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Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Sad spring snow surprise

Back in 1993, my first job in Idaho was working with the Blaine County Recreation District. After a bond vote our valley workers and volunteers created a world class bicycle trail system on the old railroad right of way. In winter we groomed the bike trail into a cross country ski trail, which thousands of skiers delightfully used.

Back then the Rec district had only one snow-cat groomer, which we generally used for the popular Harriman ski trail. For the local bike path we used a regular snowmobile, dragging behind a rudimentary 200 pound steel path-comber. For colder days when the snow surface was icier, we would add barbell weights, which locked into small poles at the end of the groomer and tugged behind. In front I carried extra weights to dig deeper where the top snow crested harder at the few shady spots where cottonwoods arched shadows over the trail.

Usually, we began grooming two hours before sunrise, slowly working our way north to higher elevations, hence following the trail temperature at an even keel.

If the weather forecast was warmer, we started earlier in the night to encounter prime grooming conditions. Sometimes, this was challenging; for instance when a cold snap followed a sunny day, resulting in 3-4 inches of solid top freeze. In cases like this, I would be required to repeat the grooming process several times, focusing especially on the most traveled spots. Even so, there were times when skiers complained thinking that we had not groomed; though it often had been an area we had combed over repetitively.

It was a pristine job, and it led me to idealistic thoughts and musings as I groomed along my merry way, encountering folks who were enjoying healthy sunshine and happy exercise. Part of the job consisted in picking up stray trash, which didn’t seem too bad since I only needed to stop a handful of times. It was important to carry a shovel as well, since there were spots that the snow-machine would bog down, especially in warmer climate. Moreover, since the air-cooled snowmobile would overheat under the stress of dragging large weights, I was required to unhook the heavy groomer and go play, spinning speedily around in snowdrifts to cool the engine.

I soon learned it was important to dress smart for the grooming task. This included sunglasses, a warm hat, thick and thin gloves and spares, a face shield with defogger, warm fitting snow boots, layered jackets -the outer waterproof, toe warmers inside of quality socks, but not too tightly snug. It was also important when dressing to make sure my feet had fully dried from morning showers before pulling on the socks to prevent foot moisture from freezing fast in the below zero temperatures.

When spring arrived, we would try to time it properly to plow the South half of the path to provide eager bicyclists places to ride. This, while continuing to snow-groom the north sections through late spring. As the melt-off continued and pristine snow receded I was surprised at the large amounts of trash and dog poop tarnishing the trail. There were even McDonald’s wrappers in the wet dirt, and back then the nearest Mickey-D’s was 80 miles away! The boss had expected me to finish cleaning the renewed bike path in about three hours, but picking up took over a day. When the boss asked, “What took so long? I replied, “Oh, the humanity.”

That next season I worked as an itinerant cab driver, and one day a young lady was my fare. In an impromptu manner she suddenly told me the story of how she came to the Wood River with high expectations; excited seeing how pristine the area was with its immaculate snow surface. Then she started weeping as we passed a gas station and she saw stacks of trash blowing around. She said that she was disappointed when the snow melted, which had been hiding the entire towns’ dirt and filth. Then she proceeded to equate this snowmelt to some of her broken friendships. As she began sobbing more uncontrollably, all I could say was, “I know what you mean, Honey.”


Jim Banholzer was an active Idaho resident for 25 years. Currently he is residing in Pennsylvania with family.

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