Thanksgiving typically marks the beginning of winter here in North Idaho. While we are never sure just how intense the season will be, one thing is for certain—we are usually in store for five months of cold, ice and snow. Some choose to burrow in their homes watching TV, reading books and sipping hot coffee with their only experience in the winter elements being a trip to and from the car for work and errands. Others on the opposite spectrum simply can’t get enough of the cold. They move here for six months to operate lifts, teach ski lessons and explore the legendary deep backcountry powder. For most of us, it’s probably somewhere in the middle. We can’t shut down our active bodies and minds for five months, but we aren’t ready to fully suit up and brave the cold each day either. We are weekend skiers and snowboarders, occasional ice skaters, and still take the dog for a walk as long as it’s tolerable. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’ve been in the same winter rut for the past few seasons and are looking at trying something different, there are plenty of playgrounds out there to potentially find a new hobby. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Mountain biking season used to come to an end when the first snow and ice showed up, but thanks to a new design, the season can continue throughout the year. Fat bikes are pretty much what they sound like, mountain bikes adapted with large, heavy-duty tires, capable of navigating ice and snow. The large surface area on the tires creates a stable riding experience. Seasoned riders and cyclists are able to get to places in winter they had never been before. Even if you’ve been on a trail dozens of times in the summer, it looks completely different with the foliage covered by snow.
There are several popular companies selling fat bikes, and a mid-level model will likely put you over the $1,000 mark. Check with your local bike shop to see if they have rentals available. If they don’t have any for rent, they can usually point you in the right direction. Hit your favorite backcountry trail, snowmobile trail or even take a ride along the frozen beaches of our beautiful lakes. Don’t forget a helmet and layered clothing as you’ll work up a sweat climbing and a chill as you rush downhill.
Snowmobiles are the perfect way to get far away from it all without having to exert maximum energy. There are more than 400 miles of connected trails around Priest Lake alone, meaning the path you choose will probably lead you to some pretty amazing places of solitude. Over the past couple decades, snowmobile technology has grown leaps and bounds, and newer models are much more responsive, giving more control to the operator. Tours can be arranged through companies like Selkirk Powder in Sandpoint. Guides tailor a route based on your experience and comfort level and how long you would like to be on the trails. Anyone 15 or older can operate a snowmobile on guided trips and children 5 and up can ride as a passenger.
Snowmobiling is one of the best ways to see as many places as you can in a day. Advanced riders have the ability to charge up mountain sides and ride powder untouched all season. New riders, however, will want to stick with groomed trails until they get plenty of experience in handling these powerful machines. Be careful, as many who get on the first time end up becoming lifelong riders.
If that big dog of yours is restless, why not go for a fun run with him doing most of the work. If you’ve attended the Sandpoint or Whitefish Winter Carnival, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the skijourning event where skiers are pulled behind a horse through an obstacle course. This is a variation on the Scandinavian activity as some of the original skijourning was done using dogs as the muscle. All you need is your cross country skis, a harness for yourself and a harness and lead for your dog. Many skijourners find that rock-climbing harnesses work great and give you good control of the excited pup pulling you along. It might take a little encouragement and training while establishing how fast to go, but once you have it dialed in you will be sharing a great outdoor experience with your dog. If your dog is a bit slower paced, skiers can stay in the classic track; if you need to help your dog a bit, run one ski in the classic track and the other outside in the freestyle area in a skating motion. With some practice, many who skijourn are able to let the dog do 90 percent of the work and simply balance themselves behind the animal as they are pulled. By the time you’ve circled back to the start, you’ll both have had a happy day and you’ll be even happier with a worn out dog.
Winter is here, but don’t worry as there is still plenty to do. There are a dozen incredible mountains all within in a half-day drive, but we also don’t have to go far to experience all the winter adventure we can find. Have you skied for decades but never tried heli-skiing? Make this the winter to finally give it a shot. Instead of watching another movie at home, take the kids on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. The days may be short and the temperature cold, but you’ll forget all about that as you try something new and exciting outside in our winter paradise. Keeping active all winter will help you look and feel better, and you’ll be ready to get back out there this spring when the last of the snow has melted. We can complain about winter all we want, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Get out there and make the best of it. Have fun on your next adventure!