In early October, Dan and Sumner Button often head up to Bogus Basin to walk their dogs, catch the sunset and lace up their running shoes for a jog through the hills above the Treasure Valley. But days after a record-setting rainfall in the valley that left a dusting of snow above 4,000 feet, they started packing their skis, hoping for some of the first powder of the season.
"We usually bring the running shoes and throw the skis and boards in the back just in case there's any snow," said Dan. "Basically we were going to go up there for a run and decided to scout out if there was enough to ride."
The Buttons Instagrammed their evening on the mountain. Despite the scant two inches of snow that covered the hillside, their videos were full of near-giddy laughter and the joy of being outside.
By the next day, temperatures were back in the 60s and Bogus had returned to its dry, snow-free state. Instead of a couple on skis and a board, the trails were covered with hikers and bikers.
- Bogus Basin
"It's very, very sad," said Dan, laughing. "It's too tantalizing to get that early dusting. You get so excited and it brings back all the memories of all the runs from forever, and then you do a few crusty runs and you're back up there with your running shoes the next week."
Fall is a fickle season, and its weather makes for an odd transitional time for recreationists and the companies that support them. Bogus Basin, for instance, experiences a lull between seasons.
"We basically end our seven-day-a-week operation around Labor Day, so as soon as school starts we go to weekends only," said Brad Wilson, general manager of Bogus Basin. "We kind of taper off our summer business, and this year we completely closed after the first week of October."
Even when the ski resort isn't open commercially and its lifts aren't running, Wilson said that the weekends are still packed with people as long as the weather is decent.
"We allow access to the trails when we're not open for business since we're on Forest Service land and we share our trails with Ridge to Rivers so those are always open, conditions permitting," said Wilson.
However, with days growing shorter and temperatures dropping, the number of weekend warriors falls as well, which gives Bogus staff time to really prep for their primary season.
- Bogus Basin
For most of the 40 year-round staff members, maintenance is the highest priority. Buildings need work, lifts require annual checkups, Sno-Cats get new tracks and other vehicles are prepared for the winter months.
"There are a whole lot of things that go on behind the scenes that you wouldn't think about as a consumer," said Wilson, who also noted that with the new snowmaking machines fully operational next year, the transitional downtime will get even shorter. "It used to be, back before we had seasonal operations, it would be four or five months of downtime, but now it's really broken up to just a few weeks on each end of the spectrum."
Even though Bogus' opening day is still in the distance—it's currently budgeted to open the second week of December, depending on weather—Boiseans are already dusting off their old pairs of boots and snowshoes, and waxing their boards.
Idaho Mountain Touring Manager Bill Davis said that the annual Bogus Basin Ski and Snowboard Swap in early November is really the kickoff for the store's winter season. Like Bogus, its transition months are characterized by a lot of maintenance.
"Our ski business really starts to pick up in terms of people getting their equipment serviced, or new gear they bought at the Ski Swap needs to be adjusted or mounted or worked on in some variety," said Davis, who noted that there is still a lot of overlap between recreation users. "We do see people that are hardcore bikers who are still riding, so we'll continue to work on bikes, especially with how mild the season has been. We'll have a really consistent bike service business until the weather turns much worse."
He added that the last thing outdoor enthusiasts want to do is disregard this downtime between seasons—it pays to look ahead.
"A lot of people tend to wait until they need [equipment] right away, which is probably the No. 1 [mistake]," said Davis, pointing to the first week after Bogus opens as the busiest winter service time. "Everyone wants work at the same time and then we get multiple weeks out on service and we can't do it fast enough. If you can, take advantage of this transition season and get your stuff serviced while the turnaround times are still reasonable."
Whether you're hanging on to the last few warm autumn afternoons or anxiously waiting for single-digit temperatures, don't worry. It's Idaho, so it's likely both will appear this month. Get in your last rides or runs on the trails, then hurry home to make sure your ski boots still fit.