Monday, March 31, 2008

Late Winter Cross-Training, Driggs style

It's the end of March, and winter continues unabated here in Eastern Idaho. Last year at this time, Teton Valley was snow-free up into the foothills. This year, it's still being measured in feet on the valley floor. The snow hasn't even begun to melt. So, last week I decided to just go with it and cram in a bunch more "winter" outings even though my inner clock is ready for spring.

My buddy Jimmy spent the week with us, and had his Polaris 700cc Dragon mountain sled along. He encouraged me to take it for an after-work ride one evening, which I happily did. Next thing I knew, I was literally on top of the 10,000 foot mountain up behind my house, watching the sunset. It would have taken all day to hike or ski up there, but it was only 25 minutes of aggressive riding on the snowmobile. Conditions were insanely good: a couple feet of fresh powder on top of a great base with hills, trees, meadows and expansive views. All I could think was, "wow."

I wanted to pay Jimmy back for the sweet snowmobile ride, so the next day I took him on our signature cross-country ski trail up Teton Canyon. To fully appreciate this, you have to understand Jimmy: he owns a small business outside Minneapolis called "All-Power Sports." He's basically the only black dude in the snowmobile market, and he's been a friend of mine for 15 years (we've got some stories). He always threatens to join me on one of my self-propelled outings, so it was awesome to finally make it happen. The kicker was, he rocked it and had a great time.

How do you follow-up snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in Driggs? By snowshoeing, of course. Jimmy was up for it, so we headed out to Horseshoe Canyon on a cold but bluebird day and trekked around for a couple of hours. The views were huge, and snowshoeing allows you to really look around and take it all in. I could see the scenery seeping into my buddy, he was digging it.

Jimmy left the next morning and Joanne was on a house-cleaning binge, so I capped off the weekend with a solo snow bike ride in the Big Holes. Another storm was beginning to roll in, but the Tetons were still visible in the distance. Bridger accompanied me, showing no sign of fatigue. He's hoping winter lasts 'til June, and the way it's looking he may just get his wish.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Weekend in West Yellowstone

I began going to West Yellowstone, Montana as a six-year-old, snowmobiling with my family. Those annual trips continued for two decades, and are some of my fondest memories. The sense of independence, piloting my own snowmobile; wonderment at the winter scenery and wildlife; respect for the elements when breaking down and getting caught out in blizzards; cozy times with family and friends.

Today, West Yellowstone is slowly wilting away. Regulations on snowmobiling in the Park have taken a toll, and what was once a healthy winter town is beginning to look like more of an "outpost" these days. It's a shame. Even at its late 1990's peak, winter visitation was a fraction of summer use (appx. 100,000 out of the 3 million annually), and it occurs on a protective layer of snow. Yet for some reason, special interest groups decided that snowmobiling in Yellowstone must be curtailed or eliminated. Meanwhile, millions of diesel trucks, buses, autos, motorcycles, camping, fishing, swimming and etc. continue unregulated each summer. Someone explain the logic to me, please.

But I digress. I now make the pilgrimage back to "West" on business every March, for the World Snowmobile Expo and SnoCross races. R.U. Outside is a sponsor of the event, plus we have a booth displaying and selling our winter boots, gloves, long johns, jackets, fleecewear and such. It's a great weekend, and the first public unveiling of the next season's new snowmobile models.

Snow conditions at this year's event were terrific, the most white stuff I've seen in West Yellowstone in nearly ten years. The SnoWest-built SnoCross race track was awesome, providing plenty of speed, jumps, turns and fun. It snowed off-and-on all weekend, but there were also windows of blue sky with pleasant temperatures. No complaints.

I enjoy the excitement and bustle of tradeshows and an extent. Then, I need solitude, time for introspection and reflection. I have gone to the West Yellowstone Expo for 17 consecutive years now, and every year I make a point to get outside and explore a little. Some years that has been snowmobiling in the park, other years (when snow is low) riding my bike in the park, and other times (like this year) a nice ski tour outside of town.

It's an incredible feeling to be standing there, alone, along the banks of the Madison River (world-class fly fishing) in our nation's first national park. Bison tracks are prevalent, wolves and grizzlies are roaming beyond any given horizon, and you can feel the presence of a vast, wild ecosystem. Priceless.

Driving home to Driggs, I passed an acquaintance out on his Sunday afternoon horse ride. The snow is still way too deep for any trail what the heck, just ride on the shoulder of the highway. It was a cool sight, and vintage Teton Valley, Idaho.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Snow, Playa, Pines

The snow around Driggs continued to pile up (and drift) through February. Teton County roads remained icy, with hidden ditches waiting to swallow unsuspecting vehicles. Skiing and snowmobiling conditions were great, but it was time for a break.

A quick week south of the border was the perfect antidote. The nicest part was simply being warm and walking out the door in shorts every day, rather than donning layer after layer. Walking and running on the beach, swimming and body surfing in the ocean, fresh fish and fruit, sleeping to the sound of waves...all just a half-day away from Driggs thanks to modern air travel.

Watching the sun drop into the ocean each night was icing on the cake. It speaks to a person on such a pure, visceral level. Anyone see the green flash here?

Back home there's still plenty of winter left, so we'll be making the most of it. We got out on a great snow bike ride with Bridger on Sunday, celebrating his first birthday (which means it's also exactly a year since we lost Targhee, R.I.P.). He enjoyed the challenge of not chasing snowmobiles as they passed ;-)