Sunday, December 23, 2007

Teton Valley Holiday Season


Thursday night was the first big storm of the season - we've had some good Idaho snowfalls already, but none of them really "big." This time, the flakes came down large, fluffy, and purposeful. There's something about waking up to nearly a foot of fresh, peaceful, fun-beckoning white stuff framed by clear blue sky, particularly on the Friday before Christmas...until it sinks in that you have to shovel. So, out came the snow blower.









Driggs was bustling all week, and especially Friday. Tourists are arriving for the holidays, powder hounds are pouncing on the choice conditions up at Grand Targhee, and snowmobilers are heading to the hills in every direction. Broulim's (our grocery store) was as busy as I've ever seen it, and downtown merchants were happily accommodating last-minute Christmas needs.

I made an enjoyable stop into Darkhorse Books, where Jeanne was helpful as always. Walking back to my vehicle, I realized how much small town life has grown on me these past thirteen years, and smiled.








To celebrate the fresh snow and Winter Solstice, Joanne, Bridger and I headed out for a Saturday afternoon ski tour. It was cold, but the snow was as fine as I've experienced. The canyon was a perfect mix of a soft-packed snowmobile track and untouched powder, and the fun quickly enveloped us.











Wrapping up the Christmas season in a mail order business has had me hunkered down, working a ridiculous amount lately. It did me a world of good to get out and play, and realize that a computer screen is not permanently attached to my brain. The pines, the creek, the snow, the sun...it was the perfect antidote.












We've had some beautiful sunsets lately.

Happy Holidays, from Driggs.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow, Cold, and Holiday Warmth



Less than a month ago, I was sounding the "where's winter in Driggs" alarm. Now, after only three weeks of Idaho snow and cold, warmth seems like a nebulous concept that must be years away. Funny how short-term our memories can be.












So, we've settled (er, frozen) into winter mode. Everything just sort of slows down: driving, dressing, eating, thinking, moving...everything is more deliberate. But that's part of the allure of winter, really. It provides the occasion we need to catch up with ourselves.










Thirteen winters in Teton Valley have taught me to pounce on opportunities for fun during the short days of December. Accordingly, I squeezed in an afternoon snow bike ride with my extreme buddy Dave B and his tireless dog Kenai. We had moments of sun, snow squalls, great scenery and enough effort to get the endorphins going. Not bad.











A couple weeks of consistently below-zero nights have brought ice to the local creeks and streams. Bridger is still figuring out where it's safe to walk, so we keep an eye on him. It's a nearly full-time job.











As the holidays approach, I often find myself remembering the winters I spent in Denmark, over 20 years ago. The weather was relentlessly cold, windy and bleak - a lot like Driggs can be, but in Copenhagen there were no mountains in sight. Admirably, the Danish people made December the warmest, most enjoyable time of year through rich Christmas traditions, fun gatherings and the Scandinavian concept of "hyggelig." The closest English translation is "cozy," conveyed pretty well through this photo of a crackling fire and stockings. Hygge dig, og glaedelig Jul!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December in Teton Valley



December is in full swing here in Driggs, and I'm loving the variety. Snow depths are good - not great, but good enough to ski or ride - and it's plenty cold (below zero nights with highs in the teens the past couple of days). So, the challenge is choosing your sport for the day, dressing in layers, and getting out the door...because daylight is fleeting this time of year. Here's a photo from a mid-week lunchtime snow hike in the Big Holes with Bridger, where the light and the Teton vistas were incredible. I never grow tired of moments like this.










I've always loved these signs delineating "winter range." They're ubiquitous in the forests out west, and exist primarily to protect natural winter feed areas for the elk and deer. Somehow, they make you feel like you're really out in the backcountry, even if you're just a couple miles up a canyon or (heaven forbid) driving on pavement. They also infer that our winters are ridiculously long...we could only wish for cross-country snowmobiling until June 1 (truthfully, we're ready for golfing and boating by June).








Sunday was one of those unsettled days: partly sunny to mostly cloudy, snowing lightly, and cold. I'm learning those are perfect conditions for snow biking, so Joanne and I broke out the Pugsleys, dressed in layers (and layers and layers), loaded up the dog and headed out for an afternoon ride in the Horseshoe-Packsaddle canyon area.

I have to admit, it's almost comical to be unloading bikes at a snowmobile trailhead in December, in Idaho. But, it's good to share the trails, and everyone is intrigued by the 4" wide manly tires and this relatively new sport. My perfect day would honestly be a couple of hours on the snow bike or skis to get the blood flowing, then a couple of hours on the snowmobile to really cover some ground. It all beats working.







I couldn't believe how well Bridger kept up with us. After 11 years with Targhee (R.I.P.), the last 4-5 years we had to rein in the efforts with him. Now, with Bridger, it's amazing to watch a 9-month-old bundle of energy bound through the woods and plow through chest-deep snow with a permanent grin. He even found time to chase squirrels while we labored up the steeper hills. The ultimate bonus: he slept like a baby afterwards. Sunday Night Football was oh-so-peaceful.












Back at the house, Finis (our pregnant mare) embraces the combination of snow, sun and cold. We're looking forward to her new foal this spring

Friday, December 7, 2007

Riding, Wintering, Connecting



The transition into winter is always better with snow. It was really beginning to pile up early in the week, and I made it out on a nice snow bike ride during Monday's storm. Here's a shot of Darby Canyon, taken shortly after my first winter wipe-out. Compared to summer mountain biking crashes, I learned (thankfully) that flying over the handlebars hurts a lot less with a blanket of snow on the ground.








Just when I started thinking we were in for epic early snowfall, the temperatures warmed up and we had a mid-week meltdown in the valley. Driggs streets looked oddly like April for a couple of days, with slush and mud replacing snow and ice. Nonetheless, views have been stellar, as always. I dug into the archives for this classic photo on Henderson Ridge, with legendary Targhee dog. R.I.P.









Back to point: fortunately it was all snow up in the hills this week, with more snow and cold forecast through the weekend. Grand Targhee is now reporting a base of 63", with 5" new today. The riding up at Togwotee is good, and snowmobile trail grooming is set to begin in the Big Holes. Teton Valley in general is settling into a nice winter mode.










The "wintering" this time of year also means pre-holiday gatherings. Benefits, company parties, basketball games, friends getting together before traveling to see far-off family over the holidays. It's all a good excuse to reconnect with the community. This is a favorite photo with my long-time brotha Jimmy, during an R.U. Outside group ride at Togwotee. It doesn't get much better, folks.









Speaking of gatherings, this past weekend I ended up at a terrific shin-dig in Jackson. We spent a night at the unparalleled Amangani Resort. It was one of the nicest places I've ever stayed, but I was so in awe that all I managed was this photo from the balcony shortly after sunset. I'll take more pics next year.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Winter, At Last


Winters in Driggs are usually so impossibly long, I never thought I'd exclaim "yes, it's finally winter!" But here I am, saying it.

We desperately need snow this winter to fill up the region's reservoirs next summer, and we also need it for fun. Our local economy is closely tied to farming and recreation, and both require snow...the more, the better.










Grand Targhee ski resort has been open for over a week now, and their base is getting respectable. They've received 18" over the past three days, and are reporting 61" at mid-mountain; not bad at all. It might finally be safe to show off your trophy skis and boards.

A couple of hours away, Togwotee Lodge has received a total snowfall of 51" so far this season, and they're reporting about three feet in most of the snowmobiling spots. I'd still be a little wary of off-trail rocks and stumps, but the trails are sweet and they're off to a nice start overall. I have a couple of good friends from Minnesota riding up there today, and they called in to say "it's beautiful." Yeah, rub it in. Some of us have to work (did I just say that?).






Speaking of which, my work at R.U. Outside is crazy right now, with the Christmas shopping rush in full swing. While we depend on this month of madness, I forget how chaotic it is each year. The best approach is just to put on your Santa Claus hat, do your best to make everyone happy, and sneak in an hour or two of fun now and then.

So, I took Bridger out skiing at lunch the other day. The fresh air, scenery and snow were great. That sense of weightlessness you get while playing in the powder (skiing, snowmobiling, snow biking, snowshoeing, anything) is magical, and it was good to get reacquainted with the sensation. I was tired way before Bridger was.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Turkey, Fences, Snow Biking



Thanksgiving weekend seemed to arrive suddenly this year. Maybe it was the long Indian Summer we've enjoyed in Teton Valley, or the lack of early snow (not good...we need white stuff, now!). At least it finally got cold: Wednesday night's low was near zero, which kicked in the appetites just in time for turkey.










Joanne's family spent the weekend with us, and it was nice having a houseful of relatives for the holiday. While her mom began preparing the feast, the rest of us took advantage of a bluebird day and built fence down at the pasture.











If you know my in-laws, you know they never let an opportunity for a good work project pass them by. They'll labor dawn to dusk; 'til the cows go home, and the horses lie down, and the dogs fall asleep, and the water trough freezes over. Why just sit on the couch and watch football? The upside is, they get a lot done, they can build anything, and time with them is never boring. I recognize those upsides more the older I get.








If you know me, you know I've gotta have my play time. Give me an hour or three to get the blood flowing, and I'm a totally new (much more agreeable) person. Sunday was the perfect opportunity for my inaugural snow bike ride, up nearby Darby Canyon.

In this context, "snow biking" is essentially winter mountain biking, done mainly on packed snow with a completely unique bike. The ideal surfaces are groomed snowmobile trails, which brings together a couple of my favorite sports. My buddy Dave B. hooked us on it last winter; next thing I knew Joanne and I were buying our own Surly Pugsleys.





Riding this bike is like pedaling a monster truck. Truly. You find yourself constantly emitting sounds like "arrrrg" and "vrooom," and it makes you feel like a little kid out exploring. The tires are nearly 4" wide (about twice the size of a normal mountain bike tire), and run at very low air pressure to enhance traction. The performance is phenomenal, and it beats the heck out of indoor exercise. Everyone I passed on Sunday's ride wanted to stop me and talk about the bike.









Meanwhile, back at the pasture, Elaine the Mule gives her best "Happy Thanksgiving" pose.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Waiting For Snow


My first visit to Grand Targhee ski resort was in November 1994. Wild Man Rob, Dave, Alli, Joanne and I all piled into the Trooper and drove up from Salt Lake. It was a week before Thanksgiving, temperatures were shockingly cold and the snow was DEEP. We're talking several feet of powder. Face-shots in November are a beautiful thing, and we were hooked. A few months later we all moved to Driggs.

It's a little different this year. Thanksgiving weekend is approaching, and the snowpack is thin to non-existent. We had more winter weather in September than we've had in November. Targhee still plans to open for the long weekend, but you'd better take your rock boards (it's the rounded mountain at left in this photo...white, but barely). A small storm and colder temps are predicted, but much more is needed.




I drove south to Logan, Utah yesterday for a quick visit with my crew at the R.U. Outside store and warehouse (the new & bigger main street location is looking great). I took the Tetonia-Rexburg route, and this was the view at the northwest end of the Big Hole mountains.

The Big Holes are the epicenter of Teton Valley snowmobiling (as well as the emerging sport of snow biking, but more on that later), with a couple hundred miles of groomed trails plus plenty of off-trail climbing and powder playgrounds. As of yesterday, there was virtually no snow, with green grass growing in the fields. It makes for nice driving conditions, but no winter fun...and we're ready for some winter fun around here.






Snow or not, Teton Valley scenery is always sublime. Sometimes (often, really) the sights are almost spiritual, as with the sunset this past Sunday evening. Definitely a worthy interruption of dinner and football.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Driggs to Minneapolis


Almost by definition, living in a small town like Driggs means leaving from time to time. Whether it's work, visiting family, vaction, or a supply run to Costco, travel outside the valley happens.

For the past sixteen years I have spent a November weekend in Minneapolis, where R.U. Outside displays at a big Winter Sports Show. The city is terrific, and the people are even better. "Minnesota nice" is an absolute truism. The whole experience is so pleasant that Joanne even accompanies me, and this year her brother Mark and his girlfriend Cara joined us as well. It was great catching up with them, and mixing a little fun with business.





Another huge plus with the Minneapolis show is that once we're there, we don't have to drive. Several hotels are practically adjacent to the convention center, and a plethora of great restaurants line nearby Nicollet Mall, a hip pedestrian street. Thursday's dinner at The Newsroom was a highlight; their "Get Bent" drinks are legendary.









These tradeshows are not especially glamorous, and the toll on feet, backs and energy is noticeably greater now than it was sixteen years ago. Making it even more difficult is the fact that attendance at this show has declined over the years; winters in Minnesota are not what they used to be (notice the green grass in the top photo, arrggh). But, we persevered and made the most of it.

In the ultimate team sacrifice, Mark and I passed up tickets to the Vikings-Packers game on Sunday (are you kidding me Mark, did we really say "no" to that? what have we become?). It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but the game was in Green Bay and we were in Minneapolis...working. With our significant others. Some decisions just aren't win-win.




The Grand Finale of our trip was a month's worth of Christmas shopping compressed into a couple of days at the Mall of America. With over 500 stores, 50 restaurants, 14 movie theatres and an indoor theme park (including rollercoasters, a log flume, ferris wheel, and real-live trees), it swallows you whole yet does it in a comforting way. Yes, you just spent all your money, but the people were just so NICE...ahhh, only in Minnesota.

Just be sure you have a map, or better yet a GPS, because you will get lost. Especially if you're from Driggs.










We somehow emerged from the mother of all malls, caught our direct flight to Idaho Falls, and enjoyed the quiet drive home to Driggs...where Bridger awaits the next outdoor adventure. I'm looking forward to it as much as he is.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Scenic November Singletrack


I'm not complaining, but it's starting to feel like a long time since we had winter around Driggs. Typically, we have only four snow-free months: June through September (and even then get random June and September accumulations). This year is turning that upside down, as select trails have been snow-free since April. It's now November, going on eight months since skis, snow bikes and snowmobiles ruled the day. The old timers will tell you this is nothing short of crazy, and it's not helping the elk hunting.






But, why fight it. After setting the clocks back last night, Joanne and I awoke feeling rested and ready for a shoulder season adventure. Crisp fifty-degree sunshine beckoned.

There's a little-known singletrack trail nearby that is ideal for spring and fall dirt bike, mountain bike or horseback rides. It's at a slightly lower elevation and has good sun exposure, drying out earlier and staying dry later than any other Teton Valley trails. Most of it also overlooks the South Fork of the Snake River, making the scenery positively stunning. Just be sure to stop before looking around, or you'll end up in the river 800 feet below with the fly-fishing driftboats.




It was the perfect pre-Colts/Patriots game ride. Twelve miles of out-and-back mountain biking, just over two hours, with a couple thousand feet of climbing. Several mandatory stops were necessary to wipe the grins from our faces, giddy at being out like this in November. We encountered two very cool dirt bikers, and otherwise the day was ours.

To have an outing like that, return to watch the sunset from your own porch and sleep in your own bed...this is why we live in Driggs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Returning


It's been one of the nicest falls of our 13 years in Teton Valley. Snow one weekend, sunshine the next, temperatures perfect. And, while they're essentially gone now, the colors were brilliant. A genuine Indian Summer, relished by all.

The 4" of snow from ten days ago was a distant memory this week. Brilliant blue sky framed snow-covered Tetons, and it was good to be living in Driggs. I made it out on two afternoon mountain bike rides, both in short sleeves and shorts...nearly unheard of for late October.





I somehow pried myself away from Driggs bliss, and drove to Salt Lake for yet another R.U. Outside tradeshow. As a Wasatch Front native, I don't mind occasional return visits. It's always good to reconnect with family, friends and familiar places. I even spent a night with my good friend Matt Z and his impressive young family (loved the steam shower!).

The show was good and so was the company. But, the explosion of traffic, construction and smog from Ogden to Provo these past few years has made it almost intolerable for a small town Idaho boy to handle. When I was a young lad, Draper was where you went to pheasant hunt; today, it's nothing but trendy strip malls, subdivisions and pavement. I was happy to flee back north in time for Sunday in Driggs.





Bridger accompanied me on one of the afternoon rides last week, and was thrilled to find some lingering snow in the shade. I promised him there's plenty more white stuff on the way, soon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Recalls, Ruminations, Tradeshows


There is a recall election pending in Teton County, and it's consuming the community. The weekly newspaper is filled with letters supporting or opposing it; we're getting phone calls at home every week encouraging us to vote one way or another; today I was at the local gym, and someone I didn't know asked me whether Joanne and I were "for" or "against" the recall...before he even introduced himself. It's an issue that's getting more attention than the elk hunt this year, further illustrating the degree of change in Teton Valley.

Two new commissioners were elected in last year's election. They won, fair and square. Both happened to be Democrats, one male and one female (gasp!). It marked a sea-change in the valley towards more liberal leadership, and many long-time locals were not happy about it. Enough of them (over 20%) signed a petition to force a recall election So, here we are, election deja vu all over again.


On November 7, we the citizens of Teton County, Idaho will vote either FOR or AGAINST an actual recall. If the number of FOR votes is greater than the number of votes these commissioners received in last year's election, they will be replaced by two other Democrats selected by a complex committee and state system. I wonder whether those who signed the "recall petition" even realized what the process would entail. Regardless of the outcome, they will not have Republican commissioners during the course of this term.




This all reminds me of my senior year in college, when I served as a "research and writing intern" for Utah Senator Jake Garn on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I went in thinking I would make a career of politics in some form or fashion, possibly even staying in D.C. after the internship. I left swearing it off for life, disillusioned by a system that worked smoothly two-hundred years ago but has since become long on process and short on results. I respect those who do it (especially their patience), but it just wasn't me. Realizing I was much more of an entrepreneurial personality, I started a small business shortly thereafter and haven't looked back.


Speaking of my business: it's tradeshow season, and last week was Seattle (the show was actually closer to Tacoma, but Seattle sounds better). We sent Andrew and Kurt up from Logan with the truck & trailer - loaded with inventory - and setup a 600 sq. ft. booth. We basically operated a portable store for 2 days selling R.U. Outside boots, gloves, socks, long johns, fleecewear, jackets, headwear and accessories. All the good stuff you need for winter. It's a lot of work and brutal on the feet and back, but worth it.




Anchoring our team were three generations of Lloyds, all of them Washington natives: the legendary Kay (a.k.a. "K-Dog"), her daughter Jana and grandson Anthony. Great people, and Anthony showed he's ready to carry the family salesmanship torch forward.










We had a large, fun, effective staff...and no drama! Always a bonus. Nicole flew up from Colorado, plus my younger-bigger brother Mark and his wife Annie came from Salt Lake. They are awesome to hang out with. We went to dinner in the hip Belltown district of downtown Seattle Saturday night, enjoyed great food and gawked at big city life.

I'd post a picture of something cool like the Space Needle or Mount Rainier, but it was raining the entire time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Transitions


As we continue to bounce between winter and Indian Summer here in Driggs, I see analagous transitions all around me.

Long-standing Teton Valley ranching and farming vocations are fading, transitioning to a new recreation-based economy. When we arrived in 1995, the local scene was all about those traditional pursuits; school was even stopped for a week so the kids could work the potato harvest. Today, kids and faculty still get "Spud Week," but most of them use it for vacations. Cattle drives are still seen, but are viewed with nostalgia.






In those same twelve years, I've seen the local equine scene transition from an every-man pursuit to a more privileged activity. The younger generations now use ATV's to get around on the farms and backroads. Joanne frequently comments, sadly, on how her circle of riding friends has dwindled. Horses require daily work and feeding; ATV's usually don't. Plus, horses require open space, which is disappearing by the day.







I find myself nodding more and more respectfully to the so-called "old timers" when I see them around town, or pass them on the few remaining stretches of Teton Valley rural roads. I simply can't imagine the scope of change they've witnessed in their lifetimes here, it's gotta be staggering.







When we moved to the valley, there was an unnamed and very faint horse trail that snaked back into the Big Hole mountains, just west of Pine Creek Pass. In 1996, Joanne and her friend Celia started calling it "Spooky Trail," because it often felt sort of creepy along the way (that spookiness was verified a few years later, when I encountered a mountain lion about a mile from the trailhead...and confirmed again later when I was surrounded by five Great Pyrenees sheep dogs and thought my days had ended). The trail was eventually adopted by the Forest Service, and is now called "Spooky Trail" on official maps. Pretty cool.







From those lonely and spooky beginnings, to how the trailhead looked today. To be fair, our trails are always more crowded during hunting season, which is in full swing at the moment. Nonetheless, this scene was further evidence of the transitions that come with growth. And, apparently, if you name it...they will come.









Perhaps the most abrupt transition of the week was experienced by our dog Bridger. At 7 months and 77 lbs., he graduated from the ranks of "young stud" to "it." To keep him from removing his own stitches, he was a conehead for a couple of days, which he took as a mere bump in the road. Can't say I would have handled it that well ;-) He's already game for new adventures, more worry-free than ever.