Revisiting an old trail friend

A group of young men ski along the second loop of the Falls River Ridge ski trail on Saturday. The groomed trail was fast and compact for skiers. (Jerry Painter photo)

I went skiing Saturday and felt like I was visiting an old friend.

I went to the Falls River Ridge Trail east of Ashton on the Cave Falls Road. It’s also know as the “Fall” River Ridge, even though the river’s name is plural.

When I arrived I wondered where everyone was hiding. Mine was the only car at the trailhead at 9:30 in the morning. This is a popular trailhead for snowmobilers going down the Cave Falls Road to the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park and also other trails east of Ashton.

But as I began to ski down the trail, I could hear the troops arriving behind me. When I returned a few hours later, the parking lot was full.

The Falls River Ridge Trail is a series of three loops. The first two loops — a few miles long — offer mellow skiing through a thick forest of lodge pole pines and aspens. The third, and most distant loop (adding 3.8 miles), is more of an adventure in distance and a few sections of steep uphill and downhill.

Most of this trail is beginner-friendly and there are posted maps to help keep you from getting lost.

This is a Park ‘N Ski Trail which means that you should pick up an annual Park ‘N Ski sticker for your vehicle ($25) at Idaho Mountain Trading or online at the Idaho Parks and Recreation site. The money pays for trail grooming on several trails in the region.

It was obvious that a groomer had been over the Falls River Ridge Trail before I arrived — perhaps the day before. With the fluctuating temperatures we’ve been having lately, the trail was solid and slightly icy. It made for fast conditions. I felt like I was zooming around the course. On one longer, slightly downhill section my speed continued to increase until it was all I could do to keep control and not face plant.

The snow was at least a foot and a half deep or better over most of the area. Depending on the time of day you go, I would expect changing conditions — morning could be hard and icy, while afternoons soft and slushy, maybe even sticky.

Warm snow often means sticky snow. Bring along a bottle of glide wax just in case the bottoms of your skis ice up. Even though the stuff is expensive, you’ll be glad to have it when your skis cake up with 30 pounds of snow.

Although I only saw critter tracks on this outing — moose, rodent and fox — I have on other occasions seen moose trotting along the trail while skiing here.

If you’re up for the long loop, you might bring along a set of climbing skins to speed you along on the uphill sections. But a determined skier who wants to practice the herring bone step or side hill traverse step will do just fine.

The long loop offers some nice views of some beautiful Yellowstone country in winter.

GETTING THERE: Drive north to Ashton on Highway 20. At Ashton, turn right on the Main Street and drive 5 miles. This is Highway 47. The road swings left (north). After a mile, look for a sign on your right for the Cave Falls Road. Take this road and drive another 5 miles to the end of the plowed road and park. The trail begins on the south side of the road.

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