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Dog Sledding, Idaho Style
Visit the annual Ashton American Dog Derby for two days of mushing and barking as teams from the United States and Canada compete in the oldest sled dog races in the lower 48 states. There's also a "Mutt Race," Junior Musher competitions, ice sculpting competitions and snowshoe races down Main Street. Web: Ashton Chamber of Commerce; www.ashtonidaho.com or http://www.americandogderby.org/
After a day of checking out the action at the dog derby, why not try some action of your own? Dog sled outfitters are abundant in eastern Idaho and the dogs are harnessed up and ready to run. At Grand Targhee Resort enjoy a unique experience with a guided back-country excursion through majestic mountains and rolling hills. This is the real thing and truly an experience not to be missed. Web: www.grandtarghee.com
Another great ranch for dog sledding is Teton Ridge Ranch located just north of Driggs, Idaho. A team of magnificent Alaskan huskies take travelers on an incredible ride through glistening snow. Guests can even try mushing the dogs themselves. Web: www.tetonridge.com
Idaho's Ice Skating Rinks
Whether you're a kid or just a kid at heart or a professional figure skater or hockey player, Boise's Idaho Ice World offers something for everyone. The twin-rink facility sports a pro shop and snack bar and caters to individuals and groups of all types. During the summer Boise's Idaho Steelheads Hockey Team sponsors a kids' summer training camp. Web: www.idahoiceworld.com
Head up north to the heart of downtown McCall where you'll find the Manchester Ice & Event Center. This beautiful new facility offers something for everyone. Used primarily for ice skating and hockey teams, it is also used for clinics and tournaments. Web: manchester-icecentre.com/
Don't miss a minute of the action at the Sun Valley Ice Rink named by Budget Travel Online as "one of the top ten ice skating rinks in the nation." Known for headlining the biggest names in skating over the years including Olympic gold and silver medalists, professional skaters are known to train here during the off season. A large sun shade keeps this outdoor rink open 365 days making year-round training possible. Catch a glimpse of the stars in action as they shine on the ice in amazing performances all year long. Web: www.sunvalley.com/resort_rec/resort_skating.cfm
Coeur d'Alene: A Fantasy in Lights
Cruise Lake Coeur d'Alene and watch over 250,000 lights reflect off the water when the Coeur d'Alene Resort plugs in its annual "Fantasy in Lights" holiday display. Over 250 individual displays including an 18-foot Jack-in-the-Box, a 20-foot carousel and a 30-foot fire breathing dragon. The show is designed by Oregon-based Lights for All Seasons, Inc., the creator of such spectacles as the Super Bowl half-time show. The resort offers special packages including cruise, room and dinner during the "Fantasy in Lights" season. Web: www.cdaresort.com
Over the River and Through the Woods
Enjoy the opportunities to re-live those early days when traveling to Grandma's house meant a brisk ride through the snow. Whether you're in northern Idaho, the central part of the state or eastern Idaho, sleigh riding opportunities are easy to come by.
A Sun Valley outing takes visitors up to Ernest Hemingway's haunt, Trail Creek Cabin, for a festive dinner. Another company called "A Winter's Feast" ferries guests to one of two Mongolian yurts for a five-course gourmet meal. Web: www.visitsunvalley.com
Near Boise, Bogus Creek Outfitters offer an evening sleigh ride into the Boise National Forest for a gourmet meal overlooking the lights of the valley. Web: www.boguscreek.com
For a list of all sleigh ride opportunities throughout Idaho, please visit www.visitidaho.org.
Snowshoe Through Craters of the Moon National Monument
For casual snow touring take a guided snowshoe trip through the surreal, snow-covered landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument. Each tour begins with a 45-60 minute classroom session and ends with several hours out in the park on snowshoes with a park naturalist. There, learn how life copes with winter at the monument and discover that winter is an active time for many of the park animals. The hike is limited to 15 people. Reservations are required.
For cross-country skiers five miles of groomed trail allow skiers to tour the area and view the endless lava fields laid down by eight cycles of volcanic activity over the last 15,000 years. Skiers can also get off the "beaten path" and tour cinder cone vents and lava tubes. Web: www.nps.gov/crmo/
Winter at St. Anthony Sand Dunes
For an "other-worldly" experience, try some outdoor winter recreation at the St. Anthony Sand Dunes. More than one thousand years ago a vast ocean covered the Mud Lake area of eastern Idaho. When the water evaporated it left a small lake and lots of sand. Over time winds carried the sand up near Rexburg where sand dunes now sit about 15 miles north of town. Covered with snow the rolling treeless "hills" in the wintertime become a popular place for cross country skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers. They're also a great place to take the kids for tubing and sledding.
Winter Wildlife Watching
Idaho is well-known for its wildlife and you can take your pick of animals and ways of viewing them on frosty winter days. Horse-drawn sleigh rides in central Idaho take travelers within a few yards of elk herds feeding in high mountain meadows. Contact: Vickie Eld, 2554 East Roseberry Rd, McCall, ID 83638; Tel: 208-325-8876
At Harriman State Park in eastern Idaho, Gray's Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge, watch trumpeter swans, whooping cranes and several varieties of ducks and geese relax in safety for the winter. Visitors view wildlife and get some great exercise at the same time with self-guided cross-country ski tours as well. Web: www.idahoparks.org
In southwestern Idaho, Lake Lowell National Wildlife Refuge near Caldwell provides a safe haven for snow geese as well as other water birds. Web: www.visitsouthwestidaho.org.
Yurting Through Idaho's Backcountry
They're not the teepees many of Idaho's original residents called home, but their distant cousins the Mongolians developed something just as good: Yurts. And leave it to Idaho recreation specialists to improve on the concept.
If you would rather "do it yourself," Idaho State University's Outdoor Adventure Program operates a non-guided network of yurts in the Porteneuf Mountains outside Pocatello. Or contact the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation which has built a yurt system along 27 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails near Idaho City. These cozy huts are stocked with firewood, cooking utensils, stoves and dishes. All you need are strong legs, your sleeping bag, food, water, extra clothes and skiing gear. The yurts are best-suited for groups of no more than six. Contact: ISU Outdoor Adventure Program, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209; Tel: (208) 236-3912; Web: www.isu.edu/outdoor/ or www.idahoparks.org
At Ponderosa State Park cross-country skiers work up an appetite and then burn off the calories as they ski one mile to a yurt for a tasty meal served up by Blue Moon Outfitters. One seating per evening features such appetite-pleasers as hot spiced wine, grilled salmon, leg of lamb or pork tenderloin with all the trimmings. Contact: Blue Moon Outfitters, 208-634-3111.
Several outfitters offer guided trips in the Sawtooth, Smokey, Boulder and Pioneer mountains of central Idaho. Sun Valley Trekking, Sawtooth Mountain Guides and Venture Outdoors take visitors to huts equipped with saunas and wood-fired hot tubs. And in eastern Idaho skiers book tours with Rendezvous Ski Tours on the west slope of the Tetons. Trip lengths range from one day to a week. Contact: Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, www.ioga.org
At first glance, you may wonder "what is that?" Well skijoring is an ancient Scandinavian sport where people are pulled on skis by an animal. In Finland, they use reindeer. In Oregon, huskies, and in Idaho, we use horses most of the time. The best part about this fun-filled activity is that it can be done almost anywhere, since all you need is snow, skis, a courageous attitude and an animal to pull you. One popular place to find competitive skijoring in Idaho is McCall during the McCall Winter Carnival (see Family Fun Story Ideas). Here spectators watch as willing participants zip back and forth through a specified course at top speeds as the horse and its rider gallop ahead. Usually, this ends in a fall with the participant having hurt his ego but not much else. Contact: www.mccall-idchamber.org
Another popular spot is Bellevue where the Wood River Extreme Skijoring Association holds an annual event with entertainment, food and beverages for the whole family. In this fierce competition, participants hang on for dear life as they are pulled at harrowing speeds through the course and over jumps, all vying for the fastest time. Contact: Wood River Skijoring Association at (208) 720-8019 or Bogus Skijoring Club in Boise at firstname.lastname@example.org