Chase the sun at Bogus Basin

Following the sun at Bogus Basin is even more important in the spring, when the freeze-and-thaw cycle produces easy-to-ski corn snow.
Following the sun at Bogus Basin is even more important in the spring, when the freeze-and-thaw cycle produces easy-to-ski corn snow. Special to the Idaho Statesman

Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area north of Boise is one of the few areas in the country where there’s skiing and snowboarding 360 degrees around the mountain.

As the sun makes its way around the mountain, it tends to leave prime conditions in its wake. Those who follow those rays are rewarded with soft snow conditions that are perfect for carving turns.

“It’s creamy snow. It’s way smooth. It’s easy to ski,” said Joe Koehler, who calls himself a ski bum but has a day job as manager/buyer at McU Sports in Boise.

Bogus Basin offers 2,600 acres of skiing and boarding with 1,800 feet of vertical drop.

What’s the science behind the snow on sunny days? Essentially, when the sun softens the snow, it makes it easier to hold an edge than on hard, crusty runs in the shade.

With low nighttime temperatures, the slopes freeze. Bogus Basin’s crews do the bulk of grooming at night, especially on the backside, so the snow tends to become crystallized and firm.

Bogus Basin got its name after a group of con artists living in the area in the late 1800s began selling fake, or bogus, gold dust.

The best strategy for skiers and boarders who want the soft stuff is to get to the south-facing slopes first, where the snow is starting to melt. When the runs start to get too soft, it’s time to move on, said Nate Shake, who has been skiing Bogus Basin all of his life and is director of mountain operations.

“Who doesn’t want to ski in sunshine?” he said. “We pretty much have all aspects throughout the day where you can follow the sun around.”


Here’s Shake’s game plan:

9 a.m. (10 a.m.) to noon: Advanced skiers and boarders can hit the backside of the mountain using the Pine Creek Express No. 6 chair. Ski Paradise, Wildcat and Upper Nugget runs, which soften early. Intermediate skiers and boarders can stay on the front side and ski the Sunshine, Silver Queen and LuLu runs from the Morning Star No. 2 lift.

Noon to 4 p.m.: Head to the advanced slopes on the backside to north-facing areas, such as those off the Superior Express No. 3 chairlift. War Eagle softens from 4 p.m. to sunset. The area is shadowed and cold until noon.

Twenty percent of Bogus’ slopes are east-facing, 22 percent are south-facing, 42 percent are north-facing and 16 percent are west-facing.

On the front side, Deer Point, Showcase, Alpine and Ridge — all good intermediate areas off the Deer Point Express No. 1 lift — soften.

4 p.m. to twilight: In late afternoon, the more west-facing slopes such as Liberty, Inspiration, Tiger and Last Chance soften.

Following the sun at Bogus becomes even more important in late February and March. In spring, snow goes through a freeze-and-thaw cycle overnight, producing what’s called corn snow. “It’s easy to ski,” Shake said.

J.T. Moore of Boise, an avid Bogus Basin skier and former ski patrol member, has his own strategy for following the sun.

In early-day sun, his favorite spots are on the south face. “The trick is to get it (snow) when it softens and isn’t a frozen mess, either early or later in the day,” he said.

“I like to do a test run by traversing off Chair 3 ... past Indian Joe and skiing what we call the shoulder,” Moore added. “If it’s nasty, you can bail out by the water tower at the top of Chair 2, ski a lap, and wait for conditions to soften without fully committing to a very rugged south face experience.”

In late-day sun, Moore’s favorite run is Indian Joe.


Another phenomenon at Bogus is the way the weather can mellow at the end of the day. Often the mountain can be stormy, windy, cloudy, or foggy during the day but, miraculously, at 4 p.m. something happens. The bad weather subsides and the sun comes out, offering pleasant skiing for a few hours at dusk.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Shake said. “It can be the worst weather possible, and then for a couple of hours we get blue skies and clearing, and it’s perfect.”


Koehler follows the sun at Bogus Basin, but he also finds blue-top powder by chasing the wind-blown snow in the mountain’s gullies.

“I move around the mountain looking for where wind has deposited snow,” he said. “Even though it hasn’t snowed for a week or so, wind-deposited snow fills in areas, and it’s like fresh powder,” he said.


Bogus is situated on the southern edge of the Boise Mountains overlooking the Treasure Valley. The area’s main mountain, Shafer Butte, rises 7,500 feet in elevation. That position produces another unique phenomenon, Koehler said — a sunset and moon rise at the same time.

If you haven’t seen it, plan on it during the last full moon in March. Take Superior Express No. 3 chair about sunset. “While riding the chair, the sun will be setting on your right side, and the moon will be rising on the left.”

Koehler said the sun side will offer a sky full of paisley colors, while the moon side will look stark black and white.

Ski pioneers thought ahead

You can thank Idaho’s skiing pioneers for Bogus Basin’s location and the opportunity to follow the sun. Early skiers who were scouting places to build a ski area in the late 1930s skied more than 100 miles of mountain terrain from Pilot Peak, about 15 air miles northeast of Idaho City, past the Boise Front overlooking Boise, and to the Boise Ridge toward Horseshoe Bend Summit.

There were no lifts. The explorers had to earn their turns. Imagine exploring all that terrain — hiking across snow on skis and then getting turns on the downhill areas. When ski champion Alf Engen and others came upon the Shafer Butte area, he declared it the ski area everyone was looking for, and the idea for Bogus Basin was born.