Cross-country skiers in Southwest Idaho have a vast array of areas to explore from backcountry trails to more popular spots.
OUTSIDE COMFORT ZONE
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Bull Trout Lake
This is an ideal area to get a taste of backcountry skiing but with a fairly easy, flat 4-mile round trip on an ungroomed, snow-covered road on federal public lands in the Boise National Forest. You’ll be skiing the main road to the lake’s campground that is used in the summer. The
If you’re lucky, some snowmobilers might have packed a trail along the road over the last few days. That will make it easier skiing instead of breaking powder.
The taking-off point is a makeshift trailhead along Idaho 21. It’s only good if the highway plow driver is kind enough to keep the shoulder of the highway plowed. Most of the time it is plowed, but Idaho 21 in this area can close frequently because of avalanches. Keep posted on whether Idaho 21 between Lowman and Stanley is open before heading out.
Info: Get a Boise National Forest map and check out the road going into the lake. For more details, look on topo maps of the area.
Getting there: Drive Idaho 21 about two and a half to three hours from Boise to Milepost 107. Park at the junction of the Bull Trout Lake Road and Idaho 21 and head north.
The snow-laden banks of Capehorn and Marsh creeks are beautiful in the winter and this area is primo when it comes to off-trail exploring in mountain meadows. Skiing along the banks of the creeks on both sides of Idaho 21 offers a unique and wild winter experience. It offers miles and miles of meadow skiing all the way up to the headwaters of Marsh Creek on national forest lands.
There’s usually a large plowed parking area on the right side of the highway as you come from Boise at the turnoff for Lola Creek Campground and the Bradley Scout Camp. From the lot, skiers can go across the highway and ski a logging road to Lola Creek campground or the trailhead to the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness along Marsh Creek. The creek in this area is beautiful in the dead of winter.
There also are several large open meadows as far in as Beaver Creek, which flows into Marsh Creek.
On the right side of the highway, skiers can take off along the bluff overlooking Capehorn Creek through stands of pine and fir. There’s an opportunity to go about 2 miles upstream.
Both of these areas are used by snowmobilers, but that’s OK. They pack trails and make it easier for skiing.
Info: See maps of the Boise and Challis national forests.
Getting there: Travel same way from Boise to the Bull Trout Lake turnoff, go another 6 miles on Idaho 21 toward Stanley.
Alturas Lake trails in Central Idaho, about 3 1/2 hours from Boise, offer an up-close-and-personal view of the Sawtooth Mountains and the Sawtooth Wilderness. The good thing about this area is that it’s way out in the middle of nowhere but the ski trails are groomed thanks to the Sawtooth Ski Club in Stanley.
The trailhead is located at a plowed parking area along Idaho 75, about 21 miles south of Stanley.
From the trailhead, it’s a quick skate or ski over the flats into aspen and fir hills and along Alturas Lake Creek.
The main trail follows the creek to a narrow bridge that takes skiers toward the lake itself.
Getting there: Drive northeast on Idaho 21 out of Boise about 125 miles to Stanley and turn south on Idaho 75 for 21 miles. Look for the plowed parking on the right. If Idaho 21 is closed by avalanches, you’ll have to drive the southern route through Mountain Home, Fairfield and Sun Valley.
Idaho City Park N’ Ski
This popular area along Idaho 21 is continuing to feel the effects of the devastation left by the Pioneer Fire two years ago. The good news is about half of the Park N’ Ski trails will be available — with some grooming — to snowmobilers, Nordic skiers and snowshoers. Last season, most of the trails were closed. Many of the trails now give skiers the opportunity to see the interesting effects of the fire.
Also new this year — the yurts are back. The Pioneer fire destroyed one yurt and damaged the remaining five. Three of those yurts — the Stargaze, Skyline and Rocky Ridge — were repaired over the summer and are available to rent from now to April 15. The Banner Ridge and Elkhorn yurts might be available later in the season, if salvage logging operations allow.
Because of the fire damage to trail markers on the way to the yurts, Idaho Parks & Recreation strongly suggests using a free Avenza map for Apple and Android smartphones to help guide you. The app also will give details on which trails are open, which are groomed and which are marked and unmarked.
Mores Creek Summit, Whoop Um Up, Gold Fork, Banner Ridge and Beaver Creek Summit parking lots will be plowed.
The main groomed trails for skiers will be out of the Gold Fork parking lot. The Gold Fork Loop — a 5-mile trek — and the 4-mile-long Skyline Summit Loop will be groomed generally on Thursdays and Fridays and always before holiday weekends. Although the Forest Service says it has reduced hazardous conditions, the agency is advising recreationists to keep in mind the continued hazards as a result of the fire. There are still burned and unstable trees that can fall, and the danger of avalanches and landslides on the unstable, bare, open slopes will be increased during rain and snow storms.
The Whoop Um Up parking lot, a popular jump-off point for snowmobiliers, will have one marked but not-groomed Nordic trail.
Dogs and fat bikes are welcome at the three yurts currently open and on marked trails.
Getting there: The trailheads are reached by driving on Idaho 21, northeast of Boise, between 20 and 25 miles past Idaho City.
INSIDE COMFORT ZONE
Bogus Basin has one of the best Nordic trail systems around with more than 20 miles of groomed trails, including 4 miles of well-lit trails for night skiing, which can be a surreal experience.
Bogus has a wide range of trails. The Nordic Highway is a relatively flat trail where Bogus Basin instructors teach beginners classic and skate skiing. Loops branch off the Nordic Highway and several of them can get your heart pumping. The staging area for the trail system is the cozy Frontier Point Lodge, at about 6,000 feet in elevation, which provides an area to relax by a fireplace and eat a brown bag lunch.
A favorite run for many skiers is to take the Nordic Highway about 3 miles to Shafer Butte Campground, where you can shovel snow off the picnic tables in the snowbound campground and have lunch.
Info: Find fees, hours and other details at bogusbasin.org/nordic_center
Getting there: Drive 16.5 miles up Bogus Basin Road, and go past the Simplot Lodge on your right and the tubing hill on your left.
Ponderosa State Park
The 5-mile round trip to Osprey Point from the park’s trailhead is one of the best Nordic treks around. That’s because it takes you to a high point in the park where you can see Payette Lake, the 1,000-acre state park and the town of McCall in the distance. Don’t let the 5-mile trail scare you. The park has a lot of variety in trails in a 13-mile groomed Nordic trail system.
Info: Go to parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/ponderosa
Getting there: Drive 102 miles north of Boise on Idaho 55 to McCall. Turn right on Railroad Avenue. Follow the signs to the park.
This trail system operated by the Payette Lakes Ski Club has about 30 kilometers of groomed trails. All trails are groomed for skate and classic skiing. The trails have a real woodsy feel through pine forests.
Getting there: Drive north from Boise on Idaho 55 about 102 miles to McCall. Continue about 3 miles west of McCall on Idaho 55.
Jug Mountain Ranch
There are more than 15 miles of groomed trails for skiing at this cross-country ski area, southeast of McCall. The golf course and mountain biking trails are transformed into Nordic trails in the winter in a scenic area on the east side of Long Valley in the shadow of Jug Handle Mountain.
Getting there: From Boise, drive about 100 miles north on Idaho 55 and turn right at the Lake Fork Merc and Sinclair gas station onto East Lake Fork Road. Drive 1.5 miles, crossing Farm to Market Road, and then straight through the entrance to Jug Mountain Ranch.
The resort outside Donnelly offers groomed classic and skate ski trails. About 6.5 miles are groomed, starting at the Sports Dome and winding through the foothills below the main ski area.
Getting there: Drive about 90 miles north of Boise on Idaho 55 to Donnelly and turn west on Roseberry Road. Follow the signs to Tamarack.
Lake Cascade State Park
The Crown Point Trail at Lake Cascade State Park is groomed and offers 2.5 miles along the reservoir with nice views of West Mountain in the distance. The state park also grooms its Park Loop at the south end of Lake Cascade.
Getting there: Drive north on Idaho 55 for about 70 miles to Cascade. Look for the Lake Cascade Parkway (Old State Highway) turnoff to Lake Cascade. Turn left.
Galena Lodge and Wood River trails
There is so much Nordic skiing in the Sun Valley area it’ll take all winter to do it. The North Valley trail system covers more than 70 miles of terrain, mostly in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The main systems include the Lake Creek trails, Billy’s Bridge, North Fork Loop, the Harriman Trail, Prairie Creek Loop and the Galena Lodge trails.
Galena Lodge has about 30 miles of groomed trails at the northwest end of the Boulder Mountains in the shadow of mountaintops such as 11,170-foot Galena Peak.
Getting there: As soon as you start driving north out of Ketchum, you’ll start seeing ski and snowshoe trails along Idaho 75. It’s the North Valley trail system. Drive 24 miles north of Ketchum and you’ll come to the Galena Lodge.
Exploring the backcountry
Here’s what you’ll need to do before exploring those areas outside your comfort level (and remember, never ski alone):
▪ Check the weather.
▪ Tell relatives and friends where you are going and an estimated time of return. Give specific details on your car, license and where you will be parked.
▪ Pack a daypack with extra clothing, first-aid and survival supplies, food, a space blanket and GPS. Have an avalanche shovel, avalanche probes (some ski poles convert into avalanche probes) and an avalanche beacon.
▪ Pack a larger snow shovel for digging out a parking spot.