My only complaint would be the lack of a discernible boundary (maybe I just missed it?) on the far side of the T-bar - on my second off-piste run, I ended up boarding all the way to the road below the ski area, and hiked back along a snowmobile track (it looked as if others had done the same). That said, it was nice to have a backcountry style experience on a small hill, and I cruised powder until the rope went up, announcing "night ski".

The grooming was very well done, and there was a race training course set up in the early afternoon, with lines of little skiers waiting turns and racing back to the base of the T-bar. I enjoyed the wide-open slopes, and found the quality grooming and gentle slope made for the perfect opportunity to practice riding switch, so I spent a few runs just riding switch and spinning, throwing in a few little jumps. I even landed my first 180 - yeah, not much, but it's a start.

Presaging another epic day to come, snow began to fall around 6pm. I decided to save some strength for the powder in the morning, and packed up around 7 o'clock. Three and half hours is usually a good time for a rest break anyway, and I needed to get into town to situate myself for the evening - the snow was still great, and I was having a good time up to the last moment.

After my last run, I spent another twenty minutes reviewing the historical photos in the lodge, with classic skiing newspapers and pictures of the founders of Idaho's ski hills. This Little Ski Hill has been around for seventy years, and shows no signs of slowing down. Apparently it has produced a few Olympians and National Champions over the years - and from what I saw, there are at least a few runs that could get you to near-Olympic speeds - some snowboarders had made a very nice jump at the bottom of one, but I wasn't feeling so adventurous, given the hike out.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Silver Mountain

Silver Mountain is accessible only by gondola, which runs from the base area in Kellogg about three miles up the hill to the lodge on the mountain. The ride is, like any lift ride, weather dependent. Today it was a very windy day, so the ride was slightly slower than usual, and it was about 30 minutes from load to unload. It still got me to the top before the chairs were open, so I checked out the lodge, and planned a cinnamon roll break for later.

I made my way down to the chair, and took a ride to the top of Kellogg Peak - and after a run on the groomers, I took the plunge into the North Face glades. I was amazed at the great snow conditions in the trees, and surprised to find so much powder untracked after a night without snow and a holiday weekend. Other parts of the hill did show some wear, but in the trees, and where the bushes were exposed, plenty of goods were on display.

I gazed longingly at the stashes below Wardner Peak, but the traverse and climb were more than I could handle on my sore knee, so I stuck with the trees below the ridge, zigzagging my way to powder stashes throughout.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Lookout Pass

Another bluebird day in northern Idaho, and I find myself at the edge of the state, parked at the base of the Idaho side of Lookout Pass, planning my first turns in Montana territory too. Lookout has the most convenient access to the freeway I know of in Idaho, basically a private exit with a lot right next to the ramp, and a lift from just above the lot straight to the top.

Only a week before I arrived, Lookout opened their third chairlift, adding a significant amount of intermediate and expert terrain - this terrain is still developing, and the trees do not appear to have been thinned this season. However, there are five or six new cleared trails, and they are excellent.

Apparently this was the first good weather day at Lookout in about two weeks - just my luck. As advertised, Lookout had great snow, and plenty of it, with only a few areas of thin cover in this relatively early part of the season. In the trees, there was ample untouched powder, which kept me busy most of the afternoon. I think Lookout has the most skiable trees I have seen anywhere - most of the woods are very friendly to riding, with your choice of slopes from very flat to moderately steep.

Lookout lacks any extreme terrain that I could see, but has enough to keep most folks content for a day. You will probably ride until the last chair, or nearly so, because the slopes are all just right for cruising. The only thing that might wear a person out would be the terrain park - it is a wacky one, unlike any I had seen before (video at youtube shortly).