Cowboy-up for real at the Real Cowboy College

Ride the range with the Real Cowboy College.

Ride the range with the Real Cowboy College. Credit Idaho Media Solutions

The western culture is alive and well in Idaho.  Guest ranches, professional and amateur rodeos, equestrian competitions, wild horses and sweeping vistas dotted with livestock can be found all around the state.  The dusty trails and cowboy hats conjure images from your favorite western movie, and now, you can play a starring role.

Last year, Larry Knapp, owner of 3K Ranch, developed the beginnings of Real Cowboy College, envisioning a place where all walks of life could come and learn the true cowboy way. He invited D.R. Bledsoe, manager of Seven Devils Lodge Guest Ranch, to partner with him in creating the experience. Founded on respect and integrity, Real Cowboy College, offers individuals a chance to learn the true “cowboy code” from professionals with years of invaluable experience.

Cowboy roping and riding.

Cowboy roping and riding.
Credit Idaho Media Solutions

Real Cowboy College offers multi-level education, from novice to expert, in several disciplines. The program focuses on cowboy skills and character. Students are immersed into cowboy culture, starting first with real cowboy attire. Coaches facilitate the shopping spree experience, while participants select clothing suitable for training. Orientation commences with a history of the western ranch horse, horse confirmation, horse care, grooming and horsemanship skills. Participants will be paired up with their own horse and will learn the basics of how to care for, groom and saddle their horse.  Further education teaches horsemanship, roping, and working and moving cattle. The longer overnight trips will include cooking, campfires, cowboy entertainment and cowboy culture.

The 3 K Ranch in Star, Idaho, accommodates Real Cowboy College participants during portions of their instruction. Longer courses will start at 3 K Ranch then move up to Seven Devils Lodge for riders to experience diversified terrain and higher levels of education.

The Seven Devils Lodge, managed by D.R. Bledsoe, is located near Council in southwest Idaho, just south of the Seven Devils mountain range. The Seven Devils Lodge sits on the historic OX Ranch, a working cattle ranch since the early 1900s, and is located just a few miles from the deepest canyon in North America, Hells Canyon. Guests at the lodge will experience real ranch life, see spectacular scenery and have access to the largest wilderness backcountry in the lower 48 states.

Cowboy sunset

Cowboy sunset.
Credit Idaho Media Solutions

Real Cowboy College employs top notch instructors and world class horse trainers at 3 K Ranch and Seven Devils Lodge. Three day packages can be booked at either location. The six day package includes both locations and is the ultimate Real Cowboy College experience.  Students who attend and complete the full week program will receive a diploma, others taking shorter courses will be awarded a certificate of completion.

“The experience is unparalleled,” says Knapp. “Being a real cowboy is about character, about class, about doing the right thing even when no one is watching.  We guarantee that when you leave Real Cowboy College, you’ll be a changed person.”

At the age of five, Knapp started riding with his father in Broken Bow, Nebraska. When his family moved to Idaho in the 60s, Knapp competed in and won numerous local, regional, and national championships in the reigning and cow horse categories. Knapp has lived on a ranch most of his life, surrounded by horses since his early teens.  His life goal was to live the life of a true cowboy.  Now you can, too, at the Real Cowboy College.

For more Idaho vacation ideas, go to www.visitidaho.org.

Idaho snowpack levels promise stellar whitewater season

Reposted with permission from the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association and blogger Steve Stuebner.

Whitewater rafting on the Payette River.

Whitewater rafting on the Payette River. Photo courtesy Cascade Raft.

Idaho mountain snowpack levels and anticipated stream flows in the popular Salmon, Snake, Lochsa and Payette river basins are ranging from 90-120 percent of normal, which should provide for a stellar, fun-filled whitewater river season in the summer of 2014.

“Our bookings are very strong this year and we feel lucky to have such a fabulous snowpack, especially compared to much of the West,” said Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene. “Folks planning to raft in Idaho this season shouldn’t wait much longer before signing up.”  Idaho’s snowpack levels are much stronger than levels well below 50 percent in California and Nevada, Grubb notes.

Idaho is known nationally as the “whitewater state” with more than 3,000 miles of thrilling whitewater rapids, the most of any state in the lower 48. Thousands will take week-long wilderness river vacations on the Salmon River, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the Selway River or Hells Canyon of the Snake with Idaho outfitters. Whitewater enthusiasts also will book day trips on the Payette, Snake, Salmon, Lochsa, St. Joe and Moyie Rivers. Great water conditions will also benefit jet boat trips on the Salmon River and in Hells Canyon. Now is a great time to reserve your spot for a unique and unforgettable vacation, outfitters say.

A wet month in February featuring precipitation levels exceeding 200 percent of normal in the Boise and Snake river basins and 150 percent of normal in the Salmon and Payette River Basin is what boosted snowpack levels to what they are now, experts say.

“It’s all good news! It just keeps getting better every day,” said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “We need the cool temperatures to continue in the mountains and normal precipitation levels to continue in the spring to maintain these forecasts.”

See pictographs during Idaho river trips.

It’s always interesting to stop and check out Native American pictographs on Idaho river trips. Photo courtesy Silver Cloud Expeditions.

Main Salmon and Payette River outfitters are excited about the snowpack levels, too.  “The Main Salmon River has an amazing snowpack this year so rafting season is going to be great: big water, beautiful sandy beaches and exciting rapids,” said Mary Wright of Silver Cloud Expeditions. “The word is out. We have several full trips already and are looking forward to a fantastic summer. Now is the time to plan your family vacation.”

“The water outlook on the Payette River system looks solid at over 92 percent of normal,” said Kenneth Long of Cascade Raft and Kayak. “There is still plenty of time to collect a bit more precipitation, which will put the icing on the cake. Both rafting and kayaking look great for the entire summer, with super whitewater levels on the South Fork through Labor Day and on the Main Payette through mid-September.”

Deep snowpacks in the Upper Snake Basin should provide enough flows for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide boatable flows through the white-knuckle Murtaugh section near Twin Falls this spring. That’s always a bonus for whitewater boaters.

Rafting on the Lochsa should be awesome this year

Rafting on the Lochsa should be awesome this year, with tons of runoff and all of the thrills and adrenaline of a big-water experience. Photo courtesy Bear Paw Expeditions.

The only downside this year are below-normal snowpacks in the Owyhee and Bruneau river basins, which are 52 and 68 percent of normal right now. Those rivers may not get high enough for rafting this year, but should be doable by kayak.

For more information about booking an Idaho whitewater river trip, go to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association web site, ioga.org/rafting or call 208-342-1438.

Spring Break Fun in Idaho

Large steelhead held by man and boy.

Quite a catch! credit Exodus Wilderness Adventures

Spring is near, and with spring, comes spring break.  As you’re out and about enjoying time with friends and family, consider these activities.

 

 

 

North Central Idaho 

Fishing is always good in north central Idaho with Steelhead and Chinook leading the way. Spring Chinook numbers should be double last year’s runs to the Snake River according to the Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group.  They are predicting “the largest flood of salmon since fish counts began at the new Bonneville Dam in 1938” so your chances are pretty good!

Steelhead are running now and there are guides and outfitters ready to help you make fishing memories.  Start fishing for hatchery Chinook in April as they return to the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon Rivers. This wild fish is endangered so catch and release is required, but the thrill is in the catch.

Southwest Idaho

In Boise, the buzz is all about the Treefort Music Fest (best for adults and young adults). The festival is March 20-23 in venues all around downtown Boise. Treefort began with a straightforward music focus but now offers:

  • Treefort Film Fest, the best in emerging independent cinema
  • Hackfort, pairing Idaho’s best coders, engineers and designers with some of the best national tech minds
  •  Yogafort, yoga and dance classes taught by certified yoga instructors from studios around Idaho and featuring live music classes
  • Storyfort a forum for authors, songwriters, bloggers and other literary junkies
  • Alefort to showcase the best local and regional brews
  • Development Sessions, informative music industry-related sessions, panels, and speakers
  • Treefort Comedy Showcase

    Centripetal spinner at Discovery Center of Idaho

    Centripetal spinner at Discovery Center of Idaho

  • Skatefort – skate and music events

There is so much happening at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise that it’s a good idea to plan your visit to see and experience the programs, exhibits and events you don’t want to miss, like one of the daily science demonstrations or a Young Discoverers program designed for preschoolers. DCI is also offering a Spring Break Day Camp March 24-28 for grades 1-4.

The World Center for Birds of Prey is discounting admission fees and offering special activities for children March 25-30. Activities include live bird presentations, craft projects and a special spring break scavenger hunt. Watch films on birds of prey and take a tour of the Archives of Falconry. Be sure to spend some time at the outdoor California condor exhibit.

South Central Idaho

Astronaut - now showing at the Faulkner Planetarium

Astronaut – now showing at the Faulkner Planetarium

Herrett Center’s Faulkner Planetarium on the College of Southern Idaho campus hosts daily planetarium shows at 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.  On March 29, catch “Earth Hour” Night Telescope Viewing — the night the world is asked to turn out all unnecessary lights for one hour as a gesture of energy conservation. Visit the Centennial Observatory at the Herrett Center and enjoy the dark skies.

Eastern Idaho

At the Museum of Idaho, the Race to the End of the Earth exhibit tells one of the most stirring tales of Antarctic exploration, the contest to reach the South Pole. It focuses on the challenges that Norwegian and British explorers faced as they undertook their separate 2900 km journeys from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf to the South Pole and back.

Southeastern Idaho

Visit the Lava Hot Springs hot pools. For centuries, many Indian tribes called these natural hot water springs “healing waters.” Geologists theorize the water has been a consistent 110 degrees for at least 50 million years. Today this world-famous, family-friendly, year-round resort complex is a playground for young and old.  There are a number of lodging properties in town that also offer private hot pools and spa services on their property.

Catch some air at the Airbag Tour at Brundage.

Catch some air at the Brundage Airbag Tour.

There is still great snow at Idaho’s ski areas.  When the temps warm up, there is sure to be even more fun on the slopes.  Here is a quick list of ski area spring celebrations.

 

 

  • Solfest, a celebration of sun, soft snow and spring, takes place March 22-23 in Sun Valley.
  • Mountain Dew Big Bowl Super Cross will be held at Boise’s Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area March 22-23.
  • Brundage Mountain has a lot going on for Spring Break with specials, live entertainment, US Airbag Tour (March 21-23) and Winter Games (March 27-28).
  • Grand Targhee is going all out with its Spring Break Away celebration March 22-30.
  • Lookout Pass will have a scavenger hunt and Crazy Costume Day on March 29, followed by a beach party and Big Kahuna Downhill on March 30.
  • Pebble Creek will hold its Spring Celebration & Deck Party March 28-30, including the Monster Dummy Jump March 22 and the Boxes for Dayze competition March 28-29.
  • Don’t miss the Costume Party Competition March 29 and Slush Cup Pond Skim (April 5) at Pomerelle Ski Resort.
  • Enjoy the outdoor brewfest at Schweitzer Mountain’s Winterfest on March 29.
  • Catch the Silver Cup Races at Silver Mountain on March 29.
  • Join Tamarack for its spring break celebration March 20-30 with themed specials (tie-die Tuesday, flannel Friday, etc.) and the Beach Party End of Season Celebration on March 30.

Learn more about these events and Idaho’s ski areas at www.skiidaho.us. For lodging information and more Idaho spring travel ideas, go to www.visitidaho.org.

March Proclaimed Arts and Culture Month in Idaho

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has officially proclaimed March as Arts and Culture Month throughout the state of Idaho.  The proclamation serves as a call to Idahoans and visitors to explore and participate in the many multi-faceted arts and culture events throughout the Gem State.

“Artistic and cultural events play a unique and valuable role in our communities, and our state as a whole,” said Governor Otter. “They enhance every aspect of life in Idaho—improving our economy, enriching our lives, promoting tourism and connecting people to Idaho’s creative community.”

While many events will be happening around the state throughout the month, there are a few standouts to highlight:

Brundage Mountain's Smoky’s Bar & Grill hosts Musical March.

Smoky’s Bar and Grill hosts Musical March. Credit Brundage Mountain

  • Musical March: Every Saturday in March at Brundage Mountain.  From 2-5pm at the Lodge each Saturday, a live music act will be on hand to entertain skiers, snowboarders and lodge-bunnies.
  • Family of Woman Film Festival: March 7-10 at the Sun Valley Opera House. International feature length documentaries and dramas exploring the status of women. Five films from five countries will be shown representing the festival theme, Women and Education.

    Sun Valley Film Festival presenters Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten.

    Sun Valley Film Festival Coffee Talk presenters Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten. Credit Focus Features

  • Sun Valley Film Festival: March 13-16 in Sun Valley and surrounding communities.  This popular event offers the opportunity to enjoy fantastic skiing and outstanding indie cinema.
  • Trey McIntyre Project Spring Performance: Their final performance in Boise, TMP will perform “Mercury Half-Life,” set to the music of Queen, as well as premiere the ballet “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction,” inspired by Edward Gorey on March 15.
  • Treefort Music Fest: March 20-23 in Downtown Boise. In its third year, Treefort will feature almost 300 bands performing across multiple stages – among those, nearly one-third are from Idaho.

    Treefort Music Fest. Credit Jeremy Conant

    Treefort Music Fest. Credit Jeremy Conant

  • Spring Aged Event: Also taking place March 19-23, the Idaho Cutting Horse Association invites equestrian lovers to get in some Western culture with their “Spring Aged” event taking place at the Idaho Horse Park in Nampa.
  • Music Walk: March 28 in Downtown Coeur d’Alene. The streets of Coeur d’Alene will ring with live musical performances from local favorites. The events take place at restaurants and galleries throughout the downtown core.

For additional events and information and to see the full proclamation, please visit www.visitidaho.org/arts-and-culture-month.  You will also find lodging, attractions, and outdoor recreation information at www.visitidaho.org.

Celebration for Gold Medalist Kaitlyn Farrington, Saturday, March 1

Idaho's own Kaitlyn Farrington, Olympic Gold MedalistThe Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation is thrilled to welcome Olympic Gold Medalist Kaitlyn Farrington home to the Wood River Valley. Please join the entire Wood River Valley community for a celebration on Saturday, March 1. We hear it’s going to be a party of epic proportions!

Saturday, March 1
2:30 p.m.– Festivities begin at the Sun Valley Warm Springs Lodge with live music and food and beverage specials from Sun Valley Company.

4:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.– Official ceremony on the Warm Springs Deck honoring Kaitlyn.

5:00 p.m to 7 p.m.– Street party commences on Picabo Street between Jane Lane and Lloyd Court. Live music by Old Death Whisper. Food and drink specials available at Apple Bar & Grill.

Five-Minute Recreation Access Survey–We Need Your Input!

Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana are working together to understand vacationer transportation needs while visiting the three states.  This is a survey about your thoughts on recreation access while on vacation.  While we are very interested in your visits or future visits to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, we still welcome your comments even if you haven’t visited any of those states.  This is an opportunity for you to tell us more about yourself and your recreation travel needs.

Please click the link to complete this very short survey: http://outdooraccess.surveyanalytics.com

Thank you!

Idaho Bucket List Continues to Grow

by Cathy Bourner, Idaho Tourism, with ideas courtesy of Pete Zimowsky, outdoor writer for the Idaho Statesman

 

The Idaho Bucket List put together recently by Boise State Public Radio created quite a stir among listeners.  Additional suggestions and comments necessitated an addendum to the already substantial list, but really, it will never be complete.  Idaho just has too much to offer.

With that in mind, we asked Pete Zimowsky (“Zimo” to his fans), outdoor writer for the Idaho Statesman, to share some of his favorite outdoor adventures  from 2013.  Some are appropriate for winter; others best enjoyed in warmer months; and all offer experiences to remember.

1. Winter camping in an RV at Castle Rocks State Park in January.

“What? In the winter?” Absolutely. Castle Rocks State Park is a terrific place for cross country skiing and showshoeing with its miles of ungroomed snow to explore, and a multi-day visit is just the way to get to know the park. The rocks that are so attractiveCastle Rocks State Park to climbers in the summer provide the very intrepid with ice climbing opportunities.   Electricity is available at the park’s camping spots, although water has been turned off.

If you don’t have an RV, the park is still a great place to take a vacation in the winter. The Lodge, an updated, centuries-old ranch house, is available to rent year-round.  Amenities include a fully equipped kitchen, a bathroom with shower/tub, and a living room with a propane fireplace.

2. Staying at Stargaze Yurt in the Idaho City Trail System in January.

The Idaho City Trail System has six yurts for rent.  All can be reached within a 2-3 mile cross country ski or snowshoe trek .  Stargaze Yurt within the Idaho City Trail SystemThe Stargaze yurt is the newest addition to the system, and is the perfect place if you really want to get away from it all.  A 270 degree view gives you beautiful sight lines for Scott, Wolfe, and Steele  Mountains, Jackson and Pilots Peaks, and the Sawtooth Mountains. Way to embrace winter, Zimo!

The Idaho Parks & Recreation’s website has complete information on what you will need to pack in, what furnishings are provided, and other important details to help plan your trip.

3. Drive the Grangeville-Salmon Road and Visit Square Mountain Lookout and the Gospel Hump Wilderness in August.

Square Mountain Lookout, nestled in the Nez Perce National Forest, looks out on some of Idaho’s grandest scenery—the Gospel Hump Wilderness.  The lookout was built in 1931 and abandoned in the early 1970s. Volunteers began restoration work inGospel Hump Wilderness 1999 and continue to stave off deterioration of the structure. Idaho Public Television has a great program about Idaho’s fire lookouts.  Watch “Eyes of the Forest”.

From the lookout’s 8,345-foot vantage point, the 206,053-acre Gospel Hump Wilderness spreads out before you.  The area connects across the Salmon River with the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, which along with the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness forms a continuous wilderness area of over 4.3 million acres, the largest in the lower 48 states. Read more about the Gospel Hump Wilderness.

4. Hiking beautiful Redfish Lake Creek Trail from Redfish Lake into the Sawtooths in late June.

The Redfish Lake Creek Trail starts at the upper end of Red Fish Lake and can be reached by  a five or six mile hike around the Redfish Lakelake or a short boat ride in season. From the trailhead, you’ll climb along Redfish Lake Creek, passing through boulder fields and skirting granite cliffs. After a steep set of switchbacks, you reach the eastern shore of Alpine Lake.

The Alpine Lake hike is a great introduction to the Sawtooths; it’s also a nice camping spot for a multi-day adventure. The Inlet Trailhead, where you begin the hike, can also be the starting point for a number of longer hikes and camping possibilities.  Visit the Sawtooth National Recreation Area website to learn more.  Details regarding boat service can be obtained through the Redfish Lake Lodge or by calling  208-774-3536.

Read Zimo’s blog about the Alpine Lake hike here.

5. Camping and floating the Salmon River near Stanley in June.

Have you been to Stanley, Idaho in June?  A a meeting location for many river outfitters, it’s teeming with people ready to begin an excellent guided rafting adventure. Rafting Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Each year, approximately 10,000 people float the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The Middle Fork is a 104-mile free-flowing river in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, originating 20 miles northwest of Stanley at the confluence of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks. Rafters are treated to a smorgasbord of Idaho scenery and climates as the river flows south:  cool alpine forests, high mountain desert and a sheer, rock-walled canyon-the third deepest in North America.

If you’re considering a trip down the Salmon, visit the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association website for valuable information on who is permitted to run the Middle Fork, trip options, and contact information so you can cross this one off your bucket list!

6. Steelhead fishing on the Salmon River near Riggins in October. “Good fishing and lots of wild fish.” 

The quest for this largest of Idaho’s trout brings untold numbers of fisherpeople to Riggins each year to stand on the Salmon’s bank and cast a line or to set float in a drift boat to get their catch. Steelhead returning to the Salmon River for the second year ofSteelhead Fishing their lives can be 10-13 pounds and measure between 31 and 34 inches.  A three-year-old can easily exceed 37 inches and often weighs more than 20 pounds.  It is not uncommon to see fisherman stand almost shoulder to shoulder along the steep bank of the Salmon to try their hand at landing one of these fish.

Like so many of Idaho’s mountain towns, Riggins was a mining camp in the 1850s. The website for Riggins City will tell you about this tiny, but very active town on at the confluence of the Salmon and the Little Salmon Rivers.

2013 was quite a year for Mr. Zimowsky, who spent more than 50 nights camping, hiking, and immersing himself in Idaho. We appreciate his willingness to share those experiences, opportunities and helpful hints with his readers, broadening our horizons and spurring us to get out and see for ourselves.

Are you inspired?  Let Idaho Tourism help you plan your Idaho assault on your bucket list.  Visit www.visitidaho.org for travel information and order an Idaho Travel Guide or RV/Campground directory at www.visitidaho.org/publications.

Snow is falling throughout the state. Which resort will you be skiing at this holiday weekend?

Snow accumulations are climbing around the state. Get your Olympic game face on and ski Idaho this weekend!

Schweitzer Mountain

Schweitzer Mountain

 

Kelly Canyon: 97 inches
Grand Targhee: 96 inches
Lost Trail: 96 inches
Lookout Pass: 94 inches
Schweitzer: 74 inches
Pomerelle: 74 inches
Tamarack: 74 inches
Silver Mountain: 63 inches
Brundage: 66 inches

Brundage Mountain

Brundage Mountain

Bogus Basin 47 inches (base area, not summit)
Cottonwood Butte: 38 inches
Sun Valley: 52 inches
Bald Mountain: 52 inches
Pebble Creek: 46 inches
Snowhaven: 38 inches

For up to date snow reports, click here. 
Ski Idaho!

Ski Idaho!

Idaho Wines Love Chocolate

by Brenna Christison, Idaho Wine Commission

Ste. Chapelle Moscato pair nicely with dark chocolate.

Ste. Chapelle Moscato pairs nicely with dark chocolate.

Have you ever paired chocolate and wine? Wine and chocolate is an amazing dessert and a great way to end your evening. What could be sweeter on Valentine’s Day?

I enjoy dark chocolate most with a bold red wine; it makes the two even more delicious! When pairing the two, a good rule to follow is to make sure the wine is a little sweeter than the chocolate. If extreme dark chocolate (70% cacao) is your favorite, pair it with a bold red such as a cabernet sauvignon or malbec. You need a big, robust wine that can stand up to a heavy dark chocolate, as a milder wine will be overtaken by a strong cocoa content.  One of my favorite chocolate pairing wines is Koenig Vineyard’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – awarded 91 points by Wine Spectator. If your chocolate has mint flavor or nuts, a cabernet sauvignon is a great option.

If you prefer a milder dark chocolate (60% cacao) try a merlot or syrah. Cold Spring’s 2009 Merlot, a gold medal winner in the 2013 Idaho Wine Competition, would be a great pairing. Milk chocolate has a softer, creamier texture than dark chocolate, and works nicely with a lighter, sweeter wine. Try a dessert wine or a rosè like Sawtooth Winery’s 2012 Classic Fly Series.

Chocolate bars from Cowgirl Chocolates

Chocolate bars from Cowgirl Chocolates.

Cinsault Rosè, another gold medal recipient from the 2013 Idaho Wine Competition. White chocolate, although technically not chocolate, is quite tasty with a moscato. Try Ste. Chapelle’s moscato for a delicious combination.

Idaho has wonderful wines, and there are some terrific chocolate shops, too.

Cowgirl Chocolates in Moscow, ID
Dream Chocolates in Boise, ID
The Chocolat Bar in Boise, ID
Weiser Candy Co. in Weiser, ID
Arno Chocolates in Twin Falls, ID
The McCall Candy Company in McCall, ID
Sandpoint Chocolate Bear in Sandpoint, ID
Coeur d’Alene Chocolates, in Coeur d’Alene, ID

Always remember to eat the chocolate you love and drink the wine you love – especially if it is Idaho wine and chocolates!

Wow, Fat Bikes Rock!

by Steve Stuebner, Stueby’s Outdoor Journal blog

Fat BikesYou’ve probably noticed that Fat Bikes are becoming all the rage as a unique and robust human-powered vehicle for winter and summer recreation. I decided to rent an XL Salsa Mukluk 3 from Meridian Cycle last weekend, and I met up with a bunch of guys from McCall and Boise at Jug Mountain Ranch in McCall to try it out.

I had so much fun on the ride that now I want a fat bike of my own! Ha! Imagine that.

Gregg Lawley of McCall, who runs the groomer and Nordic Center at Jug Mountain Ranch, is allowing both fat bikes and dogs to run free on their cross-country ski trails. They’ve got 15K’s open for fat biking and skiing. Trail fees are $10 per day. It’s an awesome place to ride!

We only touched a portion of the trails as we rode up some singletrack and cross-country ski trails up to to Jug Mountain Reservoir, made a loop around the lake on a groomed ski trail, and then flew downhill on cross-country trails to the Landing, and then rode singletrack trails through the woods to more cross-country trails in the bottom of the valley, and circled back to the Nordic Center, where we started. It was about a 10-mile ride, and everyone was grinning ear to ear. What a blast!

“That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Lawley said.

Fat Biking at Jug Mountain Ranch

All of the cross-country trails at Jug Mountain Ranch were packed nice and hard by Lawley’s groomer, so it didn’t seem like we were making any impact on the cross-country ski trails. I could barely see any of the tracks from the faster riders who were ahead of me. I had no problem getting traction on the way up or the way down. If it had been warmer (above freezing) and the trails were soft, then I’m sure it would have been a different story. We started the ride in the morning to make sure things were firm.

Ready to ride fat bikes at Jug Mountain Ranch.

Getting ready to ride at Jug Mountain Ranch Nordic Center

All of the McCall guys we rode with had fat bikes of their own. They’ve been riding at Jug Mountain Ranch frequently, and they ride on local snowmobile trails and snowshoe trails as well.

They’re all training for the Snowy 45, a super-fun fat bike relay race at Jug Mountain Ranch on March 2 this year. The event was held for the first time last year, and “everyone had so much fun we decided we’ve got to do it again,” Lawley says. Entries are open for this year’s race. Each team needs to pull together four riders for the relay race. Costumes are encouraged, there will be music and beer and the whole deal.

2013 Snowy 45 rider.

2013 Snowy 45 rider.

Reagan said he and his wife, Michelle, got intrigued by fat bikes when they saw they were catching on in the Teton Valley, and as the owners of Gravity Sports in McCall, they thought they’d pick up a few bikes for rentals and sell them as well. They’ve proved to be quite popular. “We decided to get them initially to bridge the shoulder seasons in McCall,” he said. “But as time has gone on, we’ve used them a lot more than we thought we would.”

In the Boise Valley, Meridian Cycles has been renting the bikes for more than a year, and offering rentals of several sizes and models as well. “We can’t keep them in stock,” said Paul McKenna, shop owner. “We’ve been going through like three of them in a week. It’s pretty amazing.”

Word is that even the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand. I made a quick survey of the Boise-area bike shops and at this point, Meridian Cycles and Idaho Mountain Touring have bikes for rent, and the other shops like George’s, World Cycle, Bob’s Bicycles and Ken’s Bicycle Warehouse are trying to get more fat bikes on hand for sales, but they don’t have any for rent.

So if you are heading up to McCall and you want to go fat biking, you might reserve the lone rental model at Jug Mountain Ranch in advance (call Gregg Lawley at 208-315-0575), reserve one at Gravity Sports (208-634-8530), or rent one from Meridian Cycles or Idaho Mountain Touring and take it with you.

In McCall, the city has plowed the golf cart paths on the city golf course, so you can cruise around all over the golf course on a fat bike. I did that on Saturday before I went skate skiing at Bear Basin.

Where else can you ride?

You could ride Boise foothills trails when they’re frozen, and another cool option is that the Idaho City Park n’ Ski Area groomed cross-country trails and snowshoe trails are available for fat biking, according to Leo Hennessy of Idaho Parks & Recreation.  “I’m open-minded about it, and I’ve been encouraging it,” he said. “Conditions are pretty ripe for it right now in the morning when things are frozen.”

“But people should stay off the trails if they’re getting soft and you’re putting a big groove in the trail with your tires.”

If you ride on the Park n’ Ski trails, use common sense. Don’t ride on top of the set classic track and upset the cross-country skiers. Probably the best place to ride will be on the side of the cross-country trails opposite of the set track, Hennessy said. “The middle of the trail will probably be the softest area.”

The McCall guys are riding on groomed snowmobile trails, but apparently, local snowmobile clubs around the state have different policies about whether fat bikes are allowed on snowmobile trails. Check with them first to be on the safe side. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a contribution to the grooming fund or buy a snowmobile registration sticker and put it on your fat bike.