WHERE TO SKI IN THE POCATELLO AREA

A Guide to the Delights of Exploring Pocatello's Ski Touring Trails


By Ron Watters and Dana Olson
Published by the Idaho State University Outdoor Program, Pocatello, ID.
 

(c) Copyright 1990, Idaho State University Outdoor Program.  You are welcome to provide links to
this page or to use short quotes and paraphrases in other documents as long as you appropriately
credit the authors and source.  If you wish to publish extensive parts, or all, of it, please obtain
advanced written permission from the ISU Outdoor Program.  Thanks!
 

NOTE:  Be sure to check out the new book Winter Tales and Trails.  It has lots of information on cross-country and backcountry skiing in the Pocatello area--and throughout Idaho.
 

Preface

The material for this guide was first compiled in 1975.  Since then it has gone through several revisions.  In future years, it's likely to go through more as new trails are located and--thanks to the Park and Ski Program--more ski parking access is plowed.

Through the years, a number of skiers have provided information which has been incorporated into this guide, and we'd like to thank and recognize the following:  Tom Amberson, Dave Arcano, Charles Blount, Bob Butler, H. Hilbert, Ray Hunter, Carl Linderman and Al Taylor.

We'd also like to thank Gateway Cyclery, Raven's Nest and Scott's Ski Shop who have always been strong supporters of cross-country skiing in our area.  Whether it's been helping with ski trail signing or sponsoring ski races and other community events, they've always been willing to lend a hand.  By supporting them and buying locally, you're helping the community and brightening the ski opportunities in our area.
 
 

A Bit of Background

Cross-country skiing is not a new sport to Pocatello.  It's roots sink as deep as a Mt. Bonneville snow pack, going back to before the turn of the century.  Old-time skiers used hand made skis constructed by carving 1x4 slats with a draw knife and upturning the tips and tails in a pot of boiling water.  Boots were held to the skis with a single leather strap.  Skis progressed, and by the twenties a pair could be purchased through the Sears and Roebuck catalog.  The fashionable Pocatello skier at this time wore skis with canvas tacked around the binding.  The boot was surrounded by canvas the which served as a built in gaiter to keep the snow out and the skier's feet warmer.

At time of world war II, cable bindings were in vogue and with increased control skiers were busy out exploring and descending the surrounding mountainous areas.  The Mink Creek (Bannock Highway) was not plowed in those days, and winter travelers heading towards Arbon Valley followed Mink Creek and turned up West Fork, eventually crossing over the divide into Arbon.  During the post war days, favorite tours included the ever popular West Fork to Elk Meadows, Valve House Draw to Blind Springs Canyon, and as the appeal of Alpine Skiing became stronger, Mt. Bonneville was reconnoitered for the site of what has become the Pebble Creek Ski Area.
It comes as no surprise that cross country skiing has such a rich tradition here, for the Southeast Idaho landscape can't be beat.  Few population centers have so many skiing opportunities so close.

The weather plays its tricks at times, but when the skiing is good, it's great.
Take one look at the menu and it's obvious:  for a relaxed saturday afternoon tour, try the marked and signed Forest Service trails along the Mink Creek Road (West Fork, Valve House, Corral Creek, Porcelain Pot).  If you're an intermediate tourer who wants to put on a few miles, take a stab at the loop tour between Gibson Jack and the West Fork--or try the absolutely delightful touring and telemarking between Crystal Summit and Corral Creek.  Skiers of all ability levels or serious racers will enjoy the groomed trails at Rapid Creek Cross-country Area.  For a little winter camping in grand style, you may want to reserve one of five winter huts in the Portneuf Range.  And, if back country skiing is your bag, there are the powder fields of Mt. Bonneville or Putnam Mountain and the spring ski descent of Scout Mountain.

One could spend a life time seeking out the the hidden away trails, powder runs and spring descents in Pocatello area mountains.  In fact, some skiers have.  And these seasoned souls tell you with a gleam in their eyes that it's all worth it.
 
 

Parking . . . Getting Better

 A few years ago, plowed parking for cross-country skiing was nearly non-existent.  Skiers had to settle for a few plowed areas which served as chain-up areas or pull-offs at the top of passes.  Fortunately, the Park and Ski Program has since changed the picture considerably.  Now there are more ski opportunities than ever before.

You can help by buying a Park and Ski Permit for your vehicle.  Almost all cross-country ski parking areas in the Pocatello area require the permit, and vehicles without a current sticker will be ticketed by the county sheriff.  Park and Ski stickers can be bought at Scott's Ski Shop, Raven's Nest, Gateway Cyclery, ISU Outdoor Program and the Pocatello Park and Recreation office at City Hall.
 
 

Introduction to the Trails

For convenience this guide has been divided into five sections, corresponding with each of the major touring areas around Pocatello.

All trails are numbered.  The number appears along with the trail description and on the following map.  The map will help you find the trailhead and get you started.  For unmarked trails, however, you'll want to have a better map.  The best maps are US Geological Survey Topographic Maps which are available at local ski shops.

One last note.  Use caution when out skiing.  There's no ski patrol out there.  Take along basic survival gear, extra food, clothing, matches and fire starter.  Turn around if the weather looks bad.  Stay off steep slopes during or shortly after intensive snow storms or when the Forest Service issues an avalanche warning.  By using a little common sense and a careful approach, you'll have many enjoyable days in the mountains.

THE TRAILS

CITY OF POCATELLO TRAILS

1)  In Pocatello

Occasionally, it will snow in Pocatello (4,400-4,500 feet elev.).  It only takes a couple of inches over grassy areas before it becomes suitable to ski.  Avoid rocky areas since the snow will not be deep enough or packed sufficiently to keep your skis from scraping rocks and damaging the bottom.  Here's a list of some of the possibilities:
 

a)  Public Parks:  These are generally small but can be skied even at night.  Some parks such as Ammon have hills on which to practice.

b)  Bartz Field:  (south of Reed Gym on ISU campus) This is a good place to ski.  Here may be found easy hills for practicing turns and rolling terrain for diagonal striding or skating.  Some of the area is lighted for night skiing.

c)  Public Golf Courses:  (especially Highland):  These can be fun places to ski, but please do NOT ski on the greens or on the tee off areas.  The special grasses under the snow are delicate and easily damaged by snowmold which occasionally grows under the compressed snow of ski tracks.  Snow covered greens can be difficult to detect.  Look for flat areas near the ends of rows of trees that mark the fairways.  Some greens and tee areas may be marked using small wands.


2) Caribou Ski Area  is no longer in operation and is now private property. Please get permission from the land owners before skiing in that area.

3)  City Creek:

Occasionally snow is found in the upper end of City Creek.  From downtown Pocatello drive west on Center to Lincoln and turn south.  Drive up to snow line.

The trail is a snowbound road that parallels City Creek for a couple miles and then turns away and climbs to the top of Kinport Peak.  Skiers who wish to put in a lot of miles can follow a trail from the top of Kinport South to Big Flat and then the down into Gibson Jack Creek.  The first part along City Creek is easy skiing as long as there is enough snow.  Moderate to difficult skiing is found as the trail begins to climb.
 

4)  Gibson Jack:

Drive towards the Mink Creek/Scout Mountain Area by following the Bannock Highway.  Just across from the entrance to the Pocatello Country Club approximately four miles out of town, turn right on Gibson Jack Road.  Drive until the road is no longer plowed.

The trail follows the snow covered road, which climbs through the open country above Gibson Jack Creek on its north side.  This open country provides nice views of the Portneuf Range across the valley.  Once above the creek the skiing is easy to moderate.  The road eventually turns into a trail which follows Gibson Jack Creek through stands of Douglas and Subalpine Firs.

Ambitious skiers can follow Gibson Jack Creek and cross a small saddle into the West Fork of Mink Creek.  In good snow conditions, a skier can have a delightful ski tour all the way to the Bannock Highway (see West Fork of Mink Creek Trail Description).  This loop which involves a short shuttle of cars is one of several classic tours in the Pocatello areas.  Most skiers start at West Fork, but either direction is enjoyable.  Skiers attempting this route, however, should carry basic emergency gear, maps, and compass.  Good 7.5 minute topographic maps are available for the Gibson Jack and West Fork areas and are highly recommended since route finding can get a little difficult on the upper portions of Gibson Jack.  Snowmobiles do use the area occasionally, but have not been too much of a problem in the past.
 

MINK CREEK AREA (SOUTH OF POCATELLO)

5)  East Fork of Mink Creek Road: (Park and Ski Area)

If it's early in the season and you're anxious to dust off the skis, the East Fork Road is a good starting place.  The East Fork road to Justise Park Rec Area joins the Bannock Highway about two miles past the boundary to the National Forest.  Turn left at the intersection indicating Camp Taylor or Scout Mountain Campground.  The gate at bottom of Lead Draw closes on 11-15 each year but with sufficient snow closes about 12-28/30.  The lower gate is opened and you can drive a couple of miles farther to the gate just above the areas managed by Pocatello Outdoor Program (East Mink x-country ski area).

At Scout Mountain Campground, turn into the picnic area (to the right at the end of the road).  From there, you can ski on the snow covered roads or hiking trails.

One  Justice Park intermediate tour that skiers may enjoy follows the East Fork Trail, leading south from the picnic area.  This trail passes through the woods and eventually connects to trails that continue to the summit of Scout Mountain or to the South Fork of Mink Creek Road.  A map is helpful when going on this excursion.

On the whole when the East Fork at Mink Creek roads are snow-covered, they are easy to ski.  There are several roads that loop around through the woods.  Use caution; snowmobile use can be heavy on the main East Fork Road.
 

6)  Lead Draw: (Not Park and Ski as parking lot is not plowed)

Although the snow conditions are not always ideal, on a good day you'll enjoy the tour up Lead Draw.  Ski east from the Lead Draw parking area(See description above--East Fork of Mink Creek Road).  The trail goes in about one and a half to two miles.  In highly unstable conditions there are avalanche hazards on the sides of the canyon.  Since deer occasionally winter in this area, do not bring along dogs.
 

7)  West Fork Mink Creek: (Park and Ski Area)

If you drive four miles farther up the Bannock Highway from the turnoff to the Scout Mountain Road you'll see some low buildings on the left and a plowed parking area on the right.  The West Fork comes in on the right side (west) of the Bannock Highway.  Park in the large plowed parking area on the right.

The ski tour follows the snow covered West Fork Road up a hundred yards, and once passing a tubular gate, the road turns into a trail which follows the creek.  For 2-3 miles the trail is protected by a good stand of firs, after which the trees open up into a meadow area with multiple beaver dams forming small ponds.  The West Fork is a beautiful trail near Pocatello and is very popular with cross-country skiers.  Snowmobiles and dogs are not allowed.

In the beaver pond area on the upper West Fork, one can take an old road to the south into the Elk Meadow area, or one can follow the West Fork farther up and cross a small divide into the Gibson Jack drainage.

Because it receives heavy use from skiers, the West Fork trail quickly becomes icy.  Best skiing, especially for beginning skiers, is in early mornings or after a new snow fall.
 

8)  Valve House Draw: (Park and Ski Area same parking lot as West Fork)

The trailhead to Valve House Draw is located at the West Fork of Mink Creek Trailhead along the Bannock Highway.  Follow the directions to get to the West Fork of Mink Creek (7).  Park on the right(west) side of the road in the parking area.  The trail starts on the east side of the road.

Valve House Draw, is similar to the West Fork.  The trail follows the drainage.  Skiing is easy to moderate, but can be difficult in icy conditions.

You can actually ski from Valve House Draw to Justice Park area (on East Fork of Mink Creek Road) or into the South Fork of Mink Creek.  There are route finding problems with both of these trips, and it is recommended that maps are carried (excellent 7.5 U.S topographical maps are available for this area).  Snowmobile use is prohibited.
 

9)  South Fork Mink Creek:

South Fork Road is a groomed snowmobile trail but both skiers and snowmobiliers use the same trail.  The South Fork road intersects the Bannock Highway about one mile beyond the parking lot from the West Fork-Valve House trails (See West Fork of Mink(7) for directions).  Park in the plowed area at corral creek trailhead.  If you park in the snowmobile plowed parking lot you will still need a Park and Ski Permit.

The ski route follows the snowbound South Fork Road.  There are no route finding problems since the South Fork Road is very wide and obvious.  Skiing is easy and suitable for the complete beginner.  It is, however, a very popular snowmobile route, and skiers are recommended to get their skiing done in the early morning if they wish to avoid the snowmobile traffic.

One side trip is to ski to the Valve House Draw Trail by following Box Canyon out of the South Fork.  Box Canyon is approximately 2 1/4 miles up the South Fork from the Bannock Highway.  Another possible side tour off the South Fork Road is to connect with the East Fork trail leading from Scout Mountain Picnic area on the side of Scout Mountain.  Once again, a topographic map is recommended.
 

10)  Corral Creek: (Park and Ski Area)

Drive out the Bannock Highway.  One mile past the West Fork of Mink Creek(7), the Corral Creek parking area is located to the right, opposite the South Fork Road.  Park in the small parking lot just below the entrance to the trail.

The Corral Creek Trail leads westward and up through woods.  The first part is suitable for beginners.  It becomes quite steep at the upper end and traversing may be necessary to get to the crest.  Once on the top, you can connect with the ski trail which originates at Crystal Summit (see Crystal Summit /Parody Trail).  Good telemarking slopes are found in the upper portions of Corral Creek.
 

11) Porcelain Pot Trail System: (Park and Ski Area Porcelain Pot and Beaver Pond Trailheads)

Two pull-outs are plowed on the right (west) side of the Bannock Highway in the two mile stretch of road between the South Fork and Crystal Summit (the highest point on the Bannock Highway).
The trail system leading from these (pull-offs) has been cleared and marked specifically for cross-country skiing.  The Porcelain Pot System has something for everybody with trails ranging from easy to difficult and with a number of loop trips available.  It is also possible to connect onto the Crystal Summit/Parody Trail, described next.

The Caribou National Forest which has developed this fine system of trails, is to be commended for giving cross-country skiing a boost in our area.  If you enjoy skiing here, drop them a note and say thanks.
 

12) Crystal Summit/Parking Lots: (Park and Ski Area)

Crystal Summit is located two miles past the South Fork of Mink Creek (9).  It is the highest point on the Bannock Highway, forming the divide between Arbon Valley and Mink Creek.  Park in the plowed area on both sides of the road.  These lots are plowed with snowmobile funds but skiers and snow players are welcome to use if they have a current Park and Ski Permit.

It's name describes the area well.  Crystal Summit is one of the best all around ski touring areas in southeast Idaho.  It's not for someone getting started on cross-country skis, but for those with a little touring experience this is a delightful place.  It has a little of everything:  pleasant trail skiing, abundant telemarking, invigorating ridge tours, and, on sunny days, sparkling snow fields and splendid views.  Snowmobiles also, use the area, but the Caribou Forest has opened a new trail called the Parody Trail just for skiers which has greatly enhanced the skiing opportunities.

From the parking area, follow the marked ski trail.  If desired, you can connect with the Porcelain Pot Trail system.  Most skiers, however follow the trail leading deeper into the Crystal area.  The trail climbs and contours around the base of an open hill, called Corral Point.  Within 3/4 of a mile from the parking area, the trail descends into a forested area.  It then gradually climbs for about a mile and breaks out on a broad ridge with views of Scout and Long Tom Mountains.  All along the trail, one can make short jaunts trips to open slopes for telemark skiing.

Eventually the Crystal trail links up with the top of the Corral Creek ski trail.  From here, there are several options:  ski on the nearby hillsides, follow the Corral Creek Trail downhill to a spotted vehicle, or join up with the snowmobile trail which goes to Elk Meadows.

Of course, you don't have to follow the trails.  There's an cornucopia of back country skiing and delectable hillsides for practicing telemarking.  Be careful on days of poor visibility; it's easy to become disoriented.  However, as long as you're cautions and careful, you'll find a wealth of hidden away places. It's enough to keep you exploring for many winter days.
 
 

INKOM/RAPID CREEK AREAS (SOUTH AND EAST OF POCATELLO)

13) Blackrock Canyon

Drive south on the old Highway 30 (5th st.) which parallels Interstate 15.  About 8 miles south of Pocatello turn left at the Blackrock Canyon Road.  Park at the end of the plowed road.
One will generally find easier grades of skiing the first couple miles on the snow covered Blackrock Road. The road up to the right (east) after a couple miles leads to a difficult climb to the top of the ridge above Inkom.  One can ski down into Inkom or the Rapid Creek drainage from here, but on some of the routes avalanche danger does exist.  The back side of Chinks Peak can also be climbed from Blackrock by following a faint trail to the north out of Blackrock Canyon.  The climb is difficult and crosses at least one avalanche area.

Note that this area often has sparse snow cover.  It is also a deer wintering area and dogs are not recommended.

14) Pebble Creek Ski Area

The Pebble Creek Ski Area is reached by driving to Inkom.  Follow the old Highway 30 south under I-15 and follow signs to the area.

Pebble has always been known for its tough skiing terrain. Over the last few years, however, that image has been changing.  Cross-country skiers who wish to work on their downhill and telemarking technique will find very gentle, beginning slopes on the Aspen Chair lift.  Night skiing is also available.  As in any ski area, safety straps are required.

Advanced skiers may wish to take the lift and use skins to climb above the ski area.  Once on the Bonneville Mountain ridge line, a variety of options are available for the powder hound.  Avalanche hazards exist and skiers should carry shovels and avalanche transceivers.

15) Pebble Creek Road/Backside of Portneuf Range

Take I-15, south toward Salt Lake City.  Get off at the McCammon-Lava exit and follow Highway 30 north eight to nine miles past Lava to a bar called "Mikes".  Across from Mikes place, take a left onto the Pebble Creek road.  Park where the plowed part ends.

Follow the road which parallels Pebble Creek.  The skiing is very easy and suitable for any skill level. Skiers have many miles of skiing through the country on the backside of Haystack and Bonneville Mountains which are some of the most impressive in this area.  Snowmobilers do use the snowbound Pebble Creek Road.

16) Inman Canyon: (Park and Ski Area)

Drive to Inkom and take the Rapid Creek Road.  Two miles out of Inkom, the Inman Road joins the Rapid Creek Road on the right.  Turn up the Inman Road and drive to the parking area at the end of the plowed portion of the road.  This is a snowmobile parking lot, and Park and Ski stickers are required.

The Inman tour starts from the parking area and follows the snowbound road along Inman Creek.  There is some avalanche danger along this road, but it usually occurs during major storms or in unusually unstable conditions.  The skiing is fairly easy on the road.  Please note that snowmobiles use the road heavily, and early morning tours are recommended.

Several alternative tours are possible.  At 2 1/2 miles from the parking area, the South Fork of Inman Creek joins Inman Canyon on the right (south).  The South Fork is heavily timbered, and touring along the creek is not for the faint of heart, but it is a lovely, quite hidden away place and well worth exploring.

The telemark skier may be interested in following the snow bound road Inman Road to Inman Pass, three miles from the parking area.  At the top of the pass, turn left (north) and follow the ridge line.  Telemark slopes are found all along the ridge.

17) Portneuf Range Yurt System

Ski touring to one of several winter yurts is a fun and enjoyable alternative available to skiers in the Pocatello area.  Yurts may be reserved for an afternoon or overnight stay.  The yurts are beautiful dome shaped structures with plastic skylights, wood floors, and a wood stove for a warm, toasty stay.  Several easy yurts are available as well as several available for more advanced skiers.  For information on the yurts or to make reservations contact the ISU Wilderness Rental Center (282-2945).

18)  Rapid Creek Cross Country Ski Area is now private land. The Nordic Center was moved to the East Fork of Mink Creek. Please do not ski the Rapid Creek area without permission from the land owners.)
 

East Fork Mink Creek Nordic Ski Area

Drive south on the Bannock Highway and turn left on the Scout Mountain Road.  Drive to the end of the plowed portion of the road.  Park 'n Ski Passes are required and a trail fee is charged.  $6.00/3.00 adults/18 yrs and younger per day (03-04 rates).  A warming shelter and toilets are available.  Approximately 10 kilometers of trails are available with plans to add more in the future.  The current system is shown on the map below.

[END]
 



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