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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2004


Stanley offers snowmobiling smorgasbord

Riders view Yellowstone as first domino

"That’s why we can’t let Yellowstone set a precedent. We’ve tried give-and-take, but what it seems to come down to is we’re willing to give, and they’re willing to take. There is a struggle for public land—keeping it accessible for all. Obviously the battle’s going to go on as environmentalists want to close more and more lands."

— DAN HAMMERBACK, Salmon River Snowmobile Club president

Express Staff Writer

With 170 miles of groomed trails and thousands of acres of snow-covered mountainous terrain nearby, Stanley is a snowmobiler’s paradise waiting to be discovered.

"Snowmobiling is the life blood of this community in the winter," said Gary Cvecich, a 20-year resident of Stanley, 60 miles north of Ketchum. "If it wasn’t for snowmobiling, we wouldn’t have any business around here in the winter. We’ve worked really hard to make this a vacation destination for snowmobilers."

The Yellowstone factor

While snowmobilers and environmentalists continue to fight over access to Yellowstone National Park this winter, riders in the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin are enjoying the virtues of the area’s relatively unsung snow and terrain. Though snowmobiling is a staple in the region’s winter economy, there is room to expand, said Dan Hammerback, president of the Salmon River Snowmobile Club.

Hammerback estimated that snowmobiling brings $370,000 in cash flow to Stanley each year. "Our long-term goal is to push that up to about $1 million a season," he said.

Snowmobiles are as common at fuel pumps as cars during winter in the Sawtooth Valley. Express photos by Greg Stahl

In the long run, the winter tourist season in Stanley might be able to give summer a run for its money, Hammerback said. One of the first steps will be encouraging many business owners to remain open during the cold, white months of winter.

With snowmobiling in Yellowstone up in the air this year, Stanley businesses may be able to tap into the displaced market, which Hammerback said consists primarily of Midwest tour-oriented riders. "That’s one of the reasons we’ve paid a lot of attention to our trail system this year," he said. "There’s a significant market to be tapped."

But a little sour comes with the sweet prospects of a new, untapped market.

Hammerback said snowmobilers must win in Yellowstone or face future pressures in other areas like the Sawtooth Valley and the nearby Boulder and White Cloud mountains, where wilderness designation is pending.

"That’s why we can’t let Yellowstone set a precedent. We’ve tried give-and-take, but what it seems to come down to is we’re willing to give, and they’re willing to take. There is a struggle for public land—keeping it accessible for all. Obviously the battle’s going to go on as environmentalists want to close more and more lands."


The terrain

After she maneuvered her snowmobile through a stand of trees and onto the flanks of a hill north of Stanley, Dee Williams hit the accelerator and shot like a cannon up the side of the hill. Williams, who co-owns Stanley-based Williams Motorsports, has been riding for 30 years.

"Everybody who’s come here to ride from somewhere else has just been in awe," she said. "There’s just a vast amount of riding they can do from every level of experience."

The Sawtooth Valley and Stanely Basin offer up 170 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and thousands of acres of off-trail riding. Trails stem out from the town of Stanley to the public lands beyond. This bridge crosses Valley Creek and leads to riding north of Stanley. Express photos by Greg Stahl

From a vast and manicured network of trails, which connects with trail systems as far away as Cascade and McCall, to hair-raising rides in the White Cloud Mountains, the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin probably have something to offer every ability of rider, Williams said.

"Our backcountry riding up in the mountains and bowls is just unlimited," she said. "Another upshot of this area is that you can ride in areas where you won’t see a soul all day long. We haven’t been discovered yet. It’s not like Yellowstone."

The Sawtooth Valley truly has a culture that is built, in part, on snowmobiling.

In Stanley and the southern-Sawtooth Valley city of Smiley Creek, snowmobilers pull into gas pumps alongside trucks and cars. Snowmobiles sit in the driveways of many homes.

"As a riding town, I think it’s coming back around to itself," Hammerback said. "In the 1970s, it was a very big snowmobiling area, with five or six dealers. It’s just starting to pick up again. A lot of it has to do with the growth of the sport nationally and internationally."

Randy Townsend, who manages the Smiley Creek Lodge with his wife, Rae, said snowmobile business is busy, but not booming, in the southern Sawtooth Valley.

"It’s different than in summer," he said. "We’re undiscovered, uncrowded. There’s trail riding, mountain riding, powder riding."

According to Hammerback, Stanley ranks only behind McCall for the quality of the snowmobiling in Idaho.

For an initial visit, he recommended getting a trail map published by the Sawtooth Community Winter Recreation Partnership and talking with a local resident who knows what the area has to offer. A good first-day ride would be a trip to Stanley Lake or to Elk Creek west of Stanley.

For intermediate riders, a trip to the rolling hills north of Stanley serves up small hills and meadows and acres upon acres of riding.

Advanced riders should head to the White Cloud Mountains, where steep, technical, tree-riddled riding awaits.

"You get pretty wrung out by the end of a day in the mountains," he said. "Riding can be a lot like skiing. It can be as physical as you want to make it."


The appeal

Snowmobiles are noisy and stinky, but there’s little that compares with the feeling of hanging on to a high-powered machine skimming across the snow.

"It’s the adrenaline rush," Hammerback said. "As soon as you pull the trigger and go. There’s nothing like 140 horsepower underneath you—all at the squeeze of a thumb."

Hammerback, who grew up snowmobiling in Wisconsin, said he skied exclusively until about six years ago. Following a weekend outing on snowmobiles, he was hooked and hung up his skis in exchange for a sled.

"Getting into a big untracked meadow full of powder snow—it’s a lot like powder skiing," he said. "It’s the same sensation of carving."

The scenery, backcountry, silence and camaraderie of a group are also appealing aspects of riding, he said.

And then there’s the big-mountain adventure riding.

"I’ve seen more backcountry in the last four years as my skill level progresses than I ever could have dreamed of," he said. "It’s opened a lot of doors for me."



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