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A Place in the Woods


I have spent the last few weeks cursing the snow every time I was forced to shovel the driveway or slide my way to work. Yet, I'm a firm believer that, in the right setting, snow is a wonderful thing. A setting like the mountains, for instance.

A friend of mine used to live on a beautiful historic ranch on the edge of the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. He was responsible for basic maintenance around the ranch, as well as assisting the groups that stayed there for various conferences. In return, he got to live in a little log cabin in the woods.

It all seemed so quaint and lovely until I realized that winter maintenance meant clearing tremendous amounts of snow off the paths and roofs around the ranch. And if backbreaking work weren't enough, there was always the threat of grizzlies or wayward, cantankerous moose.

But the allure of the isolated ranch was still undeniable, especially during the holiday parties he would throw in which snow-covered paths were lined with flickering luminarias and a fireplace made the cabin a cozy island in the woods.

Most of us don't have the option of escaping to a mountain winter getaway and are instead stuck in the slush and ice in the valley until a welcome thaw arrives. But the University of Idaho is stepping up to help fulfill some of those winter fantasies by opening its McCall Field Campus to the public.

When not in use by the university, the collection of cabins, bunkhouses and a yurt in Ponderosa State Park, near McCall and Payette Lake, serves as rustic accommodations for those looking to get away from the world for a while and doing it on the cheap.

From the campus, visitors can take off on snowshoes or Nordic skis to explore the lakefront peninsula along an extensive network of winter trails. For those who want a little more speed, Brundage Mountain is a short drive away, as is Little Ski Hill and Tamarack Resort.

Lodgings are basic, with 14 bunkhouse units, sleeping one to six people and costing $64 per night. The camp's 16-foot diameter yurt sleeps between one and four people and rents for $36 with a two-night minimum. Finally, the cook's cabin sleeps one to four people and costs $80 per night, also with a two-night minimum.

The yurt and the bunkhouses have shared bathrooms, so make sure you stay with people you like. In fact, that's good advice any time you plan to stay in a confined space with others.

A dining lodge is also open to visitors, and camp managers offer breakfasts and sack lunches for $7 per person if you don't feel like lugging your own provisions. Of course, restaurants in McCall and Tamarack are not far away when you decide you've had your fill of roughing it.

Reservations are required, so plan ahead before heading to the hills. For more information, contact Sacha Jackson at 208-634-3918 or at

As for me, I'm going to continue trying to convince the snow that it only needs to fall on my lawn, not on the road. There's just something about lost causes.