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.