Unpack the skis for sunshine in Idaho’s high country

By Pete Zimowsky / Idaho Statesman

Published Apr 23, 2014 at 12:01AM

BOISE, Idaho — The bright sun reflects off the snow, and its warmth makes you want to shed the ski parka and snowshoe down the trail in your light sweater.

It’s April, and that means snow country and sun. Forgive me for using a cliche, but it doesn’t get any better than this, really.

It’s amazing that we’re all in a rush to ski during November and December, when the weather’s nasty and the snow’s not that good.

Now, when the weather’s perfect to be up in the mountains on cross-country ski, snowshoe and snowmobile trails, everyone’s thinking about shorts, T-shirts, fishing, boating and walking the Greenbelt. We’re always going on to the next thing.

I’ll admit it’s a crazy time of year in Idaho. I’m having gear storage problems in the garage because of multi-outdoor sports. Skis are stacked up near fishing rods and paddles.

I have to strap the avalanche shovel on the daypack one day for skiing, and then take it off for Foothills day hiking. What a dilemma.

One day it’s ski boots, and the next day, hiking boots. Ski poles, then hiking poles. It kind of creates a mess of gear piled up in the garage ready to go.

OK, back to snow country. Sure, we’ve got boating on low-elevation reservoirs and rivers, desert camping, plenty of fishing holes and lots of hiking in the low country.

But to me, the best of ski or snowshoe season has started, and that’s been luring me up to the high country. We snowshoed Gold Fork Park N’ Ski area northeast of Idaho City on a recent weekend, and conditions were perfect for hot dogs cooking on the grill during a parking lot tailgate party and fun on the trail.

I love it when you get corn snow that’s great for skiing. The kick and glide is perfect, and you have a lot of control carving tele turns. The snow is solid enough that you can go almost anywhere off trail.

I guess a good idea is to alternate weekends in the low country and high country.

Mores Creek Summit may still have more than 90 inches of snow, and the trails are packed.

Other snow areas, as of last week: Secesh Summit (McCall area), 80 inches; Galena (Sun Valley area), 55 inches; Galena Summit, 71 inches; Bear Basin (McCall area), 40 inches; and Banner Summit (Stanley area), 92 inches.

Still, it’s a time of the year where you are going to find bare spots in the high country. Most of the tree wells are melting down to dirt. You’ll find some trails littered with pine needles and other wind debris, but who cares?

The daytime temperatures are around 50 — perfect for light clothing.

Even the dog loves the go-anywhere snow. Phoebe likes being able to run on top of the snow without sinking up to her chin.

Yup. The spring snow season has begun. Just get your gear organized.

Onto paddling ...

Here I am talking about enjoying the snow, and I’m jumping into paddling. A few weeks ago, we thought about places to go canoeing or kayaking early to get some exercise and regain your sea legs after a long winter. At the time, the reservoir behind Diversion Dam on the Boise River hadn’t filled. Well, it’s filled now and makes a good place for beginner paddlers to get used to current and eddy lines.

The small reservoir is about 7 miles east of downtown Boise off Idaho 21. It’s located below Lucky Peak Reservoir. There’s a picnic area in the state park, so you can combine picnicking and paddling.

One thing: Watch the wind and current. Remember, the farther downstream on the reservoir you go, the more you have to paddle upstream to get back to the park.

Also, buoys block access to the waters below Lucky Peak Dam, which are dangerous. Markers also show when you are getting too close to the Diversion Dam downstream.

There’s also a $5 motor vehicle entry fee at Discovery Park if you don’t have an annual State Parks pass.

Snake weather

Idaho’s snakes are emerging from their dens after a long winter.

A reader wrote in a few days ago that he spotted a gopher snake coming out of a hole at Celebration Park along the Snake River, south of Nampa. That means rattlesnakes also will be coming out of their dens.

“Usually the native snakes in this area begin to emerge during the warm days of late March and into April and May,” said Idaho snake expert Frank Lundburg, a wildlife educator and also an adjunct instructor for herpetology at Boise State University.

They don’t usually go far from their dens because of the erratic spring weather, he said. They need a warm place to hole up.

The Great Basin gopher snake and Idaho’s native rattlesnake look similar. You can distinguish between them because the gopher snake has no rattle, a smaller head and different patterns on its body. I don’t know how close you want to get to a snake to find out which is which.

But be warned. Both snakes share the same habitat and some species share the same den.

This is the time of the year to be aware of snakes as they leave their dens, and that’s why they are seen more often.

Give them space and TLC. Don’t disturb them while they might be in a more sleepy state because of the colder weather.

They are important in nature because they keep the rodent population down. They’re probably hungry coming out of hibernation.