Your Own Private Idaho
|Choose your lane, carve a fresh track: Grand Targhee's powder-rich flora. (Tim Neville)|
The road leading south out of Harrison, Idaho, winds through forests of pine and over open fields blanketed in snow as thick and fluffy as overstuffed cushions. The weatherman in Coeur dAlene says more snow is on the way, at least a couple of inches, if not a foot. This makes me unspeakably happy. In the back of the cara très fancy Acura MDX on loansits a brand new set of telemark skis, the fat ones, the kind that long for such a forecast.
This is day three of a 12-day, 1,500-mile road trip through a state that could arguably be one of the nations least crowded and wildest winter playgrounds. Idaho, the countrys 13th-largest state with 1.3 million people, enjoys all the perks of being distinctly Rocky Mountain rural (big mountains, big snow, no crowds) without being so far off the map that its difficult to find reasonable airfare in and out. For many whove never been here, thoughts of Idaho might summon images of boring spuds. Sure, Famous Potatoes is emblazoned unapologetically on many of the states license plates, but for the outdoor adventurer, Idaho is hands-down a must-see. The weather is milder than in places like Wyoming or Montana (Idaho's average winter low is in the 20sdownright balmy compared to the January average low of minus one in Jackson, Wyoming), and you get just as much snow, if not more, thanks to storms that cruise in off the Pacific.
The state boasts the largest chunk of continuous wilderness in the Lower 48: the apocalyptically named Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, a 2.3-million-acre swath of mountains, lakes, and grizzly habitat. Add to that a cast of ski resorts like Grand Targhee; Sun Valley; Schweitzer; the nations newest ski resort, Tamarack; dude ranches with hokey-free horseback riding; steelhead fishing on the Snake River; and thousands of square miles of public lands for backcountry trips staged from cozy mountain huts, and youll soon learn that Idaho is the type of place where its easy to wake up each morning with an indefatigable spirit and utterly depleted calves and quads.
For the moment, though, all is warm and comfy in the car as I motor toward Lewiston, an industrial port at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers named after Meriwether Lewis who came through this area in 1805. (Clarkston, named after William Clark, sits just across the river in Washington.) A friend is flying in tonight from Oregon to join me for the rest of the adventure. She, too, is bringing skis. Though we lived within easy striking distance of Idaho during a stint in Bozeman, Montana, neither of us has really ever explored the Gem Statean error that will grow more apparent and egregious with each place we stop to play.
I crest a hilltop and can see more storm clouds coming in. With a few more hours to go, I turn on the radio. Its shortly before Christmas and as the dial auto-seeks through the channels, it finally stops on a public radio station out of Washington. I ad-lib the lyrics and sing along.
Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the snow is so delightful,
And since Im in Idaho,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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