Yes, I know this is a triathlon blog. But in the middle of the winter, I think it’s appropriate to throw in some cross-training love. So here it is!

Me and ski-buddy-Steve took advantage of slowness at work and vacation time to complete a big ski day we’ve been planning for a couple years. Steve has done this route before, but I haven’t.

I was looking for a long route with some fresh, untracked powder, and the desire to say “I am completely done skiing for today and probably the next week.” I got what I was looking for!

This route is a lollipop of about 11 miles, with 2,000ft gain and 2,000ft back. The ball of the lollipop is the fun part because nobody really goes there. I remember sections of this route from the when I ran relay section of the Pocatello 50 race a couple years ago, too.

valve house loop

We left work at 11:00. Stepped-off at the trailhead a few miles out of town at noon. It’s awesome that it’s that close, and it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere while you’re out there.

The first part, the stick of the lollipop, was the standard fare for that area, which I’ve skied several times. It was all tracked up. This time, somebody had gone through with a four-wheeler and put some really deep ruts in the track that are just barely too narrow for cross-country skis (btw, thanks dude…I guess the rules of no-motorized-vehicles don’t apply to you!).   But it was still doable.

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The weather was great. About 25 degrees. Constantly falling snow…just enough to keep the skies a bit white against the gray clouds. I dressed just right, too, was breaking a bit of a sweat but nothing serious.

We broke into the loop of the lollipop, and the four-wheel track went away. We were into single track as expected. BEAUTIFUL!

Thirty minutes later, we were into the untracked powder. We broke trail for two hours on the ball of the lollipop. It was AWESOME! It was great to stop and take in the incredible silence. You can’t hear that kind of silence in town or anywhere but deep into a forest like that. No birds. No cars. No animals. Nothing. Wow!

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The mostly black, white, and grey scenery is busted up here with some trail signs. See the blue square on the tree nearest the camera? And the yellow sign towards the back-center of the photo (hint: follow the ski track)? That’s how you navigate these trails. If there are no signs, you can generally tell where the trail goes by looking for a “tunnel” in the trees.

We got to our trail intersection that meant we were heading down and home. This was at the four-hour point now! And it was 4pm! I was wanted to be home at 5pm and was supposed to be at home at 6pm. It was looking like I would be lucky to be home at 6pm.  We pointed our skis down the hill.

This downhill wasn’t fast, but it was nice to finally not have to go uphill. And we were on a single-track that somebody had been on before, so it was kind of fast.  Life was good.

There was steep section that we both had worried about. Normally, it’s hard but doable. Today was barely doable for me, not doable for Steve. The four-wheeler had made it to that point and put in the ruts! It’s hard to steer cross-country skis in those ruts. I fell several times. I swore. I thought I broke a finger when I fell. I got snowy and wet. Then I realized I needed to get control of my circumstances….and from there it went well. But I still hope Mr/Mrs Four-wheeler realizes the impact he/she has, and I wonder how many knees will be broke because of those ruts, and how many people won’t want to ski again because of the experience with those ruts?   Anyway…

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Sun and clouds on Scout Mountain.

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As it got dark, the “blueness” kicked in strong. This pick also shows the sagebrush section of the route. Most of it is in the trees, but this section is up on a ridgeline with nothing but snow. Glad the wind wasn’t blowing when we were on here because I’m pretty sure it could get intense.

It was getting dark at 5:30. We pressed to get to the car before “real” dark hit. I got there at 5:40. Steve pulled in at 5:50. I got home at 6:10, just a bit late, and wifey was cool with it.

We were both absolutely beat-down and tired.

Points to Ponder about this awesome ski day:

1. It took me 5hrs 40 minutes, about the same as my 70.3 in September. Maybe I’m not in such bad shape after all. I feel like I felt after that triathlon! I’m going to hurt tomorrow. This is definitely getting into the local backcountry!

2. I love the silence of the forest.

3. I love that this trailhead is only about 20 minutes from the house. Many other trail options are available, too.

4. I want to mountain bike that trail in the summer. Could start before sunrise and solve the “how do I bike outside in the dark” dilemma (I don’t like biking on a road in the dark). But a slow uphill climb til the sun comes up seems doable.

5. Why is it that only a guy that is much older than me will go on these adventures with me? I hope I’m in good as shape as he is when I’m “that age.”

6. It’s great to have a job and family that provides flexibility to do something like this.

7. Route maps are available via Idaho State University Outdoor Adventure Center, with some direct links below:

Gibson Jack / Slate Mountain area
Scout Mountain area
Portneuf Range north
Portneuf Range south

If you’re getting interested in cross-country skiing as a great way to cross-train for triathlon in the winter, I’ll be putting together a gear-list and things think about to get you started in the next week.

I’m also planning a post on the ways that cross-country skiing (and backcountry skiing) are great ways to stay in shape for triathlon during the winter. It really does work!

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