My sweetheart’s questions were still floating in the air as we loaded the car with skis, boots and poles.
“Are you sure the snow is going to be any good up there?” she asked. “Are the roads going to be OK?”
We arrived at Harriman State Park about an hour and a half later to a winter wonderland. Even though it was a Saturday afternoon, there were only a few people puttering around on snowshoes and skis. There was one car in the visitor center parking lot and three vehicles in the upper parking area.
It was a rare day at the park — no wind. After a few hundred yards of skiing, Julie was unzipping jackets and removing scarves.
“I’m so glad we came up here, this is wonderful,” she said.
We skied along the Henry’s Fork River and down to the river’s edge to get a better view of the waterfowl. Honking swans and quacking ducks made the river a noisy place. One estimate I saw says two-thirds of the trumpeter swan population winters in Harriman. (They must get a good deal on hotel rates.)
After visiting the river, we skied along Silver Lake in the woods.
I find that Harriman State Park is a good kick off to the winter season, helping me ease comfortably into winter recreation. It gets the mind thinking of other winter adventures to try or at least dream about.
The snow last week was about 1 foot deep and plenty good for skiing. We followed self-groomed trails left by other skiers and snowshoers. The park usually doesn’t start grooming trails until snow depths reach about 2 or more feet. On the plus side, visitors aren’t charged a grooming fee until grooming begins. On the minus side, some of the longer trails haven’t been broken in yet. Breaking trail can be a major workout.
When grooming begins, about 22 miles of trails invite skiers, snowshoers and fat bikes. Midseason, expect to see all three users during the weekends. Probably the busiest day at the park is during Free Winter Access Day, usually in mid January.
Because it’s mostly flat, Harriman State Park is a great place to take beginners. A fun destination for visitors is the warming hut yurt with its nearby vault toilet.
Following the park’s trails is fairly easy because at each intersection, there is a posted map indicating where you are and options as to where you can go. The guidebooks, “Trails of Eastern Idaho” and “Eastern Idaho Sweet Spots,” are also handy reference guides for Harriman and other trails in the Island Park region. (You can find them at Idaho Mountain Trading and Winnie & Mo’s Bookshop downtown.) Guides are also available online at the Idaho Falls Ski Club’s website.
To keep all the various users happy when grooming starts up, the park tries to groom for biking, skiing and snowshoeing (often all on the same trail).
The park will be the site of the annual Moose on the Loose Winter Triathlon event on Feb. 4 at 7 a.m. The race involves snowshoeing, fat biking and cross-country skiing. The event will also offer a duathlon option with two of the three disciplines. For more information, go to the park’s Facebook page or visit www.trithemoose.com
The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center (https://bridgertetonavalanchecenter.org) reported 14 observed avalanches after the last big storm passed through in the Tetons and near Togwotee Pass. Some were set off by skiers/snowboarders.
It’s a reminder to be avalanche aware, particularly after a big storm passes through.
The website is a great first stop to learn of conditions for anyone venturing into the backcountry.