A DIFFERENT KIND OF WINTER WONDERLAND
Nordic Skiing at Craters of the Moon
Headed to Jackson Hole this winter? Have a meeting in Idaho Falls? Looking for a change of scenery? Try stopping by the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve for a winter wonderland treat!
Recognized for its unique volcanic attributes, Craters of the Moon has long been acknowledged as one of the country’s wildest and most unusual geologic sites. You’ll quickly understand why this area of the Snake River Plain captured the attention of Idaho explorer Robert Limbert back in the 1920’s.
Limbert trekked through the impressive 50 miles of volcanic formations and shared his findings in an acclaimed National Geographic article. Reputable geologists, like Harold Stearns, also brought attention to this wondrously weird landscape that evokes feelings of being on the moon. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge forever protected this area by creating a national monument. In 2000 the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management partnered together and expanded the area to 750,000 acres (which is close in size to the Sawtooth Wilderness Area). The Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is alluring to people of all ages and interests during any season.
During the snow-covered winter landscape, this remarkable place has long been available to cruise around on skis, but now the experience will be even better. I was surprised and excited when National Park Service Ranger Lennie Ramacher told me they purchased a Piston Bully snow groomer last year. With adequate snow comes grooming: classic or skate skiing styles, take your pick. In the winter, the sevenmile paved road that loops through Crater of the Moon’s most scenic spots is transformed into a flowing white Nordic track.
Ski through an Ansel Adams-type landscape where great black cinder cones peek up from the frosted white layers and limber pines are caked with snow and ice, frozen in various poses. And although you may not see the wildlife, prints of all sizes speckle the snowy surface.
When asked why he enjoys the park in the winter, Ranger Lennie described how peaceful this vast area becomes. “It’s a completely different experience than the other seasons,” he said. “The light, the solitude and the space creates a spirituality that’s tough to describe.” He looks forward to his daily patrol of the trail where he can get fresh air and exercise while on the job!
Now it’s your turn to go and get out there! -Nicky Elsbree
WINTRY DOUBLEHEADERS: Angling Around Sun Valley
While winters in Sun Valley are famous for skiing, there’s also a growing following for its more watery pursuits. Fly fishing during the winter here can be downright spectacular.
That’s why it’s becoming more and more common to hear folks après-skiing at places like Lefty’s or “The Pio” talking about pulling winter “doubleheaders:” fly fishing on the Big Wood and skiing (alpine, Nordic or snowboarding) on the same glorious day in the heart of Idaho.
Of course, some folks think it’s crazy to fish when it’s freezing out. And while it certainly isn’t for everyone, for those with a passion for angling and alpine sports, there’s no better place to cast and carve turns on the same day than Sun Valley.
To help find out if it’s right for you, try figuring out where you stand in the “Five Stages of the Fisherman’s Life.” As Bob Knoebel, a guide for Ketchum’s Silver Creek Outfitters, explained, the progression is a rather natural one:
Stage 1: I just want to catch a fish!
Stage 2: I want to catch a lot of fish!
Stage 3: I want to catch big fish!
Stage 4: I’m just happy to be out fishing.
Stage 5: I want to pass on my knowledge and passion for fishing. -Mike McKenna
NORDIC TOWN USA
This Winter’s Highlights
When the Sun Valley Nordic Ski Alliance, a coalition of local individuals and businesses, coined the term “Nordic Town USA” to describe the Wood River Valley a few years ago, their intention wasn’t to make the area sound self-important. It was simply to spread awareness across the country that the Valley features more than 200 kilometers of some of the top Nordic skiing trails in the nation.
But the nickname not only sounds appealing, it’s pretty accurate, too. And, last fall, thanks to the incredible work done by the local Nordic community and the team at the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), the area was officially designated as an Olympic and Paralympic training site.
To help make the most out of our Mecca for cross county skiing, here’s a rundown of this season’s highlights in Nordic Town USA.
The 4th annual celebration of both new and long-time Nordic races and events runs from January 26 through February 3rd this winter. This year’s highlights include: the 38th Annual SWIX Boulder Mountain Tour (February 1-3), showcasing world-class athletes racing side-by-side with Valley locals on a 32-kilometer trail north of Ketchum; Blaine County Recreation District’s annual Ski the Rails/Hailey Downtown Party (January 26th), which encourages skiers of any skill-level to take to the old railroad from downtown Ketchum to the Sun Valley Brewery and enjoy Nordic-themed festivities in downtown Hailey; Ski It to Win It Race (January 27th), the second installment of the team randonee ski race up and down Dollar Mountain, which serves as a fundraiser for the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center and includes a Best Costume contest; the 2013 AXCS Masters National Championships (January 30th-February 2nd), where the finest Masters Nordic skiers in the country will be competing and the races, which are open to anyone of any ability who’s at least 30-years-old; the Nordic Festival, which will also showcase guest speakers discussing Nordic skiing-related topics at The Community Library in Ketchum (January 28th); and a Downtown Nordic Night, including live music, Nordic events, a bonfire and warm beverages, is also in the works for Ketchum. For more information on events, visit svnordicfestival.com or nordictownusa.com.
200km Trails Challenge
Nordic Town USA officially invites you to accept the “Trails Challenge” this year and try to ski 200km! You can ski every trail or just ski your favorites over and over to reach a total of 200km. Those who reach the goal will be entered in a drawing for prizes awarded both at the end of the season and at the Boulder Mountain Tour Awards Ceremony on February 3rd.
For more information be sure to check out bcrd.org. You can also download the contest form at svnordicfestival.com.
New Nordic Trails in Hailey
Thanks to a unique collaboration between the Blaine Country Recreation District (BCRD), a handful of local partners and the generosity of some private landowners (the Simons family), this winter over 7.5 kilometers of Nordic trails will be opened in the canyon just to the west of downtown Hailey, by the beautiful new Bow Bridge. The “Croy Nordic” system can be accessed at Lions Park along the Big Wood River in Hailey and will include a sledding hill, a yurt warming hut, a separate area for skiing with dogs and a rich blend of classic and skating terrain for all abilities. Day passes are available for $10 or you can pick up a BCRD Trails season pass, which allows season-long access to 160-kilometers of the BCRD Nordic system. More information is available at bcrd.org. -SVM Staff
CAVES AND CANYONS
Spelunking in Idaho’s Underworld
The whole idea of crawling and slithering like a snake in tight spaces, or, worse, running into a snake coming the other way, sounds preposterous to many of us.
But caving, or “spelunking,” as it’s sometimes called, is part of a larger, more inclusive activity called “canyoneering” that incorporates the best of climbing, caving and hiking. Often it means heading into the bowels of vertiginous slot canyons, where the natural beauty is remarkable and uncharted.
There are numerous caves scattered throughout Idaho, especially in the south central and eastern parts of the state. Some of the most popular caves in Idaho for canyoneers and spelunkers include the Minnetonka, Wilson Butte, Shoshone, Devil’s Hole and Eureka.
Also worth a visit are the caves at Craters of the Moon, southeast of the Wood River Valley. “It’s a pretty remarkable place,” said Doug Owen, Craters of the Moon park ranger, geologist and educator for 17 years. “There’s an incredible adaptation of plant and animal life.”
Indeed. So unusual is the national monument that, in 1969, Apollo 14 astronauts, including Alan Shepard, visited the Craters to prepare for future trips to the moon. Reportedly, NASA still has ongoing projects there.
The volcanic history of Craters of the Moon, as the Shoshone Indian legend tells it, involves a somewhat angry serpent that coiled around and squeezed the mountain until liquid rock flowed, fire shot from cracks and the mountain exploded. That explosion created the deepest rift on the planet and the largest basaltic, dominantly Holocene lava field in the lower 48 states in the last 10,000 years. Of the 239 caves created by the lava flow, only five are open to the public. Some caves have crawls in them and all involve a little boulder scampering.
Also near the Wood River Valley is Idaho’s Mammoth Cave. It is the largest volcanic cave in the world and has walls that shine silver from the mineral deposits. This is a flat, well-excavated cave and easy for any kind of visitor.
The Papoose Cave, near Riggins, is the 11th deepest cave in North America and much higher on the adventure meter. Discovered by two elk hunters in 1970, it requires explorers to have a Forest Service permit to enter, along with a Forest Service Cave Monitor. It’s a “very tortuous” passage that is at most two to three feet wide and about 100 feet high, said Joe Crocks, owner of Hyperspud Sports in Moscow, Idaho.
In the summer, moisture is plentiful inside the Papoose Cave, offering a 40-foot repel down a waterfall. A small trickling stream and deep pool also appear which, due to the depth of the cave, remain at about 34 degrees. In the winter, the water inside the Papoose Cave freezes and the interior is “decorated by limestone formations that are quite pristine and unusual in the West,” Crocks said. It takes a full day to hike from the entrance to the end of the cave and back, which doesn’t include time exploring all the separate passages.
“It can be challenging and technical,” said Lisa Jennings of the Idaho Canyoneers. “Caving and canyoneering are similar, though canyoneering is more above ground. It’s a whole lot of fun.”
Among the local caves the Idaho Canyoneers have explored are the Beauty Cave at Craters of the Moon and Smith’s Crack near Mountain Home, which has many underground “rooms” and a 20-foot vertical drop.
“After the bottom, the caverns slowly begin to regain altitude, eventually leading to the exit, about 100 yards north of the entrance. A few spots are tight so be forewarned,” Jennings explained.
And yeah, there are snakes sometimes. Ken Ordes, a climber from Boise, recalled a time at Gore’s Cave, near Mountain Home, when the group stopped “dead in our tracks as we listened to rattlesnakes guarding the entrance,” he said. “No one went in that trip.”
But when there aren’t snakes guarding the entrance to Idaho’s underworld, a spelunking trip could be more revealing than anything you might find aboveground. -Dana DuGan