Boundary County is such a beautiful place, there’s hardly ever a bad time to be outside. And while some people think of winter as the season to hibernate in the house with a good book, many others see it as a prime opportunity to get out and enjoy activities that are only available during these chilly months.
Winter sports are all excellent methods of exercise which range from beginner to expert levels and have price tags depending on how involved one wants to be (think yard sales and thrift stores for used equipment when trying out any new sport). With many wonderful hills, lakes and ponds around Bonners Ferry, sledding and ice skating are great ways to get outside with family and friends. Ice climbing and snowmobiling take people to harder-to-reach places while snowshoeing and cross-country skiing can be enjoyed in any snowy location.
Local Zumba teacher, Pam Hittle, raves about her favorite winter sport—cross-country skiing. “I’m fairly new to it in the past five years and have wondered how I missed out on this all my life,” she says. “It’s great exercise and a great time with family and friends.” Cross-country skiing is a full-body workout, burns calories and keeps one moving. “Being fit is very important to me, and I enjoy activities and sports that are active but without the thrills and risks that other people may enjoy. I prefer flat ground with a few rolling hills rather than steep mountain skiing, and cross-country skiing brings all of that as well as easy to just get out for a couple hours or go ski down county roads.”
Pam started out with gear from a thrift store and then gradually upgraded as she became more experienced. She recommends dressing in light but warm layers to avoid sweating, which makes a person feel colder. Start with a nice base layer, then add a thin breathable but waterproof jacket and pants. Leg gators keep snow out of boots and gloves, and hand warmers are, in her opinion, the most important part to any ski trip.
Since she’s a group exercise instructor, Pam usually has other skiers along. “My favorite part of cross-country skiing has been that it’s another adventurous sport I get to enjoy with my daughter-in-law and girlfriends,” she says. “We go almost every weekend in the winter.” Her favorite local spot is the Kootenai Wildlife Refuge. (The Refuge trails and the auto tour route are open to cross-country skiers; while grooming isn’t done as a general rule, they will use a snowmobile to pack down trails if the snow gets too deep.) After using groomed trails at Western Pleasures Guest Ranch and Schweitzer, Pam hopes for a local designated cross-country ski area someday with maintained trails so more people can enjoy the sport locally.
Snowmobiling is a more expensive winter sport, but there are a number of dedicated riders in Bonners Ferry. Although the local snowmobile club hasn’t been active for several years, group riding is still common, often using social media to plan outings. Groomers from the Sandpoint snowmobile club come to Boundary County a few times a year, depending on snow levels, and open up miles of trails for riders. They typically groom trails up to Roman Nose Lake and in the Ruby Creek and Deer Creek areas.
Local resident Jim Tucker should hold the title for most dedicated snowmobiler with 50 years of experience under his belt—and he plans to keep riding for another decade! When asked what fuels his passion for snowmobiling, he answers, “Deep snow and climbing.” Jim enjoys “boon-docking” (traveling cross country) as long as there’s a nice bowl to explore along the way. His favorite trail is Deer Creek to the top of Canuck Basin, an area with plenty of room to ride accompanied by great views.
Jim also maintains that riding a snowmobile is good exercise; from steering through deep powder to shoveling out a stuck machine. In his opinion, “If you’re not getting stuck, there’s not enough snow!” There’s plenty of body movement, and even the act of staying warm helps burn calories. During adequate winters, Jim aims to ride at least two days per week.
Ice climbing is a winter sport that’s gaining popularity. Local climber, Kale Semar, has been ice climbing in Boundary County for years; he finds local waterfalls beautiful any time, but when they freeze, they create amazing formations. “Even small water seeps, which are not significant most of the year, can turn into spectacular formations,” Kale shares. His favorite part of the sport? “Climbing allows you to focus on the moment, the beauty and the movement rather than the scattered hectic-ness of everyday life.”
Kale got into ice climbing as a way to train for alpine climbing in the mountains and finds many of the local ice climbs to be rewarding in their own right. And just like any other winter sport, weather has an impact. Most winters though, Copper Creek Falls forms into a fun ice climb.
Sunshine Bartlett got into the sport when she started dating Kale. “I enjoyed climbing in the summer at local rocks and was curious to try ice,” she says. “I have always enjoyed the vertical dance of rock climbing. Ice had another aspect that I had not experienced." While rock climbing involves using one’s hands and feet, ice climbing is done by wearing crampons on boots and swinging ice tools to gain altitude. “The first time I went climbing with Kale, I expected to be cold, wet and miserable,” Sunshine says. “The ice itself is beautiful. I was so focused on the fun and the beauty, I forgot to be cold!”
Another winter sport fan, Paul Bonnell has climbed with Kale, Sunshine and other local climbers and shares this: “Sometimes, swinging the ice tools, or laughing at the absurd simplicity of climbing up and coming back down, or packing the gear through the snow only to be turned back by unfavorable conditions … I just have to smile at how happy I am to be there, with friends, moving through the mountains in winter.”
For anyone interested in moving through the outdoors in winter, Facebook is a great way to get involved in different activities or share an event so more people can participate. B-Town Heroes is a Facebook page created by outdoor enthusiast, Levi Bennett, as a way to encourage folks to get outside and share photos of their outings. Winter sports fans of any level are encouraged to join the B-Town Heroes page and use it to invite people out to play in the great North Idaho outdoors.
So put down that book, put on some warm clothes and go try something new this winter. Just remember: Be safe, and don’t forget to share those spectacular pictures!