A good time to visit Harriman

Swans and other waterfowl gather along the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Harriman State Park on Dec. 28. (Jerry Painter photo)

The cool thing about last week’s visit to Harriman State Park was the birds.

Whenever I ski at Harriman, I make a point of taking the trail along the river. It’s the section of trail not far from the headquarters. As soon as the trail approached the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, you could hear the chatter of swans, geese and ducks. There were an abundance of birds on Dec. 28. Some days there have been only a handful, but this day it seemed to be the happening hangout for waterfowl. With a foggy mist in the air, the scene was captivating.

From the river trail, I cross-country skied past the Railroad Ranch and on to the warming hut yurt on the north end of the park. Here, I stopped to eat a snack and take note of the accommodations. Someone had already stoked a fire in the wood stove.

From the yurt, I skied to the north end of Thurmond Ridge. This ridge trail is not groomed, but a few people had passed through ahead of me and left a nice trail. The snow was good enough to let me muscle my way up the steeper sections until I arrived at the less steep grade of the main ridge. I had brought along a set of climbing skins to stretch across the bottom of my skis in case the going became too difficult. If the snow is icy and/or hard, it’s less frustrating to stop and put on the skins for the short section of steep going. Climbing skins can also be a boon for steep downhill sections by acting as a governor, cutting your speed in half or more. This can come in handy on the steep downhill sections on the southern end of Thurmond Ridge when the snow is icy and hard. I’ve been on this section of the ridge under just such conditions and it felt like I rocketed to mach speed in a few dozen feet of skiing and started looking for the best place to crash land.

On Dec. 28, though, the conditions were sweet powder and the skins stayed in my pack. When I got going uncomfortably fast, I skied out of the fast tracks and into the unbroken powder on the sides of the trail to slow me down. The only time I slipped and fell was in the parking lot not far from my car (that way everyone could see me and snicker).

While the Thurmond Ridge trail is more challenging, the rest of the trails tend to be mellow and mostly flat. These are great trails for novices.

If you’ve never been to Harriman, this Saturday is a great time to go. It will be free ski/snowshoe/fat bike day. The trails are groomed for all three activities. Some of the wider trails are also great for skate skiing.

There will be snowshoe and fat bikes demos, free hot cocoa, a guided snowshoe hike and other activities. For more information, check out the park’s Facebook page.

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The once stable snow pack has changed to dangerous in the Tetons, and the Grand Teton National Park online ranger station (tetonclimbing.blogspot.com) has issued a warning of significant avalanche danger on many of the park’s mountain slopes. A number of small to moderate avalanches have been reported within the park, “so please check the local avalanche forecast if you’re venturing into the backcountry,” the blog site stated.

The blog site warns that an active weak layer of snow continues on several popular slopes in the range and backcountry users should choose their terrain appropriately.

As an alternate to the backcountry skiing, the Teton Park Road has been groomed for Nordic skiing from the Taggart Lake parking lot to Signal Mountain Lodge.

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Don’t forget to send in photos (or videos) for our contest to win tickets to the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. The contest winners will be chosen Jan. 19. We’re looking for people having fun outside. Send your photos to Jeff Pinkham at jpinkham@postregister.com.