Every once in a while we get invited to an area in the West where we're practically sworn to secrecy about sledding in this "secret location."
That very thing happened this past spring when we were invited along for a snowmobile ride in central Idaho. We were headed into some spots where this group of local riders-our hosts for the day-had only been once or twice before. It was a secret stash of untouched powder clinging to challenging terrain that very few sledders know about, let alone track up.
It was this group's own personal chamber of secrets.
This chamber of secrets put us in a quandary of sorts. Our purpose there was to put together a travel feature for SnoWest Magazine. But we also wanted to honor the locals' request of snowmobile anonymity because a) we really wanted to ride there since secret locations are usually way sweet and b) we wanted to be invited back because the ride turned out to be better than way sweet. It was one of the best rides we had all season-maybe even No. 1.
So to tackle this problem head-on, we'll just talk in general locations, unlike in past travel features in the magazine where we've pinpointed highlights of specific riding areas. So, if you happen to figure it out on your own, then enjoy your ride. If not, well, make some friends in Fairfield, ID.
Here's about as specific as we're going to get. Much of our ride took place in the Soldier Mountains north of Fairfield, all in Camas County. Okay, one more tidbit. We did make our way up to the Iron Mountain Lookout (elevation 9,694 feet). The lookout sits on a sliver of ridgeline that was just a little more than one, maybe two, sled lengths wide. And what a view from the top. It was 360 degrees of picture-postcard beauty. It was from that spot that we could see what drainages we dropped into and climbed out of and what mountains we traversed to get to that spot.
It was one of those times where you pat yourself on the back and say, "Wow, I made it through that to here." You knew the riding was challenging through the trees and in and out of the drainages and gullies but when you're running on adrenaline and you're so focused on making it through the tough stretches (including a 1,000-foot plus drop off a ridge through the trees-what a rush that was; that was also our way out), you don't appreciate the territory you just passed through. Sitting on top of the Iron Mountain Lookout allowed the magnitude of it all to sink in.
This secret riding spot is part of the larger and fairly well known Fairfield/Camas County snowmobiling area. But to get to and then around in this chamber of secrets, you have to enlist the help of local riders who know the terrain and right where they are. Our group leader said they had only been to the lookout once before after they finally figured out a way to get there by sled, as big chunks of the trip involve some fairly technical riding. It was definitely a challenge but we were well rewarded with vast tracts of untouched powder and untracked hillsides once we got farther back into the chamber of secrets.
One bowl in particular allowed us to have about as much fun on a snowmobile as possible. It wasn't a traditional point-and-shoot kind of bowl, but rather one you had to negotiate around a stand of trees here or a creek bottom there. The sidehilling was phenomenal and the snow was as good as it gets. In fact, the snow the entire day was excellent with a firm base and plenty of powder on top.
Our riding was between 5,752 (our unloading spot, and I can't even reveal that) and 9,694 feet at the top of Iron Mountain.
Plenty Of Riding Everywhere
Even if you can't get the locals to divulge their chamber of secrets, there is still prime snowmobiling all over the area. The Fairfield/Camas County area offers 220 miles of groomed trails and plenty of off-trail and backcountry riding. Several parking areas serve the area but not all access groomed trails.
Aside from our most recent ride in the chamber of secrets, we've also ridden nearby, around the Wells Summit area. There is parking near there, where we unloaded and then rode on the west slope of the Smoky Mountains. The riding was very similar to our ride in the chamber of secrets but our most recent ride was more technical and we had better snow with a coating of several inches of freshly fallen white stuff, whereas the previous ride was later in the spring and the snow was set up. A couple of seasons ago we also rode on the other side of the Smoky Mountains in the Baker Creek area, which is a great place to ride, but there isn't as much country open to riding on that side.
Of course, then there are the Trinity Mountains west of Fairfield, over near Pine and Featherville (basically north of Anderson Ranch Reservoir), which offer nearly 400 miles of groomed trails and excellent backcountry riding.
The Trinities see more snowmobile traffic than does the Fairfield area, simply because they're closer to Boise, where many of the sledders come from.
So you can see there is plenty of riding available all through this section of central Idaho.
You don't even need to bother yourself worrying about where the chamber of secrets is. Just keep yourself busy tracking up those other riding spots.
Elevation 5,000-9,000 feet
Snowfall 150 inches
Miles of Groomed Trails 220
Full Service Town Fairfield
Nearest Airport Hailey (73 miles)
Getting Started Camas Chamber of Commerce (208) 764-2222 or www.fairfieldidaho.us/.
Sled The Rockies (sledtherockies.com) also has good information on snowmobiling in the area.
Getting There Fairfield is located on U.S. Highway 20, 100 miles east of Boise. Hailey, near Sun Valley, is the closest airport.
Getting Around BYOS (Bring your own sled).
Bedding Down Check the chamber website for lodging options.
Eating Out There are a handful of restaurants in Fairfield. We've tried a couple and can easily recommend them. The Wrangler Drive Inn makes a great burger and Iron Mountain Restaurant serves excellent food, including excellent steaks. Check the chamber website for a complete list of restaurants.