XC on Banner Ridge

The message on Lucky Peak dam: Keep Your Forests Green

Climbing out of the late December gloom of the Treasure Valley, Idaho highway 21 curls around Lucky Peak dam. The inch of light snow from yesterday gave everything a wonderful stippled texture, and I liked the idea of capturing the very subtle "green" in the sign spelled out in the rocky face of the dam.

The view from Banner Ridge

As you pass through Idaho City, the surroundings seem to abruptly change from "some snow at the side of the road" to "winter in Idaho." Maybe it was just my imagination, but all of a sudden, the snow was deep and covering everything but the path the snowplows had cut. Twisting up and over Mores Creek Summit, and then through the high forests to the Banner Ridge Park'n'Ski area, and up the groomed trail, I met the groomer's assistant on the way down to shuttle a car down to the Gold Fork lot. (Hi Fritz!) In about half an hour, I was up to the ridge, as opposed to the hour and a half or two it took last time. Even with some high, thin clouds, there was enough sun to make the view magnificent.

Somebody else's tracks off the side of the Banner Ridge trail

Once up on the ridge (or maybe a little sooner), all manner of open slopes beckon. If you're a piker with old equipment, like me, even a gentle descent is appealing. These tracks were just to one side of the trail along the top of Banner Ridge, calm and attractive long after their makers had traveled on. I tried my mettle from a spur ridge into a broad swale on the other side of the trail.

My tracks down a spur ridge, sunny and calm

After a couple of drops and climbs out of that, I followed the spur to the right as it invited me down into the tall Ponderosas and afternoon sun. No one else had bothered to visit in the last 24" of snow, so the tracks I left were all by themselves. Things had firmed up enough so that a glide only dipped in 3 inches or so. Just right.

An untracked meadow along the Elkhorn trail, guarded by a wall of
 subalpine firs

Climbing back to the ridge trail, I took a short/steep cut, over the top of the knoll above the high point of the trail, and glided down into the forest and back to the groomed Elkhorn loop. At some point, it opened out into this amazing, broad meadow, in shade behind a wall of subalpine fir (Abies lasiorcarpa). The jpeg effects rather clobber the wonderful subtle shading of the snow in shadow. You'll have to visit there yourself to see what I mean.

A towering Ponderosa pine along the Alpine trail

When I got to the junction with the Alpine trail, I took the trail less traveled by. In fact, it was untraveled by, and ungroomed. I figured as a traverse with a gentle descent, it would be easy. Well, not so easy breaking trail, actually, even after I got to the point where some snowshoers had left tracks. At one spot, two trees caught my eye. This gigantic Ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa) was pretty hard to miss, actually, right next to the trail.

An almost buried tree leaves a curious breaking snowdrift wave

The other tree was much smaller, maybe a Doug fir? All but its tippy top was buried in this wonderful breaking wave of a snow drift.

Frosty fruit from the Rocky Mountain maple

Winding through the deepening woods and the deepening afternoon, the trail offered a few interesting challenges with fallen trees, and a few interesting photographic subjects. These dried maple (Acer macrophyllum) fruits had a cheery frosty hat and brightened up a shady corner.

Finally, this friendly apparition further down the trail seemed to sum up the day's skiing in a nonverbal way.

Smiley snow hump


Midmorning, late December, coming up the Banner trail

Two days later, I went for another outing, with an earlier start. No new snow, but the old stuff is holding up nicely. The Banner Trail had been groomed, but it had an inch of undisturbed snow on it. The subalpine firs in the bottom of the cold drainage made for great morning shadows.

Somebody else's tracks on a burn below Banner Ridge

I spent more time working on my telemark technique this time, lots of hiking up and skiing down gentle meadows. I figured out how steep a slope I could learn from, without undue intimidation. This burned slope down from the top section of the Banner Trail is still too steep for me, but the pair of tracks someone else made made me smile.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org


Saturday, 29-Dec-2001 21:08:41 MST