Snowmobiling in Idaho: Good Medicine for those Winter Blues

TUESDAY, JAN. 27, 2009, 2:54 P.M.

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

Cabin fever – it’s defined as boredom, restlessness, or irritability from a lack of environmental stimulation, like a prolonged stay in a remote, sparsely populated region or a confined indoor area.

Sound familiar this winter? One way to break this cycle is to get outside and do something (and shoveling doesn’t count!) In this area, skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing can all be cures for our winter blues, but snowmobiling may be something even stronger in the cabin fever medicine cabinet.

Bob Hickey thinks so. He owns Hickey’s Auto Body & Paint in Kellogg, Idaho, and is a member of the Shoshone County Snowmobile Groomers Advisory Board. He loves driving his sled onto snow-laden trails through Idaho’s Panhandle National Forests, some of which he volunteers to groom.

“If you don’t ski or snowboard or snowshoe, this is a great way to get out in the wintertime,” Hickey says. “It’s a good way to get out and see our national forest.”

His favorite trip is to spend a day with his girlfriend traversing about 35 miles of pristine forest. He enjoys going up to one of the highest peaks in the forest, finding a spot where he has a clear view of the valley below, and sharing a lunch with his girlfriend.

He also likes to stop along the way at the Cascade Lodge warming hut, 25 miles east of Coeur d’Alene, or the Happy Hermit warming hut, at the lower tip of Lake Pend Oreille, for a picnic, or just to get warm by the fire while talking to fellow snowmobilers.

He’s seen 3-year-olds and 80-year-olds enjoying all kinds of snowmobiling, from hill climbing to backcountry riding, from simple trail riding to more freestyle forms.

Not having a snowmobile shouldn’t stop you. Hickey suggests renting one and finding out if you like it. Or, go out with a friend who owns one before investing in your own.

Two places in northern Idaho that rent snowmobiles are up in Boundary County in the old Kaniksu portion of the Panhandle National Forest, home to the Selkirk and Purcell mountains.

One of these is Selkirk Powder Company, (866) 464-3246, at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, just 20 minutes from downtown Sandpoint and two hours from Spokane. It offers full-service snowmobile touring packages, called eco-friendly “Snowmobile Safaris,” for those who don’t have a tremendous amount of riding experience.

Ken Barrett, president and chief guide at Selkirk Powder said tour highlights include starting the ride 6,400 feet up at Schweitzer Mountain’s summit and cruising down to 3,400 feet, seeing grizzly and lynx terrains, and stopping at the interpretive sites catching views of gorgeous vistas and learning the area’s history.

This experience costs $150 (plus $50 for an additional passenger) and includes a 2 ½ hour guided ride, lift ticket, and a snack and hot cocoa break.

“We offer a Full Monty experience with all the safety and security provided for you,” said Barrett.

Other places you can rent snowmobiles are at Priest Lake, at Priest Lake Power Sports (208) 443-2415 on the west side of the lake and Cavanaugh Bay Marina, (208) 443-2095 on the east side.

For about $250-$350 plus the price of gas, you can not only rent the snowmobile, but also the attire needed while you’re out their exploring around the lake.

Craig Hill, co-owner and manager of Hill’s Resort in Priest Lake and local snowmobile guru, says Priest Lake is one of the best destinations to try snowmobiling because each side of the lake offers a variety of experiences. Plus both offer superb snow most years.

“The trails stay in great shape seven days a week, and the scenery is spectacular,” Hill says.

Another popular Idaho snowmobiling destination is Wallace. Here in the Silver Valley in the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District, riders are surrounded by about 1,000 miles of snowmobiling terrain from Coeur d’Alene to St. Regis, Mont.

Other locations that include play areas, or wide-open spaces, where you can cruise at faster speeds, bop around with friends, and do some safe high marking, when you rip up a hillside as far up as you can before coming back down. You can find some of these areas on the map of the St. Joe Ranger District, the southernmost part of the Panhandle Forest, near Rutledge Saddle and Bear Skull peak.

The key to finding these areas and other interesting hot spots is to get to know the trail maps, many of which you can locate online.

Idaho has a trail for just about any kind of snowmobiling experience. Before you get out there, pick up a map, learn about avalanche safety, go with a buddy and know your locations at all times, and most of all, get prepared to taste some of the best medicine for cabin fever.

Snowmobiling Sites of Interest:

Idaho’s Official Online Travel Guide

Gives a brief description of snowmobile areas in Idaho, including the trails Panhandle National Forest, plus links and contacts for different regions of Idaho.

Idaho Panhandle National Forests Visitor Center

This site has a link to 2008-2009 Snowmobile Trail Map for Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry, and Priest Lake regions, plus contact information for the Coeur d’Alene River and St. Joe ranger district offices, which can provide details and maps about trails in their areas

Scheffy’s Motel and General Store in Avery, Idaho

Avery, in the St. Joe Ranger District, is a central location for over 250 miles of groomed trails in some of the wildest and most scenic parts of the area. Scheffy’s offers the town’s only motel and general store, and this offers details about staying and playing in that area.

Selkirk Powder Company

Lists the snowmobiling tours offered at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, fees, and how to make reservations.

State of Idaho Parks and Recreation: Snowmobiling

Answers questions about snowmobiling in Idaho, from where to attend a recommended free avalanche safety classes to information on how and where to register your snowmobile. Uses Google Earth to show snowmobile parking areas, and the “Snowmobile Code of Ethics.”

Priest Lake Chamber of Commerce

Learn info about snowmobiling in Priest Lake by visiting the “Things to Do and See” area and then clicking snowmobiling activity, plus articles about snowmobiling in and around more than 400 miles of groomed trails, accommodations for extended stays, trail maps, and more.

Wallace, Idaho

Information about snowmobiling activities in and around the area, plus where to stay, eat, or visit if a daytrip starts, ends or goes through Wallace, Idaho. The area is called ‘Snowmobile City, USA,’ because it provides access to more than 250 groomed trails within Idaho and Montana.


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