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Learning to fall — and cross-country ski

HANSEN — When I ask volunteers at Magic Mountain Resort how they got involved with cross-country skiing the most common answer was: “Learn to Cross-Country Ski Day.”

It’s a long-standing tradition with the High Desert Nordic Association, with the most recent version held Jan. 5.

What do the South Hills’ Nordic skiers have to offer? Free use of 23 miles of trails centered around Magic Mountain Resort.

About 10 miles are machine groomed.

The club posts the status of which trails are groomed at

And they offer help from a small but enthusiastic number of volunteers who help beginners learn to love cross-country.

Of course, people don’t have to join the club to use the premade ski trails. But there’s an incentive: Members get free use of the club’s skis, poles and boots, stored in a locked shed at Magic Mountain Resort.

At the annual education event, High Desert Nordic offers free equipment use and instruction. Club members put on the event to recruit newcomers to the sport. The only cost is transportation to the event.

As these things normally go, my newsroom volunteered me to venture out into the frozen mountain to embarrass myself. I had a brief stunt of downhill skiing when I was younger. But I always enjoyed the lodge more than the slopes and I quit. I never had much of an interest in cross-country skiing, which made this event much less exciting. But life is too short to turn down opportunities, so I said yes to this adventure.

Before I tried cross-country skiing out for myself, I contacted club member Valdon Hancock on what to expect from the event.

“I think the thing instructors stress is the falling section,” Hancock said. “We learn how to control to fall safely. It’s a matter of learning to control the fall. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it up there if you’re dressed properly.”

I took this last comment seriously. During my last trek in the South Hills, I wore jeans and ankle high socks, a mistake I wouldn’t make again.

When I went up on Saturday I was wearing four layers of clothes, probably an excessive amount but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I went over to the shack where people were grabbing equipment for their first venture.

I had a little bit of a wait before I could try anything on. I was surprised at the number of people. Nordic Association President Irene Nautch said that this was one of the busiest years yet. In the first hour, they had sent out 23 groups of skiers. Nautch chalks up the flood of people to a strong social media push by Southern Idaho tourism and by word of mouth.

Interest in South Hills cross-country has increased since 2014 when the club began grooming trails with a new Arctic Cat snow machine, which was acquired through a federal grant to Twin Falls County’s parks department and money from High Desert Nordic, the county and the Seagraves Foundation. The new equipment allowed High Desert Nordic to groom trails that were previously groomed infrequently. By the crowds of people at the event, it is evident that cross-country skiing is alive and well.

It was finally my chance to adorn myself with the proper gear: boots, poles and a pair of skis. Lane Daley, a volunteer, said that her first experience with cross-country skiing was at the “Learn to Cross-County Ski Day” last year, she is still new to the sport but she’s already in the club.

“If snowshoeing is like hiking than cross-country is the snow version of mountain biking,” she said.

I was trying to anticipate what that was going to be like. She told me that it’s a workout for your hip flexors, which had me even more nervous because I have pathetically weak hips.

I went along with a group of about four people. Our teacher Dennis Pettygroove had been skiing for over 60 years, 30 of which had been cross-country skiing. We were in good hands. He went through the steps of how to fall and slow yourself down. Plus using your poles to drag along the ground. He said that to ski well it’s a kicking motion that produces the most momentum.

I went ahead of my group eager to try this out. There were pre-made trails from skiers earlier in the day. I tried to stay humble knowing that if I wasn’t on a groomed trail I would’ve fallen already.

I kept my momentum going, which disguised my lack of balance. The kicking motion was comparable to ice skating or rollerblading. I had never felt more graceful gliding on the snow. After a couple of laps on the tiny trail, I decided to call it quits. I skied back to put my equipment away for the next person to use. I passed my instructor.

“I think you were a ringer,” Pettygroove said. “I think you’ve done this before.”

Clearly, flattery will get you everywhere with me. I said that my curiosity had been piqued by this exercise and I hope to try it again soon. I chalked up my success to his teaching and ultimately, my luck that he didn’t see me flailing my arms trying to maintain balance.

If you are going to start cross-country skiing, there’s no better place to start than here. Also, make sure to wear appropriate winter clothing. But four layers may be a bit much.

PHOTOS: Learning to Nordic Ski

Trump says he needs to deal with Dem leaders to end shutdown

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump acknowledged Sunday that weekend shutdown talks led by his vice president would not break an impasse, as newly empowered House Democrats planned to step up the pressure on Trump and Republican lawmakers to reopen the government.

Heading to Camp David for staff meetings Sunday, Trump showed no signs of budging on his demand of more than $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Undercutting the staff-level talks, Trump declared that only he could make a deal with Democratic leaders — “in 20 minutes, if they want to.”

Said Trump: “If they don’t want to, it’s going to go on for a long time.”

With the partial shutdown in its third week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she intends to begin passing individual bills to reopen agencies in the coming days, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure people receive their tax refunds. That effort is designed to squeeze Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing increasingly anxious about the extended shutdown.

The seemingly intractable budget showdown marks the first clash for Trump and Democrats, who now control the House. It pits Trump’s unpredictable negotiating stylings against a largely united Democratic front, as many Republicans watch nervously from the sidelines and hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay.

Among those Republicans was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up bills from the Democratic-led House.

“Let’s get those reopened while the negotiations continue,” Collins said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Democrats criticized McConnell for waiting on Trump’s support, but Collins said she was sympathetic to McConnell’s opposition to moving legislation without agreement from the president.

Several Republicans pushed the Interior Department to find money to restaff national parks amid growing concerns over upkeep and public safety. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested Sunday that pressure would only mount amid the shutdown, which he said is disrupting Transportation Security Administration operations, home loans and farmers in his state.

“Democrats and now a growing number of Republicans are coming together and saying let’s open up the government and debate border security separately,” Schumer told reporters in New York.

Vice President Mike Pence arrived at the White House complex Sunday afternoon for a second round of negotiations with top congressional aides. Trump, who had tweeted the previous day that there had been “little headway,” said he was not expecting much.

“I think we’re going to have some very serious talks come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,” Trump said. While insisting he wanted to make a deal, he also declared he would not give an inch in his fight for funding for a border barrier, saying: “There’s not going to be any bend right here.”

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Trump said he had told aides to say that they wanted a steel barrier, rather than the concrete wall he promised during the campaign. Trump said Democrats “don’t like concrete, so we’ll give them steel.”

The president has already suggested his definition of the wall is flexible, but Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed upon levels.

Trump reaffirmed that he would consider declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and spend money as he saw fit. Such a move would seem certain to draw legal challenges.

Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said on ABC’s “This Week” that the executive power has been used to build military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan but would likely be “wide open” to a court challenge for a border wall.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called the idea a “nonstarter.”

“Look, if Harry Truman couldn’t nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border,” said Schiff, D-Calif.

Trump also asserted that he could relate to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who aren’t getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to “make adjustments” to deal with the shutdown shortfall. A day earlier, the president had tweeted that he didn’t care that “most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats.”

Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, sought to frame Trump’s support for a steel barrier as progress in the negotiations, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “if he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, ‘See? He’s not building a wall anymore,’ that should help us move in the right direction.”

Trump said he planned to call the heads of American steel companies in hopes of coming up with a new design for the barrier he contends must be built along the southern border. His administration has already spent millions constructing wall prototypes near the border in San Diego.

Veterans work to raise money to repair Burley Vietnam War memorial

BURLEY — Mini-Cassia Vietnam War veterans are still working to raise funds to repair and remount a Huey helicopter that toppled off its pedestal in a fierce windstorm in September.

The helicopter was part of the area’s only Vietnam War memorial.

“That memorial means a lot to us guys,” Vietnam War veteran Larry Cottom said. “We want people to remember that we were there in that war.”

Cottom, treasurer for Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc., said the helicopter is one of the most recognizable symbols of the war.

The surplus UH-1 Huey helicopter was given to Burley in 2001 to be displayed for historical purposes and to serve as part of the memorial to honor the people in the area who served in the Vietnam conflict.

The helicopter sits near the entrance to the municipal airport at Freedom Park on U.S. 30 between a Korean trainer jet and a World War II Sherman tank.

The helicopter was donated by the Army National Guard from Fort Rucker in Alabama. When the helicopter fell, the tail section broke and a replacement part will come from Alabama, Cottom said. The helicopter needs to be remounted in a sturdier fashion and painted.

The veterans have raised about $250 towards the costs. Cottom said they do not have cost estimates yet. The helicopter was painted about four years ago at a cost of $1,200, he said.

“To the veterans,” Chuck Driscoll, Mini-Cassia Veterans service officer said, “The memorial is an honor long overdue. When the Vietnam veterans came home there were no parades or honors.”

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

A plaque with names of Mini-Cassia Vietnam War veterans will be updated as part of the project that repairs and repaints the helicopter.

To the community, he said, the memorial recognizes those local veterans who served in that war. When the helicopter is remounted, more names will be added to the memorial’s plaque.

Anyone with names to suggest for the plaque should call the veterans service office at 208-678-3599.

Donations to the project can be made to the Mini-Cassia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund at any DL Evans Bank.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.

itsme / David Banks 

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) makes a catch during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)


Holstein cows mingle in an open pasture.

Twin Falls City Council is still weighing the future of its nonprofit MPOG grants

TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls City Council will once again consider the future of a grant program that provides financial assistance to nonprofit organizations.

During a Monday night meeting, the Council is slated to discuss and possibly take action on the Municipal Powers Outsource Grant (MPOG) program. Twin Falls has awarded more than $1.5 million to 21 organizations since 2003.

“The grants were designed to provide financial support for organizations that provide programs and/or services that support the mission and vision of the City, and that benefit the residents of Twin Falls,” the city’s grant and community relations manager Mandi Thompson wrote in a staff report for Monday’s meeting. “Applicants were required to demonstrate collaboration, coordination, and partnership with other organizations or services to achieve goals, while not duplicating services already provided in the community.”

In September 2018, the Council directed the grant manager to “bring forward a recommendation on possible changes to the program,” according to the staff report.

During a December meeting, the council voted 6-0 to change the MPOG process to better align with Council and city priorities. Nonprofits will also be limited to a $10,000 funding request and a committee will review requests before the Council makes a final vote.

While the Council agreed the current award process is problematic, the board was split on whether it thinks the program is worth continuing. That topic will come up again during Monday’s meeting.

The Council meets at 5 p.m. at the City Council Chambers, 203 Main Ave. E.

During its Monday night meeting, the Council will also:

  • Consider a request to appoint Teresa Jones, elementary programs director for the Twin Falls School District, as a library trustee for the Twin Falls Public Library.
  • Hear a presentation about SPIDR Tech victim notification and survey technology the Twin Falls Police Department will use.
  • Discuss a reimbursement resolution.

Bolton: US to leave Syria once IS beaten, Kurds safe

JERUSALEM — U.S. troops will not leave northeastern Syria until Islamic State militants are defeated and American-allied Kurdish fighters are protected, a top White House aide said Sunday, signaling a pause to a withdrawal abruptly announced last month and initially expected to be completed within weeks.

While U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said there is now no timetable, President Donald Trump reaffirmed his commitment to withdrawing U.S. troops, though he said “we won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”

Trump had said in his Dec. 19 withdrawal announcement that U.S. forces “have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” and added in a video posted to Twitter, “Now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

Bolton said in Israel that the U.S. would pull out only after its troops had rooted out what’s left of IS in Syria and after the administration had reached an agreement with Turkey to protect Kurdish militias who have fought alongside Americans against the extremists.

In Washington, Trump told reporters at the White House “we are pulling back in Syria. We’re going to be removing our troops. I never said we’re doing it that quickly.” But in that Dec. 19 video, the president had said of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria: “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now.”

And officials said at the time that while many details were yet to be finalized, they expected American forces to be out by mid-January.

“I think this is the reality setting in that you got to plan this out,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. He told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “the bottom line here is we want to make sure we get this right, that ISIS doesn’t come back. And I applaud the president for re-evaluating what he’s doing. ... He has a goal in mind of reducing our presence. I share that goal. Let’s just do it smartly.”

Trump’s decision last month drew widespread criticism from allies, led to the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and raised fears over clearing the way for a Turkish assault on the Kurdish fighters. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders.

‘There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”

He was to be in Turkey today, accompanied by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, for talks with government officials.

Bolton said the U.S. will warn Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that it wants its Kurdish allies in Syria protected from any planned Turkish offensive.

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Bolton said. He said that in upcoming meetings with Turkish officials, he will seek “to find out what their objectives and capabilities are and that remains uncertain.”

Bolton said Trump has made clear he would not allow Turkey to kill the Kurds. “That’s what the president said, the ones that fought with us,” Bolton said.

Bolton said the U.S. has asked the Kurds to “stand fast now” and refrain from seeking protection from Russia or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. “I think they know who their friends are,” he added, speaking of the Kurds.

Jim Jeffrey, the special representative for Syrian engagement and the newly named American special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, is to travel to Syria this coming week in an effort to reassure the Kurdish fighters that they are not being abandoned, Bolton said.

Turkey’s presidential spokesman called allegations that his country planned to attack the U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria “irrational” and said Turkey was fighting terrorism for national security.

In comments carried by the official Anadolu news agency, Ibrahim Kalin said the Kurdish fighters oppressed Syrian Kurds and pursued a separatist agenda under the guise of fighting IS. “That a terror organization cannot be allied with the U.S. is self-evident,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that the conditions raised by Bolton were “obvious,” and Smith criticized the conflicting messages from the Trump administration.

“We don’t want ISIS to rise again and be a transnational terrorist threat and we don’t want our allies, the Kurds, to be slaughtered by Erdogan in Turkey,” said Smith, D-Wash.