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First Run

Not the best snow... but still it's snow

Published in the June 2022 Issue Published online: Jul 07, 2022 Discover Idaho Falls: Parks and Recreation, East Idaho Outdoors, Outdoors Steve Janes
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WE NEVER GET TOO AMBITIOUS DURING THE FIRST COUPLE OF RIDES EACH WINTER.

Let’s face it: The snow is just beginning to stack, the base hasn’t been established, the sleds are not broken in and we are simply way too out of shape.

So rather than looking at the first ride as a measure of great snowmobiling conditions, we look at it as a chance to put some miles on and hopefully not break anything.

This season those first rides came Dec. 9-10. Two rides, two totally different experiences.

First on Dec. 9:
This was more of a reconnaissance ride. We wanted to know if the snow was actually stacking up in the mountains. It was just a matter of staying on roads and trails (where the chances of hitting rocks and stumps are greatly reduced).

Taking a popular eastern Idaho trail, we unloaded at about the 5,350-foot elevation in the Fall Creek area and started up the trail. Snow conditions were marginal, perhaps 6-12 inches. However, the snow was wet enough to pack, yet not deep enough to create ruts in the road that had recently been traveled by wheeled vehicles.

Once we got to about the 6,000-foot elevation the snow was starting to maintain a solid 12-inch depth with spots hitting 18 inches. Here we decided to venture off the main road and on a trail not generally traveled by automobiles. A few more landmines can be found if you get too aggressive on the throttle.

We picked our way across June Creek until we reached Skyline Ridge (about 7,500 feet in elevation). Here the snow was stacked to around two feet with drift-collecting areas accumulating more than three feet.

The thing to remember here, though, was that with any early snow, until a base is established you are still riding on the bottom six inches. Which means anything in the terrain that extrudes more than six inches can do some serious damage to a front suspension.

So we kept things mellow. After all, we have all winter to get crazy. Today was just to shake off the cobwebs.

We dropped off Skyline and headed up Brockman toward Caribou Guard Station. Once we hit about 40 miles on the odometer (about midway up Brockman where snow conditions were pretty consistent with two feet of snow pretty much everywhere), we turned back so we could check out the lower end of the trail system near Dan Creek.

It was snowing when we left our truck and it continued to snow throughout the day. But midway through our ride the intensity of the snowfall started to increase. The storm was settling in, covering our tracks as we went.

By the time we got back to our vehicle (some 75 miles later), there was an inch of new snow in the parking lot.

Naturally, we wouldn’t want to complete our day without swinging into Swan Valley and enjoying a bacon cheeseburger while making plans for the next day’s ride.

Dec. 10
It had snowed all night, even in the valley. So we knew the mountains had to really get pounded. By the time we arrived at the Bone parking area 30 miles east of Idaho Falls, there was more than a foot of new snow (at 6,100-foot elevation). It was a wet, sticky snow… the kind that creates a great foundation for base.

We unloaded at the parking area and headed out Long Valley. Long Valley Road doesn’t climb much in elevation. It is wide and smooth for vehicle travel during most of the year, but represents the main artery for the Bonneville County snowmobile trail system during the winter. The road is closed to vehicle traffic in early December.

We traveled down the snow-covered road that was starting to drift over due to the wind. Pounding through drifts of fresh snow, it was apparent that this storm was going to supply a base that should last for the entire winter.

Today’s ride wasn’t going to be just restricted to trails. We eventually veered off Long Valley and headed east cross country to the Dan Creek/Brockman intersection. As the snowfall intensified, so did our desire to become much more adventurous. Soon we found ourselves on top of a mountain in zero visibility trying to decide whether we were at a location where we could drop down through the trees and to the Brockman trail where we had ridden the previous day.

This is where our adventurous nature got the best of our first-ride intent. Rather than maintaining a casual ride on established trails, we were picking our way down a mountain through tight trees into an even tighter canyon where the deadfall created a virtual maze of which there were definitely no easy exits.

We were at a point where not only could we not avoid riding over stumps and logs, we were having to lift our machines oneby-one over fallen trees. And it was still snowing, still stacking up and the day was starting to run out of daylight.

We were getting to that dangerous point in which one bad decision may mean spending the night on the mountain. Fortunately, a couple of good decisions led to us finding our way up out of the tight canyon and one ridge over to where we could complete our descent a little less obstructed.

Once we hit Brockman, where our tracks from the previous day were covered by a foot of fresh snow, we wisely chose to remain on the trail for the ride out. We reached the parking area as daylight was fading into dusk.

In all, it was about a 60-mile day which confirmed two things: First, we really did need to start hitting the gym to get in riding shape; and second, with this wet, heavy snow, it’s only going to take another storm or two to provide better riding conditions in eastern Idaho than we’ve experienced in several years.

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