When you live in a small mountain town at 7,000 feet with a population that averages around 63 people (and 85 dogs), it’s best, if you struggle with it, to instead find a way to embrace winter. The isolation of living in a remote location can be debilitating when no cars go by all day, people seldom come to visit, the internet is weather-dependent, and there’s only one restaurant open.
Coming from a large, U.S. west coast city with a plethora of coffee shops, restaurants, and friends, I can tell you firsthand that life can feel sparse in small town Idaho.
Thankfully, I love winter; I always have. Back in my west-coast city, I made the two-and-a-half hour winter drive every weekend to ride Washington’s Stevens Pass. There, I had access to a resort with chairlifts, hot cocoa, and a warm comfy lodge. Even though my snow experience was on what is lovingly referred to as “Cascade concrete”, I enjoyed the social experience of these resort days.
But I never experienced remote winter life until moving to central Idaho. When the opportunity came to move, I imagined splitboarding in the wilderness with Idaho’s cold, soft powder.
I was thrilled.
Splitboarding allows for adventure to happen in places where there aren’t many—if any—other people. It allows for adventure to happen in places that seem inaccessible. You’re surrounded by trees coated in snow and endless, untouched fields of powder. You make your own trail, wherever you want (within reason); slap the climbing skins onto the bottom of your splitboard and start climbing.
It’s a beautiful form of torture. I usually question my decision about halfway up the side of a mountain, 60 minutes into a skin, sweat dripping down my face, legs already quivering and exhausted.
I’m not alone; around this time, everyone else in my group starts to lag, too. It’s usually around this time that I also start wondering, “Why do I do this to myself?”
My question isn’t answered until I reach the top. There is little that’s more rewarding than standing on a ridgeline with friends, out of breath, soaking in the absolute stillness and seeing the majesty that is the Sawtooth Range. Together, we plot our paths down pillowy faces of powder before ripping off our skins and connecting our splitboards into snowboards. We wait one last moment to take it all in again before we set off down the hill.
Then we launch. The snow kicks ups in our faces as we carve our way down. Each person picks her own line and casts as many turns as she can get in before reaching the bottom.
A few hours later, we arrive at our cars. There’s another big silence, this one a mix of happiness and exhaustion. We take in the thoughtful quiet before someone begins recapping the moments of the day’s backcountry experience. We sit on the back of our cars, snacking on bars and rehydrating, telling stories and ending our day in laughter.
No matter how hard the skin up was, the time spent with friends in the wilderness, taking in mountain top views, makes it worth the effort.
Winter in remote areas can feel limiting: temperatures can fall into the negatives for weeks at a time and snow doesn’t fall in inches but in feet. Sometimes, the adventure is simply trying to leave your house or get your car started.
To deal with this remoteness, there needs to be some sort of release, an action taken against all the stillness.
I found it through splitboarding. It’s the adventure in a pristine place with only a few earnest girlfriends—ones who enjoy the work and reward of getting up and down—that makes living in a remote mountain town both nourishing and satisfying.