Hark all ye snow lovers and snow novices alike, Boise Weekly gives you a list of 50 nifty things to do once our desert mountain town becomes a winter wonderland.
Whether the weather is your cup o tea or whether you spend the winter hibernating in your super-heated home, we offer suggestions for every incarnation of snow adventurer. Get out and play in the back country with a multi-day ski and yurt excursion or take a drive into Utah to ski like the millionaires do at Deer Valley. Too icky to head outside? Curl up with your knitting needles and sip hot chocolate, start writing a novel or check one out from the library. If you've finally got yourself some time off work but nothing to do, peruse our stuff-to-do list and mix 'n' match until you're all tuckered out.
We've also taken the burden out of researching where to ski and board this winter. Our Northwest Mountain Guide maps out resorts in Idaho, Washington, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah, including only the most useful info, like how much a lift ticket will cost you and whether or not there's a terrain park and night skiing. We've done the hard work for you, now you just have to decide which mountain is worthy of your dime.
Build anatomically correct snow people
Ah, winter. Who among us hasn't stood at the window, watching fat flakes descend in the first heavy snowfall of the season, and thought, "I'm going out to build a naked and possibly even obscene snow sculpture?" Most of us, you say? If so, pal, you're missing out. Why limit your artistic temperament and the availability of premium density snow on the mere stacking of giant snowballs into a Frosty clone? We can tell you that a good snow can take on a variety of sophisticated shapes (for example, a well-endowed George Washington look-alike with both male and female parts). Once you're done with your artwork, you might feel like it's not getting enough attention. That's when the food coloring comes in. Put some dyed water in a spray bottle and let loose your imagination to give your masterpiece some colorful highlights. Bonus: Water will turn your snow sculpture into a longer-lasting ice sculpture. Downside: When it does eventually melt, it's going to be a multi-colored mess. One important note: If you live in a more conservative area or there are a lot of kids around the neighborhood, you might want to make sure you sculpt your snow art in the backyard.
Sledding is one of the quintessential winter activities--at least, at the rare times that we have snow that sticks around this arid desert of ours. A generic red plastic sled is a good bet for single and double rides, but the classic toboggan (a virtually unnavigable, knife-edged kamikaze option), a disc or just a plain black inner tube work, too. The real trick is finding a good sled hill that's not overrun with people (all going down like bowling pins when someone invariably hits 'em with a wayward vessel). However, if you don't mind crowds, Simplot's hill (assuming Guv Dirk doesn't put the kibosh on it) and Bogus Basin are good bets for sledding fun. Sledding's dangerous cousins include ice-blocking, hooky-bobbing, motor-sledding (an endeavor involving a Honda two-cylinder, a rope, a sled and a 50-foot garden hose stuck to the tail pipe) and turning cookies.
Enjoy a warm fire
There's nothing like roasting your chestnuts near an open fire in the dead of winter and you can enjoy this winter treat at several locations around town. For an outdoor experience, try Richard's in Hyde Park. Their outdoor gas fireplace is just the ticket to keep at least one side of you warm. After coming down from the mountain, we have enjoyed a fire at both Highlands Hollow and O'Michaels, although sometimes you may need to inquire about getting the flames going. Cottonwood Grille has a great hearth for fine dining, and for fireside casual dining, JBX Grills (the fancy Jack-In-the-Boxes) have small fireplaces as well. For a fire with a game on the tube, pizza and beer, and video games for the kids, relax in the Idaho Pizza Company on Overland.
Ride the superpipe at Tamarack
The country's newest from-scratch ski resort has a kick-ass half-pipe and a super fun terrain park that we can't wait to trick on, with rails of all sorts, some steep, some wide, some skinny, some curvy. And the list goes on: tabletops with perfect transitions, an amazing wall of a quarter-pipe and the best thing of all ... a real half-pipe that gets groomed and is smoother than the backside of a small human.
Throw a BYOS (Bring Your Own Soup) party
There's nothing like a hot pot of soup on a cold day ... just ask Campbell's endorser Mama McNabb. Making soup is a craft long lost in the shuffle of all that is canned and condensed, but it's easily rediscovered with a little effort and imagination on the part of an amateur stew steward. One part liquid, one part solid and a whole lotta love will get you a pot of hot stuff for the hot stuff in your life.
Swim a la the Polar Bear Club
One of the oldest cold water swimming groups in the United States is the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. Founded in 1904 by early health advocate-slash-nut Bernard Macfadden on the belief that winter ocean swimming is conducive to stamina, immunity and overall health, the club continues to this day, with members taking icy dips on a regular basis. (The most famous Coney Island Polar Bear Club event is their annual New Year's Day dip in the Atlantic.) We don't have a nearby ocean handy for would-be dippers from the Gem State, but we have no shortage of cold water--lakes, ponds, rivers, reservoirs--in which to human popciclize yourself. Get some buddies together, dial "9" and "1" on your cell phone and see if you agree with Macfadden's prescription as your lips turn blue. While there's no official Idaho Chapter of the Polar Bear Club, which has satellite organizations around the country, that hasn't kept people around here from taking an ice-cold dip. The annual Polar Bear Challenge (put on by local Channel 7) has participants swimming or skiing in Lucky Peak on January 1, sponsored by pledges that support Idaho's Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Fly fish in the snow
The Boise River is pretty chilly in the summer--and only slightly colder in winter--but it offers great fishing year round. Bundle up with layers beneath your waders, tie a nymph onto your rod and catch some big ones. The fish are swimming all winter and though they may be a little slow, they are hungry nonetheless. The best thing about fishing the Boise River in the winter is the absence of drunk rafters. You can cast without fear of snagging a floater and won't have to worry that tubers will drag your line down river with them. Brave the cold, fish in peace and you might even catch a trout for dinner on New Year's.
You don't need a campfire to roast marshmallows. A household fireplace will suffice and you'll have easy access to wire skewers with a closet full of clothes hangars. Be sure to remove paint or plastic from your hangars before impaling the gob of puffy white sugar. Brown 'em, char 'em, smoosh 'em between graham crackers and chocolate, whatever suits your fancy. And don't be dismayed if you don't have a fireplace--just use your oven on broil. It's camping fun for the whole family without the tent and the mosquitoes.
Write the great American novel
Let's face it, modern literature is populated with watery substitutes for decent reading material. Get out your grandmother's typewriter (for nostalgic effect rather than practical convenience), brew a great big ol' pot of coffee and start smacking away at the keyboard. Get a small start by hammering out something for BW's Fiction 101 contest in December, and then find your inner Hemingway and get to work on your masterpiece. Countless former English majors have spent the last five years letting their own War and Peace brew in the creative cauldrons of their craniums and snow time is the time to let that fermented plot line spill out onto the page.
Hop a snowcat
Anyone who has read or seen The Shining knows the make-or-break role a piece of working equipment can take in a snowy situation. What doesn't come across is the possibility for fun there. Forget sleds, snowmobiles, skis and their ilk. What you need this winter is a snowcat. It's a sort of snowmobile-tank hybrid of a snow monster, with a truck-sized enclosed cab and rubber tracks. Granted, unless you have a job grooming ski runs or rescuing avalanche victims, you probably haven't come across the opportunity to ride in--much less pilot--one of these vehicles. But if you do get the chance, hop into the cab and enjoy the feeling of knowing that you can't skid, no matter how slick the terrain.
Yodel on a chair lift
So you're out there on the hill, all wrapped up in the same clothes as everyone else with your face nearly covered. What good is this anonymity if you don't do something completely embarrassing with it? Leave that nouveau pop, indie and rap crap for the kiddies. This winter, stick to the classics: Sinatra, or depending on your definition of classic ... Sabbath. Don't those skiers writhing beneath you deserve something as enlightening as "It Was A Very Good Year" or "War Pigs?"
As kids, we were forced to go along with our parents/guardians when they plan family trips: drives across country during our summer vacations to see cousins we never met, camping trips where we had to sleep in tents on the hard ground in mosquito-infested camp sites and winter trips to cold cabins with no central heat. However, sometimes the drives across the country included stops at an outside exhibit of giant, fiberglass dinosaurs, and sometimes deer would come right outside our tent when we went camping--and sometimes winter trips included pulling a trailer of snowmobiles behind the station wagon. Ah, snowmobiling. Back in the day, even gradeschool-age kids were allowed to ride sans grownup on these speeding machines. Sure, we were schooled in snowmobile safety by our elders, but often those lessons were given to us over the roar of the sled in a cloud of black, oily smoke. We weren't always able to hear the instructions clearly and even if we could have, we might not have paid them much heed. There was nothing like jumping on the cold, hard vinyl seat of a snowmobile, revving the engine, punching the gas and screaming across a meadow of virginal snow. These days, some of us have children of our own, and we go through the motions of reminding our progeny to always ride with a partner, stay in view and ride at a reasonable speed. We really do recognize the importance of snow machine safety. But, there's nothing like revving the engine, looking over at Junior and screaming through the plastic on our helmets, "Race ya!"
Turn the heat up in your home as high as you can and have a tropical party in your undies
The proper use of a space heater is a lost art. But with gas prices going up faster than a high-speed quad, it's an art you should know. Go to the thrift store and get four of them--one for each corner of the room. Then lay out on a towel, grab a mojito and pop in a couple of warm-weather themed Keanu Reeves movies--like Point Break, or maybe that second Bill and Ted movie, where they go to Hell. But just a warning: Those edible undies you won at the office Christmas party ... they don't go well with blasting hot air. You'll be cutting gummed-up fruit roll-up out of hair you didn't even know you had.
Check out those winter carnivals
Nothing says winter like a carnival ... a winter carnival, that is. With snow sculptures, ice skating, holiday lights and lots of people, winter celebrations are a way to quit grousing about the weather and enjoy it. There are plenty of carnivals, events, tours and celebrations statewide that tap into the beauty and fun of the season. Here are just a few of them:
Take care of your partner's feet
Feet don't see much sun once the snow starts falling. They reside deep within socks, boots and galoshes getting depressed and trying keeping warm. Poor little toes. After a long day of skiing and snowboarding, they're tired, sore and probably a little sweaty and stinky. If you have a partner, do them a favor and give their feet a gift. Get a hot washcloth and wipe those feet down. Then, use a big dollop of lotion or bag balm and rub it deep into the arches, heels and toes. Make sure you get in between each one. Play a mean trick and only do three crevasses between the toes, not all four. This will leave them wanting more. And, we'll let you in on a little secret: If you do it right, you might get a little more than a foot rub in return.
Start an indoor herb garden
Bring a little green inside while there's none to be seen outside. Get a few small plant pots and a bag of soil and plant some mint, basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano to use while you cook. When spring rolls around, your plants will be ready to move into bigger pots or into a nice warm garden.
Do something with your hands
You're snowed in--or at least it's too slick and just plain icky outside to think of leaving the house. So why waste your time watching the boob tube? Winter is a prime opportunity to learn a new skill without the possibility of breaking a sweat. Knitting is an obvious first choice. Besides enjoying a kitschy renaissance among the current generation, knitting is a practical skill. Afghans, sweaters, hats, scarves, socks and slippers are all sartorial items of high popularity during the snowy season. And you can learn to knit them all. Artistic types can experiment with color and texture. Want to be crafty but fear those wicked knitting needles? Crocheting and sewing are similar skills that employ smaller needles. If all that snow makes you feel more hungry than crafty, learning or perfecting your baking skills isn't a bad idea. There's a particular sense of satisfaction in learning to make the perfect loaf of bread, chocolate cake or cinnamon rolls from scratch. Plus, your house will smell wonderful.
The following statement may not seem like much of a revelation, but: Last year made us cry. Local freezers had more snowpack than the resorts. And when we did venture up to use those dearly bought season passes, as much soil was visible as snow. Here's the good news: This year, based on our highly precise combination of rumor, Internet research and wishful thinking, is supposed to be--ready for this?--"better." What could be better than better? However, if, as the environmental paranoiacs say, we're about to embark upon a few-thousand-year version of El Nino, we should all make the most of the remaining time. Hit your Bogus, your Tamarack, your Brundage, and then spice up the old routine with a little new blood. Try one of those tiny, weird rope hills like Kelly Canyon or Lookout Pass. Have a panhandle ménage a trois with Schweitzer and Silver Valley. Go re-enact The Shining at Timberline Lodge in Oregon. Just do something, because when the snow's all gone, all we'll have are our bragging rights.
Watch snow movies
Skiing, sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling are all activities that a person might enjoy during the season of the dreaded four-letter word: s-n-o-w. Yes, dreaded, because if an Idahoan isn't into snow, winter can become a purgatory from which it's hard to escape. It doesn't have to be that way, though. There are things you can do that don't require putting on a parka and moon boots, things for which the necessary supplies are only a blanket, a bowl of popcorn and a remote control. Watching movies is just that sort of activity. With Christmas coming earlier and earlier each year (OK, not really, but I think stores start hawking all things red and green in late August), the ubiquitous Christmas movies will show up on TV before you know it. The stop-animation classics are highly anticipated and never seem to lose their charm. One of the most beloved is, of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with the squeaky-voiced title character, Sam the snowman, Hermey (the elf who dreams of being a dentist), Yukon Cornelius the prospector, the Abominable Snowman (who isn't very abominable at all). And, of course, there's the Island of Misfit Toys, which despite its low-fi film quality, has somehow managed to stay the test of time. If you're too embarrassed to be caught watching "cartoons" at your age, curl up on the couch with the tiny tots in your life when these classics come on. You'll have an excuse for waxing nostalgic and the little ones will get to experience toons as they were when we were young and computer animation was only a thing of the future.
Mushing is the practice of using dog teams--typical mush dog breeds include samoyeds, malamutes and huskies--to pull sleds through snow. Dog sledding can be done for practical purposes such as transportation, although in our modern, snow-mobile-having times, such a thing is quaintly archaic. As a competitive sport, though, the practice of dog-sled racing is alive and well. Perhaps the most famous is the Iditarod, Alaska's annual 1,000-mile, two-week dog sled race. (Whether dog sledding is cruel to the pups is a matter of controversy and a topic for a different day.) Competitive mushing associations working to organize the sport and get Olympic recognition include the International Federation of Sleddog Sports and the International Sled Dog Racing Association. Mush races around Idaho include the Annual Cache Valley K9 Challenge Dog Sled Race in Preston (Feb. 18-22), the American Dog Derby in Ashton (Feb. 17-18) and the Inland Northwest Sled Dog Association Races in Priest Lake (Feb. 1-2). If you're interested in mushing, you should check out a racing association. You could try strapping Rover and Bowser to your plastic sled, but you probably won't get far.
Make au naturel snow angels
As kids, we ran out into the snow, flopped on the ground and moved our arms and legs back and forth. Making snow angels was a rite of passage for just about every child during or after a snowstorm. Relive the experience and give your sluggish, frozen winter heart a jump start by doing it again ... only this time, do it naked. Yup, drop your flannel pajamas early one morning and bound out into foot-deep snow. Fall back onto your bare bottom and flail your arms and legs back and forth. It's much better than coffee. It's invigorating (see polar bear swim). A word of advice: Have yourself a hot bath drawn before running out to freeze your tuchkus.
Go to the Winter games of idaho and the 2006 Olympics
If you fancy a trip to Italy, this winter is an opportune time to determine whether or not all roads do indeed lead to Rome. Hobnob it with the world in Torino at the 2006 Winter Olympics and watch locals Jeret Peterson and Lisa Kosglow go for the gold in February. If Italy is a bit cost prohibitive, tune into the Olympics on TV instead, and consider the Winter Games of Idaho. With a variety of snow events from snowboarding to ice skating, the Winter Games of Idaho take place throughout the state from January 28 through February 26. For more information on events, locations and dates for the Winter Games of Idaho, visit www.wintergamesofidaho.com.
Make like you're in the Icecapades
With Idaho Iceworld in Boise and the Manchester Ice and Events Center in McCall, there are at least two indoor places you're guaranteed fun on the ice this winter. But the coolest--as well as the coldest--place to get on the ice and pretend like you're a figure skater is in Sun Valley. Outdoors beneath the wide open winter sky, one can actually don skates year round and practice figure-eights for hours. The only potentially hipper--and colder--thing to do would be to find yourself a safe-for-sure pond. Of course BW does not recommend lacing up and heading onto just any old lake, but if you can find one that's safe for skating, then we say do it the old-fashioned way: real ice on a real pond where no Zamboni has gone before.
Buy boots and sweaters
One of the best things about cold weather is pulling out or shopping for your winter wardrobe. Yes, sandals and shorts can be cute, but sometimes there's nothing sexier than seeing your darling sitting next to a warm fire, a cup of hot buttered rum in hand, dressed in an oversized cable-knit sweater and a pair of big, soft Uggs. Give your sweetheart enough Captain Morgan's and keep the fire burning hot and you may get to see what's under all those layers.
Go cross-country skiing
You may think cross-country skiing is the winter equivalent of road biking. You squeeze into brightly colored spandex, subject yourself to a--sigh--"workout," and supposedly feel good about yourself afterward for all the calories you've burned. Humbug. A nice long, slow ski tour up to a yurt, or maybe across the forest to a winter campsite at Redfish Lodge or Silver City, could be just what the doctor ordered. Go at your own pace. Pack lunch or a little bottle of encouragement. Wear that old snowmobiling onesie you've been meaning to get rid of since junior high. And here's a novel idea: bring along the iPod. Don't let those preachy old hippies convince you that the only sound in your ears while you toil should be "Nature" (that is, your popping lungs and impending heart attack). A little Journey could make the journey seem half as long (or maybe 10 times longer).
Hang out at a ski lodge
Ski lodges are the happening-est places to kick it--even if you don't know the difference between catching an edge and catching air. With nice mountain views, food, warm beverages, cold beer and lots of merry makers fresh off the slopes, even a non-snow lover can tuck away in the warmth of the lodge and socialize long into the evening. Call us old-fashioned but we love rubbing elbows with just about everyone in Sun Valley. Both area lodges are fabulous places to savor a beverage, grab a bite and star search the unmasked crowd for familiar faces.
Warm your feet
Whether just before a wedding or in the dead of winter, there's nothing worse than getting cold feet. We can't offer much advice if your little piggies are prenuptially icy, but we can help if your feets are frozen because the outside temperatures are prefixed with a "minus." Our advice: check out Smartwool socks. Smartwool puts the "ooh" back in wool and takes the itch out with natural, Merino wool, which keeps your fleshy parts warm (and cool in the hot months) and wicks away moisture to help keep them dry. Smartwool manufactures long- and short-sleeved shirts, pants, shorts, hoodies and hats for men, women and even for the kiddies. But it's their fun line of socks that really stands out. In just the women's fashions, there are almost 60 different styles of socks in great colors, sizes (apparently one size doesn't fit all) and blends. Each sock style has a name, and some of them are so fun you may get a pair for that reason alone. There's the Best Friend, Bloom, Chai, the Hide and Seek, Hunting, the Anna Belle, the Diamond Jane, Hiking, the Localette, the Margarita, the Ombre, the Oopsey Daisy, the Mesa, Snowboarding, the Sprout and more, more, more. Who wouldn't want to buy and wear a pair of socks called the Cozy? No one, that's who. And, while you're keeping your toes warm, you'll have a warm-fuzzy feeling in your heart, because 10 percent of each Web site (www.smartwool.com) order goes to the SmartPring Advocacy Fund, which helps non-profit organizations trying to make the world a better place. So, if your toes need to be toasty, get yourself a pair of Smartwool socks. You can probably even find a pair in your wedding colors.
If you telemark, learn to alpine. If you alpine, learn to telemark.
To alpine skiers: You know that other room at the Ski Swap--the one full of musty old leather boots, free-heel skis and avalanche shovels? It's intriguing, isn't it? You've dreamt of diving into the backcountry, but that backcountry alpine gear is absurdly spendy. Sure, those telemarkers can be an insufferable bunch of snobs, but you suspect they're onto something. This should be your year to branch out. And don't let the salesmen fool you into those foot-wide parabolics 175s and $300 Garmonts. A nice thin pair of 215s and 30-year-old kicks is the ideal way to begin your backcountry experience, all for under $75. Just don't forget the avalanche transceiver.
To telemarkers: Remember the first time you beat Super Mario Bros? You immediately went back and played it again, and soon you were timing yourself to see how many times you could beat it in an hour. Well, you've already beaten the game. Alpine is kiddie stuff to you. Tele, she's your steady gal. But all those fancy new skis and crazy boots ... they're tempting. Just imagine how fast, how fun ... It isn't cheating if you only demo those shapely Salomons, is it? We won't tell.
Learn to drive in the snow
Without fail, you will come to work one day this season and hear, "If people can't learn to drive in the snow, they shouldn't drive at all!" Well, it's not that some of us don't know how to operate a car in the white stuff, it's just really scary and we have to go slowly. Instead of yelling at us as we creep across intersections or drive 20 miles an hour on the connector, if each person who knew how to safely drive in the snow would take one person who can't drive for shit on the ice and teach said shitty driver how to drive better, then we'd all have less stressful mornings on the way to work.
Pitch a tent and go ice camping
The first rule about ice camping: never speak about how freakin' cold it is outside. Embrace the chill. Acknowledging the cold only makes it colder. Regardless of the temperature, plan ahead and you can have a great time. Bring lots of blankets, sleeping bags, pillows, hats, socks and some of those instant packs that heat up when you snap the chemical vials. Plan on making a fire. You must make a fire. But don't plan to find dry wood beneath all the snow. You'll want to bring a few bundles of firewood from your local grocery store. To keep warm and take advantage of that nice hot fire, cook soup or stews and lots of hot chocolate. Go ahead and put some big (dry--never wet) river rocks in the fire, let them heat up and when you're ready to go to bed, carefully remove them from the fire and wrap them up in some big towels. Hot rocks in your bag will keep you warm all night long. And, if you've got that special someone and you're still a little cold ... well, we all know that two in a sleeping bag is warmer than one. And skin on skin is the warmest. At least that's the story we're sticking to.
Learn how to curl
Though it may look like an elaborate game of shuffleboard, curling is actually more of a cross between golf and chess. It's all about strategy. Curling is one of those mysterious winter Olympic sports that few outside of Canada really understand, but the sport of stone throwing on ice is actually ancient fun started by Scotsmen about 500 years ago. If you're interested in learning how to play, both Boise and McCall have curling clubs who accept players over 16 years old. Watching curling players at work, can of course be great fun. Spend an afternoon at a bonspiel learning an entirely foreign vocabulary that's evolved around rocks and ice.
Watch the cute neighbor boy shovel snow
If the winter months cause you to go into hermit mode, you know from past experience that eventually, you'll find yourself saying, "There's nothing on TV," even though you have upwards of 160 channels. Want to stay inside and still have something to watch? Open the blinds on your big picture window and wait. Eventually, the strapping young neighbor boy will be out shoveling snow off of his driveway and possibly yours.
Warm up with a warm one
Sometimes it's easier to beat the cold weather from the inside out, and that's evident as bars begin changing their drink specials from football fan cold beer specials to the hot sipper deals. Whether you're preparing for holiday entertaining or just hiding inside on an icky-weather night, here are a few ideas for libations to keep you warm once the snow starts to fall.
It sounds crazy: A horse, sprinting over 40 miles an hour through snow, pulls a skier through slalom gates and over a series of jumps. But in the last five years, this Scandinavian brand of horseplay has taken rural Idaho by the tail. The first nationally sanctioned competition (that's right, they actually race like that) in Idaho took place in 2000 in Fairfield, and dozens of teams have since shown up at similar events in Cascade, McCall and Hailey. Participants train using everything from cars to snowmobiles (but who hasn't tried that at least once), and for small animal fans, there's even a thriving dog skijoring community. Dogs, you say? Surprisingly, most large and even medium-size breeds (35 pounds or larger) can lug a human. And even more surprisingly, the dog will love it. Learn more about the local dog skijoring scene by visiting the Bogus Skijoring Club Web site at http://skijor.braveages.com or by e-mailing founder Tren Long at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about the insane spectator sport of horse skijoring, e-mail Smokey Mountain Ski Joring president Kurtis Stuts at email@example.com
Go helicopter skiing
It's easy for us po-folk skiers to hate the heli. But be honest, the only reason is because we know it's so damn cool. Unfair cool. 10,000-feet-of-untracked-powder-per-day, sell-your-car, rob-a-bank, gotta-do-it-just-once-before-you-die cool. Compounding this conundrum is that the only nearby option, Sun Valley Heli-Ski, is the oldest and still one of the best outfits in the country. Lead guide Mark Baumgartner and his team haul groups galore into the heart of Idaho's Smoky Mountains each year--including to the only fly-in ski lodge in the lower 48 states--in an immaculate 700hp twirly-bird that must be seen to be believed. The bill for their full treatment, including prepared meals and warm beds, is a cool [mumble] dollars. In other words, start hanging out where the posh pocketbooks congregate and look for suckers ... er, patrons ... er, new friends. Or, if you're not feeling the sugar-daddy scene, Sun Valley offers one-lift heli-assisted touring adventures starting at $325 per person (up a Grant since last year). They take you in, drop you off, and you're on your own. It's more expensive than sitting at home watching Hogan's Heroes all winter, but again, it's so ... damn ... cool! Visit www.svheli-ski.com for all the info.
Bundle up and walk to the coffee shop
Sometimes there's nothing so beautiful as waking up to new, untouched snow on a Sunday morning after a full night of the falling white stuff--unless it's making tracks through it. Bundle up, grab your favorite coffee drinker and your travel version of checkers or Scrabble, and trudge through the drifts to your neighborhood java joint for a cup o' the hot stuff. It's a relaxing way to while away a couple of hours before you have to start getting ready for the grind of the work week.
Look to see what perverted position the neighborhood snow artist puts his snow men in this year
Last year a man on Rose Hill
Built snowpeople that caused quite a thrill/
They were in such a sexual position,/
That he could have charged admission/
And left a bundle to his kids in his will.
While ice fishing may be dominated by those in the northern Midwest who speak with extra O's and lots of "you betcha's," you can ice fish in Idaho, too. But first a word of caution: Since we don't get the really hard-core freezes here in Idaho that happen in other parts of the country, one must always be aware of the thickness of the ice when walking out onto the lake. Since the lakes in Idaho that are most likely to freeze are only accessible via snowmobile, cross-country skiing or helicopter in the winter, it is difficult to tote the big auger needed to drill a hole in the ice. At least you don't need a long pole and a whole lot of fishing tackle, as a simple jig or bait rig will suffice. If you're serious about it, go up to Cascade when it gets really cold and stop by Tackle Tom's. They will not only set you up with all the equipment, but give you a little more advice than you'll get here.
As you look at your bare, brown landscaping, plan for interjecting some color and variety next year
If the annual inversion in this valley doesn't get to you as cold and rainy January rolls around, the dead gray wasteland of your yard might. But it doesn't have to. If you make a few strategic plantings next year, you can see surprisingly colorful results the following winter. Some plants to try: red and yellow twigged dogwoods, holly, juniper and other evergreens are just a few that will infuse some year-round color into your winter. Quints, Japanese maple and contorted filbert (a.k.a. Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) are all plants that retain interesting shapes during the winter months. Visit your local nursery for help deciding which winter plants will do well in your soil, light and climate.
Shovel the sidewalk and maybe your elderly neighbor's too
Many of us tend to put on winter weight during the cold months. It's fine to eat warm cookies and drink hot chocolate all season, but if you don't want to have to call Jenny Craig in March, try making snow shoveling part of your routine (just don't overdo it). Hauling the white stuff--on the rare occasion that we get enough of it in the valley to shovel--is good exercise, gets you out in the fresh air and keeps you from reaching "maximum density." If your sidewalk isn't long enough or your driveway big enough to make you work up a sweat, shovel around your elderly neighbor's house, too. It'll make you feel good all over.
Pick snow ball fights
Preferably with a stranger. To avoid confrontation after beaning a total stranger with one of your hand-packed snow bombs, smile big but don't laugh, avoid hitting your new friend's face and always pick a fight with someone you can outrun. Or just plant a cold fat one in between your significant other's eyes and be prepared to buy dinner in apology.
Travel somewhere warm
Some of us prefer the warmer climes of the tropics when the temperature gets below about 20 degrees Centigrade and we tend to just get the heck outta Dodge when the white stuff starts making an appearance on the mountain. Forget your fake-baking when the weather turns. Instead, pack a bag and fly south with the birds. If you prefer to stay stateside anywhere between sunny San Diego and the Sunshine state will do you fine, but if you're a globe trekker the list is endless. Cancun, the Maldives, Thailand, Bali, St. Thomas, Maui, French Polynesia or just plain south of the equator ... winter here in the land of the free and home of the brave means that it's summer somewhere on three other continents: South America, Australia and Africa.
Learn to properly build a fire
Though it looks easy enough to light a bunch of dry wood with some matches, it does take a bit of skill to get a good fire roaring. If your fires tend to smoke and sputter instead of roar and crackle, the less-than-friendly nip of Jack Frost can be a good incentive to learn how to build a good 'un. If you don't know a good Boy Scout who can help you learn the skill, you may have to turn to the Web for help. Find a set of surprisingly comprehensive steps at http://nh.essortment.com/buildingafire_rdoh.htm. It's a virtual Ph.D. in fire-starting. Check it out, print out the directions, wait until the first good snowfall of the season, gather your supplies and practice, practice, practice.
Snowshoe to a hot springs
Most of the hot springs in Idaho become inaccessible to vehicular traffic in the dead of winter, but that shouldn't stop you. Many hot springs without vehicular access can be reached by a short snowshoe hike. One of our favorites is Molly's Tubs. Drive up to Warm Lake just east of Cascade. The road is plowed throughout winter and though you might need chains in the worst of weather, you should be able to make it to the tubs. Once you've reached Warm Lake, continue on until you get to FSR 474. From here, you'll have to shoe-in on the road for about 1.3 miles, but you'll find the tubs down the hill on the river side. If you haven't been there, the routine is easy. Hot water from pipes and hoses pours into the bathtubs set just up from the creek. There are usually some buckets nearby so you can get cold water from the creek and adjust the water to just the right temperature. With limited access in winter, you just might be able to have the place to yourself. But be mindful of your heinie, because other hot-tubbers who are not driving in can sneak up behind you without notice.
Get a jump start on your Christmas shopping
Although most of these items you're reading through are about what to do during the snowy season, there's one important task that most of us should start in August but don't usually get to until the end of November so technically, it fits ... Christmas shopping. 'Nuff said.
Take up an indoor sport
Racquetball, indoor soccer, foosball, billiards, squash, basketball, figure skating, indoor track, weight lifting, handball, ice hockey, speed skating, water ballet, curling, ballet, shuffleboard, darts, gymnastics, indoor football, swimming, jai alai, water polo or bowling. Just do it.
If we get enough snow here in the valley, you can tube down just about any hill. Of course, Boise's favorite hill in all weather is Simplot's Hill, now known as the governor's hill. Ice blocks won't do you any good in the snow, so grab the big rubber tube that took you down the river last summer and slide down the steep sides feet first. If you don't have your own inner tube, make it easier on yourself by driving up to Bogus Basin, where they have not only a rippin' hill to slide down, but the tubes to ride them on. If it's anything like last year, you should pre-buy your tickets down here in the valley before driving up the hill because the good folks at Bogus keep the number of riders at a minimum so that the allotted two-hour time slots don't get too crowded.
Go for a hot soak
If a winter expedition requiring long hikes in snowshoes and/or a jaunt on snowmobiles to reach a natural hot springs is not your thing, consider a more refined and convenient approach by visiting one of Idaho's many commercial hot springs. Givens Hot Springs in Melba is a good choice. This family-oriented indoor pool is open year round. Call (208) 495-2000 for more information. Another great idea is Gold Fork Hot Springs about 6 miles off Highway 55 between Donnelly and McCall. These pools range in temperature from 80 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit and are completely natural. A yurt provides a changing room, but the pools are open to the sky. For more information on Gold Fork, call (208) 890-8730. We also recommend Zim's Hot Springs in New Meadows. Two large pools with water at 145 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be cooled to "just right" are available, as is camping and lodging. For more information call (208) 347-2686.
Brush up on your eggnog and wassail skills
You may love to tip the glass all year round, but sometimes it's nice to sip seasonal drinks. And in all honesty, there's just no other time of year when getting your glow on with something called "nog" sounds remotely appealing. Chichi Web foodie sites like www.marthastewart.com or www.epicurious.com specialize in not just recipes, but the kind of recipes that call for ingredients you've never heard of and steps you usually aren't willing to perform just for something you're going to consume. Sure, you can microwave a cup of Sam's Choice 'Nog and buy bottles of cheap booze, but why not take the time to learn how to make the best damned winter beverage on the block?
Go back country trekking/ skiing or take a yurt trip
Long to look around you and see nothing but snow, snow, snow and more untouched snow? Companies like Sun Valley Trekking and Sawtooth Mountain Guides are great ways to get off the beaten path, have fun and do it safely. With tours through Idaho's Sawtooth and Smoky mountains, Sun Valley Trekking specializes in telemark, randonee and snowboard instruction. They also offer cross-country skiing and snowshoe tours ranging from half-day outings to multi-day excursions. Sawtooth Mountain Guides offers avalanche safety courses, ski and snowboard camps, and telemark and alpine tours through the hinterlands. Together Sun Valley Trekking and Sawtooth Mountain Guides maintain five comfortable back country yurts for trips that chew through a few days away from work. And they'll take you darn near anywhere you want to go from Idaho to Yellowstone to Alaska. For more information visit www.sawtoothguides.com or www.svtrek.com.