Feeling a little bored, irritable and edgy lately? Are you restless, yet at the same time immobilized by a pervasive feeling of inertia? If so, you're clearly in the grips of the dreaded winter malady known as cabin fever. And if, say, flying to Fiji is not an option, the surest cure is just to get out and embrace the bloody season in all its bitter beauty. Luckily, there's a number of winter festivals in the area this weekend to help you do just that. From snow sculpting and wine tasting to a 30-mile snowshoe race across the Cabinet Mountains that's got "Donner Party" written all over it, there's something for every comfort level. So, put down the chips and the TV remote -- all your teams are out of the playoffs, anyway -- and check out one of these events.
If you're looking for a real outdoor winter experience, Noxon, Mont., is the place to be this weekend for a first-time event billed as the Cabinet Mountains Full Moon Winter Rendezvous. This intriguing little get-together offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing activities for beginners and experts, as well as sleigh rides, dog sled exhibitions, mountain man survival skills, single-action shooting demonstrations and free food all weekend. You can stay in Noxon, but to get the full experience, come ready to camp. On this full moon weekend, the fun continues at night with a bonfire, mountain man storytelling, a live, fireside jam session -- bring your own instruments -- along with moonlight snowshoe and ski races.
However, this is just the backdrop to the centerpiece event of the weekend. A 30-mile snowshoe race across the Cabinet Mountains, called the Ironlegs Wilderness Challenge. "I don't know of any other race like it," says race organizer Dennis Nicholls. "It's a pretty strenuous route," he explains. "Basically, you go up and over two mountains and cross two rivers. This particular race isn't for just casual recreational snowshoers; it's for folks who do it a lot."
The race begins Saturday morning at Cabinet Creek Guest Ranch near Noxon and finishes 30 miles later at the Bull Lake Resort. The course, which skirts the west side of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, starts at an elevation of 2,500 feet and tops out at 5,600. "The roughest part will be crossing the Copper Creek drainage," says Nicholls. "There's no roads, no trails, it's strictly cross country, and there's cliffs. It's steep and it's ugly."
The rules are simple. The first one to the finish, wins the cash. "All we're saying is, 'There's cash prizes for the winners,' and 'good luck.'
"Racers are allowed to pick their own route, to a degree," says Nicholls. "They can either follow the roads, when possible, or they can choose to go cross-country if they feel like it's more advantageous. We're kind of leaving it up to the individual racers."
Nicholls, an avid snowshoer himself, figures the fastest anyone could complete the course is between 16 and 18 hours. "Some may want to camp at night, others will likely just snowshoe through the night if they want to win the $300 first prize. Nicholls says it's fine if racers hike through the night, but they should have a headlamp and be prepared for any conditions. The Cabinets, after all, are home to a small population of grizzly bears, though Nicholls says they should not be a big concern.
"There's griz, but they're pretty much in hibernation right now," adding, "I don't think there's any denning bears along the route." There will be check points along the way and a thorough safety net, which includes a search-and-rescue team on hand, as well as a snowmobile group called the Cabinet Ridge Riders to help patrol the course.
There will be two entry classes: modern snowshoes (plastics and metal) and traditional (wood and leather). Nicholls says potential racers should have a certain level of experience and ability before they tackle the course. "It's probably not a good choice for your very first try on snowshoes."
Nicholls says he's heard from a number of potential racers who are more than a bit intrigued by the race. He's even heard some snowshoe trash-talkin' from a group in Colorado who have heard about the race. One of the Colorado men, in the spirit of competition, supposedly remarked, "We're gonna come up there and show you Montana bastards how to snowshoe."
Nothing wrong with a little interstate competition, but Nicholls says that, while he hopes it does grow into a big-time snowshoe event, it's all about fun. "We want to get people outside on a cold winter's day to enjoy it. It's geared for a lot of fun. Plus, it's the full moon weekend, so it'll be fabulous." Just don't wake the bears.
Entry fee for the Ironlegs Wilderness Challenge is $35, and participants can register up until race day. Other events are free and take place Jan. 17-19.
Camping is available all three nights at Cabinet Creek Guest Ranch. For more information, call 406-847-0105 or visit www.vermilionriver.com.
Winter Wonderlands -- Perhaps you had something less extreme in mind. You may want to head to Leavenworth for the Bavarian Icefest, Jan. 18-19. Winter play includes sleigh rides, the Washington Dog Sled Pulling Championship, tug of war, ice cube hunt for kids and games for all ages, including the "Great Leavenworth Smooshing Contest." Smooshing consists of groups of four people racing each other across the snow with a pair of 10-foot-long 2x4's strapped to their feet. The festival ends with a fireworks display at 6 pm on Sunday. For a complete listing of activities or more info, call 509-548-5807 or go to www.leavenworth.org.
If your winter festival tastes lean more towards the culinary and artistic, try the Sandpoint Winter Carnival. Sandpoint's annual celebration has events all around town from Thursday through Sunday. It gets started with the Taste of Sandpoint on Thursday on the Cedar Street Bridge, followed on Friday by the carnival's signature event, the Winter Carnival Parade of Lights at 6 pm. Other events include snow sculptures, a pie-eating contest, the K-9 keg pull, Mr. and Mrs. Winter Carnival Pageant and the Torchlight Parade and Fireworks on Schweitzer Mountain on Saturday night. Numerous art galleries will have open houses throughout the weekend as well. For more info: (208) 263-2161 or visit www.sandpoint.org/wintercarnival.
If you missed the chance to jump into a freezing lake at Coeur d'Alene's recent Polar Bear Plunge, you can redeem yourself this weekend in Lake Chelan's version, the Polar Bear Splash. It's just one of the events of the "Fire & amp; Ice" Winterfest at Lake Chelan this weekend. The big draw here is the snowmobile drag races on Saturday and Sunday, along with snow sculpting, a chili contest and a keg toss. (Easy on that rotator cuff, boys.) For more info: 866-812-0636 or www.cometothelake.com.
Blacktail It -- Every year we try to include all the local ski resorts in our winter sports edition, but this time around, it looks like we omitted one: Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, two hours north of Missoula, Montana. The nice people at Blacktail noticed and sent us a letter with a few hints about their resort -- and we must admit, it sure looks as if they have something great going on there.
Blacktail bills itself as Montana's newest ski area. It's located 14 miles west of Lakeside, Montana, just an hour's drive from the Glacier Park Airport or the train depot in Whitefish. For those already in the area, Blacktail runs a shuttle service, with stops in Kalispel, Somers and Lakeside, as well as in Bigfork and Polson on the weekends.
Once you get on the mountain, you can chose any one of 24 runs set in more than 1,000 acres of national forest. Three lifts transport you back up to the top of the 6,676-foot elevation, which features a 1,440-foot vertical drop. Of course, there's a bunny hill with a rope tow as well.
The terrain has a little bit of everything, with 15 percent rated for beginners, 70 percent for intermediate skiers, and 15 percent for advanced skiers. With a Black Diamond run aptly named Damnation, we feel certain that even very experienced skiers will be challenged in this part of the Montana mountains.
Prices are reasonable, with adults skiing all day for $27 and children (ages 8-12) skiing for as little as $12. If you are 70 and older or 7 and younger, you ski for free.
One of the more unusual features at Blacktail is the ski-through barbecue. Yes, that's right, ski-through. Located just below the lower terminal of the Olympic Lift, you can ski right up to the fire pit and get yourself a hotdog or a hamburger right off the grill.
Blacktail is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and closed Monday and Tuesday, except for holidays -- so Blacktail is open on Martin Luther King Day and on President's Day as well.
There are race series and ski demonstrations throughout the season, with a Telemark Demo Day coming up on Jan. 25 and a traditional Winterfest celebration with fun, games, food and fanfare on Feb. 1.
Blacktail has a great Web site (www.blacktailmountain.com), complete with a Web cam and a listing of all the special deals the mountain offers this season.
So, do they have any snow? On Jan. 13 the answer was "yes," with 31 inches of the white stuff, high clouds, 22 degrees and all the runs ready and waiting - just for you.
Call: (406) 844-0999. -- Pia K. Hansen
Shannon Update -- The Inland Northwest Ski Association (INSA) landed a great spokeswoman this year - one who continues to stick her landings. She's Shannon Bahrke, Olympic silver medalist in the moguls at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. As Bahrke continues her trek toward ski-stardom, we never tire of following her. Last Saturday, Bahrke retained her lead in the World Cup, finishing first in the moguls at Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. Aside from performing a heli and a heli-X for 26.49 points, Bahrke also completed a twister and a double-twister spread.
"I wasn't too nervous," she said after the competition. "I knew I could just nail the run if I just stuck with my plan. I was pretty early [in the running order] out of the gate on my first run, so I knew I had to go for it, and that's what I did."
A strong personality and plenty of determination is a requirement for success in moguls. (For ski novices, moguls are the bumps that allow ski-stylists like Bahrke to perform jumps and turns as they traverse the frozen waves of snow.) As they slide downhill, mogulists have the opportunity to conquer two ramps designed to give them enough air to complete snowboard-like jumps and acrobatics.
This most win recent win came on an altogether good day. "When I started skiing the first run, it just felt right for me," says Bahrke. "I don't know what it was, but it just felt awesome. " -- Pia K. Hansen