By Melissa Hendrickson
Melissa here, the forecaster from the St. Regis/Silver Valley forecast area, sneaking in an article about our region down here. If you ever need a mini vacation away from the backcountry of the Selkirks or the Cabinets, come down and check out the St. Joe’s and the Bitterroots.
Our forecast region encompasses the mountains that parallel the length of I-90 from Cataldo to the Idaho/Montana Border above Taft. We go out every Thursday to an area we feel is representative of the snowpack and conditions that the region is experiencing to get the weekend advisory out to you. Tuesday briefings are based off weather forecasts, trends we have seen since the weekend, and info that the avalanche patrollers up at Silver Mountain report to us about conditions they are seeing. If you come down this way, make sure to check out our past advisories to get an idea of what the snowpack has been doing this winter as well as any public observations that are posted on our website, www.idahopanhandleavalanche.org. Another great resource for local data is on the Panhandle Backcountry website’s trip report forums, www.panhandlebackcountry.com. I also try to get a Thursday field report posted to Instagram and Facebook. For snow depth, make sure to check out the three most relevant SNOTEL sites: Humbolt Gulch (535) for mid elevation data, and Sunset (803) and Lookout (594) for higher elevations. You can also utilize the variety of webcams available in the area to get “eyes” on the ground. The Idaho Transportation Department has cameras at Lookout Pass with weather and driving information, and there are slope webcams at both ski resorts, Lookout and Silver Mountain. Be sure to check the Silver Mountain snow gauge webcam early in the morning before they reset it for the day! Since you are working on gathering the most information possible to assist in your decision to come play in the backcountry, check out www.Windytv.com to see the wind patterns associated with storms as they roll through and where potential windloading zones might be so you can safely plan your routes if the forecast warns about windslabs. And don’t forget to check NOAA!
So where should you come to ride or slide? It somewhat depends on whether you are motorized or non-motorized. If you are headed out on a non-motorized backcountry tour, we have plenty of places to choose from for all ability levels. Those people just starting out getting into backcountry touring should check out the area on the north of the highway at Lookout Pass, referred to as the FAA area or “The Training Grounds”. This low angle, open slope terrain is an easy way to test out your new set up and get some good turns in without a long approach.
If you are looking to expend a little more effort and your backcountry skills are more refined, check out the Stephens Lakes Trailhead. From here you can access West Willow, the bowl around Lone Lake, and the bowl around Stephens Lakes. As with any mountain terrain, make sure your avy game is dialed in; these are places that you need to properly prepare for before visiting. Feel like extending your ski season into shorts weather and taking a dip in a (very cold) mountain lake? I had a 1000ft run off Stephens Peak last year in June!
From Wallace, north of the highway up Burke there are some places to get to on Tiger and Grouse if you are willing to put the time in on the skin tracks. Cooper Lake and St. Regis Lakes Basin are a bit further of a skin, but deliver classic terrain for this area of Idaho. I wouldn’t call it cheating, but you can also utilize the lifts at Lookout or use a snowmobile to access St. Regis Basin.
For those who are using snowmobiles for ski or board approaches, or are into snowmobiling or snowbiking in the high country, the options expand greatly. Pick any Forest Service Road with a snowmobile trailhead and see where it takes you! (You can get your snowmobile map for Kootenai and Shoshone Counties at the Forest Service Office) Most of the trails receive a pass with the groomer periodically, but when you get high enough, you can pick your open country for playing. As always, know before you go! Some of the summer favorites in this area are also spectacular in the winter. I have a particular fondness for high lakes, so I enjoy the area around Upper Glidden Lake and Elsie Lake. Both of these areas have terrain to suit all ability levels and also allow you to mitigate your risk level.
See you in the backcountry.