The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have come to an end, with the U.S. finishing fourth in both gold medals and total medals won. But did any of those sports catch your eye? Do you have an itch to venture out into the southern Idaho cold before it’s gone to try them out for yourself?
Well, good news. Plenty of the sports in the Winter Olympics can be tried right here in Idaho, even by beginners.
Some sports — like luge — don’t lend themselves to beginners, but modified versions of the sport are available in Boise. Other sports — like skijoring — were just demonstration sports at Olympic Games of long ago, but have been kept alive by the cowboys and cowgirls of the West.
Not every sport could be included; Sports like speedskating and bobsled require a hefty dose of time and money before you can break in.
Now, enjoy southern Idaho’s last gasps of cold weather and try out these Olympic sports at a mountain, road or facility near you.
BOISE — It’s six o’clock on a Sunday night and all eyes in the skating rink food court are on Jeff Salmans.
Salmans, vice president of the Boise Curling Club, clutches a broom and addresses his audience.
“How many of you are familiar with curling?” he asks the crowd. A handful wave their arms in the air.
“How many of you have no idea what curling is?”
One attendee gingerly raises his hand. Salmans laughs.
“That’s perfect,” he says.
For the next half hour, Salmans acquaints the thirty-five newcomers who have made the trek to Idaho IceWorld with the basics of the sport: rules, strategy, a few helpful tips. Then he sends them out on the ice to try it themselves.
It’s not unusual to see local interest in curling spike around the Winter Olympics, says Rachaelle Grimsrud, president of the Boise Curling Club. But this year has been a particularly exciting one for American curling enthusiasts, as the U.S. curling team won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in South Korea last week. Every one of the club’s “Olympic Learn to Curl” sessions in February sold out, and the club hopes to hold more beginners’ events later in the spring.
For a sport played on ice, it’s undeniable: curling, as Grimsrud says, is “definitely a hot thing.”
Members of the Boise Curling Club range from children to senior citizens; people who have been curling their whole lives to those who had barely heard of the sport before joining. Along with “Learn to Curl” sessions, the club offers a three-week long beginners’ league and a full all-levels league, which meets every week between September and Memorial Day.
Typical team meetings consist of games played between club members. But the club also has its chance to compete against curlers from across the country at its annual Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel, which takes place in Stanley and is one of the only outdoor curling tournaments in the United States. Past bonspiels have attracted teams from as far away as Arizona and Washington D.C.
For many people, the social aspect of the club is one of the best parts, Grimsrud says. Good sportsmanship defines every stage of the curling experience, from the customary pre-match handshake and exchanged wishes of “good curling” to the post-game tradition of buying drinks for opponents.
It takes “a lot of practice” to master the finer nuances of the sport, Grimsrud says. “But if you want to come out and play in a social type game, it’s super easy to just pick up and start.”
At the “Olympic Learn to Curl” session, Salmans is wrapping up his presentation. Soon his audience will take to the ice, divide up into teams of strangers, and practice sliding and “throwing,” with mixed results.
“I love it when people come to learn to curl,” Salmans jokes, “because now I’m not the only weirdo.”
BOISE — It sounds exhilarating, but terrifying: racing down an icy track on a metal sled, on your back, with very little to protect you from the hard surfaces below and around you.
Luge is considered one of the most dangerous Winter Olympics sports. And while options are limited for trying it out in Idaho, a modified version of the sport known as “street luge” is starting to make a splash in the Treasure Valley.
Just ask C.J. Wilkinson of Boise — now a sponsored street luge competitor.
“I’ve been riding street luge since I was 51,” Wilkinson, 54, said. “My first run was 13 miles per hour, and I thought I was going to launch it to the moon because it felt so fast.”
She now regularly gets to speeds of more than 60 miles per hour.
Street luge is like a summer version of the winter sport, using a type of long skateboard. It’s similar to downhill skateboarding on a paved road – but on your back.
“The sport’s kind of a little crazy,” said Tyson Sibbet, owner of Sibbz Longboards in Boise.
His business began sponsoring an annual Gravity Games event for street luge, downhill skateboarding and drift trikes at Bogus Basin. The September festivities include camping, music and food.
“Bogus is about the only place around here where we can actually close the road,” Sibbet said. “I buy like $2,000 worth of hay for that event.”
The hay bales are used for safety, protecting racers from the road’s metal guard rails and deadly corners. Curious street luge racers can try out the first part of the course, he said, but “the second part of the course is really intense.”
Wilkinson learned about street luge while attending her son’s longboarding race at the Maryhill Festival of Speed in Goldendale, Wash., in 2015. She’s been an athlete for much of her life – as a runner, snowboarder and skier. But after multiple left knee injuries, Wilkinson can no longer compete in stand-up sports.
Just before her 52nd birthday, she got started on classic luge – also known as a buttboard. This basically involves a 4-foot-by-12-inch wooden skateboard, which costs around $100. She’d considered getting into “natural luge” – which adapts tracks from mountain roads and paths – but there were no courses in Idaho.
The only nearby ice luge track is in Park City, Utah, and she said people under the age of 25 are the only ones who can use that track. It’s reserved mostly for athletes training for future Olympic Games.
Street luge boards can be considered safer than buttboards because they’re typically longer, made of more durable material and include bumpers and bars. But they also cost around $500.
Street luge racers still have to rely on their own two feet to stop them.
“We don’t have any brakes at all except our feet,” Wilkinson said. “I can stop at about 10 feet if I’m going 50 (mph) or under.”
To protect their shoes, most street luge racers glue tire tread to their soles.
Contrary to what you might expect, Wilkinson says she gets a sense of peace and solitude every time she puts on her helmet for street luge.
“It is my therapy,” she said.
She competes on a Rogers Brothers street luge and is a team member for the brand. Wilkinson placed third in the women’s division at an unsanctioned race in Washington, and she’s a member of the International Downhill Federation. She is sponsored to compete in South Korea in May.
May is also national Lyme Disease Awareness month, and Wilkinson would like to start an educational platform to raise awareness. She has been ill with chronic Lyme disease since 2011.
Wilkinson and other members of a group called Shred Boise practice in the summer months on a Boise-area road at dawn, when there is no traffic. But she discourages beginners from doing this out on their own.
“We don’t want inexperienced riders to get hurt,” she said.
Anyone interested in joining her group and learning street luge in Boise can contact her on Facebook under C.J. Wilkinson or on Instagram @mama_wilky.
“I am wanting to be promoting the sport for males and females because of what it does for us,” she said. “That quiet in my helmet is contagious.”
Sibbet said his business does custom boards and can help people get what they need for street luge. With the increasing popularity of street luge, he predicts it, too, will eventually become an Olympic Game.
BELLEVUE — So you’ve tried skiing, but you’d like a little more excitement? Try skijoring. It’s kind of like hooky-bobbing on skis.
Skijoring involves snow, a skier, a tow rope, and a horse and rider. You get the picture.
If it sounds dangerous, be assured: It is.
“It’s never comfortable racing behind a horse,” said North American Cup racer Dan Vandermeulen. Besides, a horse running on packed snow can easily break a leg.
“My advice is go to a race and enjoy an amazing spectator event in person,” the Bellevue cattle rancher said. “If you still want to try it, start by being pulled behind a snowmobile.”
That’s a lot like water-skiing, he said, and allows for unlimited training runs.
“The mechanized approach allows a person to get accustomed to a water-ski style of snow skiing,” said Vandermeulen, who built his own skijoring course one winter when there wasn’t much snow on the slopes.
Skijoring — meaning “ski driving” in Norwegian — was introduced as a demonstration sport in the 1928 Olympics, but never made it in the program again.
But that hasn’t stopped fans from keeping the sport alive. Variations of the sport are enjoyed in many states and in dozens of countries.
Colorado and Wyoming are bent on keeping the sport wild, Vandermeulen said, but Montana has figured out a milder version of skijoring attracts more participants and a larger audience. Whitefish, Mont., boasts of being the home to the annual World Skijoring Championships. The Wood River Extreme Skijoring Association hosts a race in Hailey each February, but the 2018 race was cancelled for a lack of snow.
While some types of skijoring are exhilarating, others are more laid back.
If a peaceful ski sport is what you are looking for, skijoring with dogs could be for you. Think cross-country skiing combined with a team of Huskies.
“It’s really enjoyable,” Vandermeulen said. “With dogs it’s very practical for covering a lot of country.”
SUN VALLEY — It’s easy to become inspired after watching figure skaters compete at the Winter Olympics.
The athletes look so graceful and skilled as they perform complex jumps on ice, all while wearing elegant costumes. Of course, it’s much more complicated than it looks. But if you want to get an introductory taste of ice skating — or sharpen your skills — there are a few nearby venues.
Twin Falls doesn’t have an ice skating rink, but some neighboring cities within a two-hour drive do, including Hailey, Sun Valley and Boise. As a result of the Winter Olympics, they’re already seeing an uptick in interest.
Idaho IceWorld in Boise, operated by the Boise Parks and Recreation Department, has seen registration numbers take off for its “learn to skate” classes in March and April. Sign-ups are also higher than usual for hockey.
“Traditionally, Olympic years always spike interest in our learn to skate programs,” recreation specialist Jackie Woodland said. “We weren’t caught off guard.”
Want to try ice skating? Here are three of the closest options:
Sun Valley Resort
The Sun Valley Resort has indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks open year-round. During the summertime, you can watch Sun Valley on Ice shows, which feature competitive skaters and some familiar faces you’ve probably seen on television from the Winter Olympics.
“It’s a great place to rub shoulders with the royalty of skating,” said Scott Irvine, ice rink manager and production director for Sun Valley on Ice.
Want to take ice skating lessons? A summer session runs June 18 through Aug. 17. There are up to 20 sessions per day to choose from, taught by guest professionals.
“We always notice a big uptick in interest during Olympic years,” Irvine said. It’s an industry-wide trend, he said, adding it’s a great thing. “We’ve been trying to capitalize on the Olympic coverage.”
Hours and prices: The outdoor skating rink is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Hours will change in June. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for children ages 6-12, and free for children 5 and younger with a paying adult. Skate rental is $6. There’s a fee for classes.
Information: 208-622-2194 or https://www.sunvalley.com/things-to-do/ice-skating
Hailey Ice (Hailey)
The nonprofit Hailey Ice manages an indoor ice facility — Campion Ice House — and a free outdoor rink at the Hailey Rodeo Grounds. They’re both open seasonally, generally from October through March.
The outdoor ice rink is already closed for the season due to a mild winter. When it’s open, it’s free to use and skates are available to borrow. The indoor Campion Ice House, which charges a fee for admission and skate rentals, closes March 21.
“Learn to skate” classes for adults are 7:45 p.m. Wednesdays through March 14 at the Campion Ice House. Adults are welcome to sign up midway through a session.
The 33,000-square-foot Campion Ice House — which was built three years ago — also offers classes such as beginning and intermediate ice skating, hockey skating skills, curling and adult leagues.
The community is interested and involved with winter sports, said Sarah Benson, executive director of Hailey Ice. “A lot of communities do kind of see a rise during the Olympic years. We’re lucky that we have people participate year-round.”
Since the Winter Olympics happens late in the ice skating and hockey season, “we don’t see as much of the excitement as a seasonal rink,” Benson said, but more children are coming in after school lately and weekends have been busy.
Hours and prices: Hours vary at the Campion Ice House, so check Hailey Ice’s website. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children (18 and younger). Skate rental is $5. There’s a fee for classes.
Information: 208-928-4905 or http://haileyice.org/
Idaho IceWorld (Boise)
Idaho IceWorld has an entire page on its website devoted to how people can try Winter Olympics sports.
Want to learn ice skating? The next six-to-eight-week session — with 25-minute classes once a week — begins March 1 and runs through April 28. Classes are offered year-round.
Sessions are tailored to specific age ranges, from 2-year-olds accompanied by a parent to adults. Plus, there’s a spring break camp the week of March 26 for children ages 5-12 who are beginning ice skaters.
One ice offering you won’t find, though, is speed skating. Idaho IceWorld does have one regular customer who comes early in the mornings to do laps around the rink while wearing speed skates, Woodland said.
Hours and prices: Hours vary, so check Idaho IceWorld’s website. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for children (ages 12 and younger), $6 for seniors (ages 60 and older), and free for children 3 and younger. Skate rental is $3-4. There’s a fee for classes.
Information: 208-608-7716 or www.idahoiceworld.com
SUN VALLEY — The pint-sized youngster looked at his two friends. He stood on the edge of the cat track leading into an array of snow features that resembled table tops, roller coasters and even a volcano.
“Look at me – I’m Shaun White,” he said.
The boy tipped his snowboard onto the feature, cautiously moving towards a wall of snow that skiers and boarders before him had banked on. Arriving there, he careened up the wall about two feet, then turned the nose down, raising his mitten-covered fists in the air as if he had just won a gold medal.
The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics had arrived in Blaine County. Young skiers zig-zag down Baldy just a little faster, envisioning themselves in a downhill or slalom race. They unleash their inner Olympian as they careen down the skier and boarder cross on Sun Valley’s Dollar Mountain.
“I had a little boy just this morning who asked me all about Mikaela Shiffrin,” said Sun Valley Instructor Bonnie Wetmore. Shiffrin, an Olympic gold medalist, is expected to take part in the 2018 Toyota U.S. Alpine Championships at Sun Valley March 21-26. “Then we went out on the snow where he could imagine himself following in her steps.”
Dollar Mountain is one of the places Olympic athletes are made. Hailey native Chase Josey said he learned to snowboard here at the age of 5 before going on to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Olympic gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington rode her snowboard here too.
Dollar Mountain has an Olympic-sanctioned halfpipe that has dominated the snow scene this year. The terrain park crew also built a quarter pipe and other pipes suitable for skiers and boarders of all skill levels.
“We even have a little pipe in the Progression Park that teaches beginners how to ski,” said Skyler Jensen, daytime supervisor for Dollar Mountain’s terrain park crew.
The terrain park crew has built more than a hundred features on Dollar Mountain, including table top jumps, flat boxes, step-across features, wall rides, spines, hip jumps and a tunnel.
The most challenging of the parks is Trestle on the right side of Dollar Mountain for those looking up from Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge.
“It’s like a skateboard-style park only made out of snow. You can pick the features you want to try as you make your way down the mountain,” said Jensen. “It’s used by Sun Valley’s free ride team — a bunch of 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds who are getting ready to go to the Olympics. And it’s also used by kids and adults who just want to have fun.”
Jensen and his crew carve the elements they build out of big mounds of snow piled up by a snowcat. Then they manicure them daily with shovels and yard-wide rakes they call sporks.
Three areas exist on Bald Mountain for snowboarders and skiers to practice their freestyle pizzazz.
There’s a medium-sized terrain park on the skier’s right side of Ridge just above Cut-Off, featuring a hip jump and three table tops; there’s a skier- and boarder-cross on Seattle Ridge at the top of Broadway Run that riders can take as easy or hard as they want; and there’s a table top, two hip joints and three rollers just outside Lookout Restaurant above Upper Warm Springs.
“We generally build things ranging from 10 feet to 20 feet tall, but you only need to go as high as you’re comfortable with,” said Sherrill. “I just build things and think about how much fun everybody’s going to have when I’m finished.”
SUN VALLEY — It was hard to turn on the television the past few weeks without seeing the jubilant face of Jessie Diggins as she crossed the finish line in PyeongChang, South Korea, with America’s first Nordic gold medal.
If Diggins and her teammates tapped into your inner Olympian, you can free your Nordic inhibitions on the trails surrounding Sun Valley.
Countless Olympic Nordic racers have trained on Sun Valley’s trails, including Marit Bjorgen, who now holds the most Winter Olympic medals of any athlete in history, and Norwegian great Thomas Alsgaard, who was delighted to tell his countrymen about a mountain lion he encountered while training on the trails around Galena Lodge.
Alsgaard went on to win a handful of gold medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and his Norwegian team returned to Sun Valley to train for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Jessie Diggins and her gold medal-winning relay teammate Kikkan Randall have not only raced on the Nordic trails at Lake Creek and Galena Lodge, but they’ve organized a couple afternoons of fun and games on Nordic skis that they dubbed “Fast—And Female!” to encourage young girls to make skiing a part of their lifestyle.
They dolled up the girls’ faces with gold glitter, just as they wear at their races, formed teams like the Green Giggly Gangster Gorilla Pigs, and donned pink T-shirts, headbands, tights, capes and tutus.
Randall explained that the Americans began their winning ways by performing funky dance moves to the song “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars. They videotaped themselves as they walked in ski boots, danced in the snow and lip-synced to the song in a variety of venues, including Switzerland and Sweden.
Jessie Diggins, a former dancer, choreographed the video while Sun Valley’s Simi Hamilton did the editing.
“The reason I ski is because I love it,” Randall told the girls. “But also because I like to push myself and be the best I can be. I worked hard, and took good care of my body, and I got to go to the Salt Lake City Olympics at a younger age than people expected. So find something that you love to do and set goals so you can be the best.”
The message seemed to resonate with the girls.
“I’m going to practice the national anthem. I might need it someday,” said then-7-year-old Ebi Bell.
Former Olympian Caitlin Gregg spends parts of her winters on Sun Valley’s trails training for races, including the American Birkebeiner. And this winter was no different.
“I’ll spend my dollars in Sun Valley,” said Gregg, who won her third Boulder Mountain Tour in early February. “The trails are always in fantastic shape, absolutely gorgeous.”
Mike Wolter grew up Nordic skiing in Minnesota. He raced on cross country ski trails all over the United States during college. When it came time to settle down, he moved to Sun Valley because of its Nordic skiing.
“We’re so lucky,” he said. “The trails are incomparable. The amount of trails we have, the variety we have, even the dog trails we have. And it’s so cool getting to run into some of the top racers in the world on the trails.”
Those who want to test their mettle the Olympian way should race as hard as they can over the looping hills at the Lake Creek trails just north of Ketchum on Highway 75. That’s where Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s racers do a lot of their training.
Ski up and down the steep Diamondback trail at Sun Valley Nordic where the world’s best came together to hold a pre-Olympics race in 2002.
Or head to Galena Lodge where local youngsters with the SVSEF had opportunity to race against members of the U.S. Ski Team in the USSA Super Tour finals in 2016.
Those who prefer dreaming of their medals as they ski without breaking such a sweat can ski around the flat Durrance Loop at Sawtooth National Recreation area headquarters seven miles north of Ketchum.
“Really, you can’t go wrong anywhere you go,” said Janelle Brown. “It’s all so good, and there’s terrain that fits anyone’s skill level.”