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 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.