Backcountry Focus Ski reports.
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6-3-09- For Photos please visit the BLOG.
looked like yesterday might be the last day for a shot at sunshine touring so
I took advantage of the partly sunny morning to head out to the south and go for
a ski on Trapper Peak. I had some ideas of what I might want to do but nothing
set. I really wanted to get a closer look at the north side gullies off the East
Peak and started with that as a destination. When I got to the first Lake I decided
to follow the ridge rather than the basin and put myself on a summit approach.
I thought about skiing the Gem Lake couloir but it was overhung with its cornice
and dripping a fountain onto the run so on I went to the summit where I enjoyed
stellar Bitterroot Mountain views especially of East Boulder Peak and also of
El Capitan, what great mountains. I skied north into the main run and enjoyed
the skiing a bit more than when at St. Mary's. Probably because I had daylight
and had not taken a detour with my dog... no dog today. Working my way down along
the east peak I caught the glimpses up that I wanted before making the traversing
climb back to the ridge and into Baker Creek. This turned out to be the most exciting
with some rock climbing and scrambling thrown into the bag for the day. Good exposure
to the mountains on this uber-classic tour; another great Montana headwall ski.
There were many tracks on the mountain, hikers, snowshoers, and skiers. All from
the weekend as I saw noone there yesterday.
5-31-09 It has taken awhile
to get back to skiing, but with a weeklong kayaking trip on the Middle Fork of
the Salmon, a week of wetlands restoration work, my brother's wedding, as well
as a sore heel, time has a way of slipping by quickly. I received an excellent
report from Brian Story of ten days of epic skiing in the Missions, Crazies and
Gallatin ranges of Montana around Memorial Day. On saturday I dropped my daughter
off at a friends for the night and left for St. Mary's Peak, Bitterroots, at 6:30p.m.
Skiing up the trail and summit dome at sunset was beautiful and walking the alpine
tundra below the lookout there were a multitude of flowers already in full bloom.
I arrived at the summit about half an hour after sunset and with the wind and
clouds to the south, I decided to ski the summit run down the main bowl in the
fading twilight. The snow was pretty good corn and the line is a nice one, rolling
over and through the steeper chute to the cliffs below. There was plenty of snow
still in the bypass and I headed south to the exit ridge back towards the trail.
It got dark around 10:00 p.m. and I found a dry bivy site under some trees where
I rolled out for the night. The wind blew hard occasionally that night, and sunrise
was spectacular at 5:30 a.m. I packed up and skied out to the trailhead by 9:00
and made it to Hamilton to pick up my daughter early. What a great day in the
mountains warm, sunny and fast travelling. I love spring, but I do miss winter
Yesterday was a beautiful day in the mountains, and taking full advantage of this
weather window, Chris and I headed as far up Blodgett Canyon as we thought we
could for a day ski. It turned out to be a long day of fourteen hours and a I
am tired and somewhat lame today as is the dog Pearle who begged hard to come.
Just passed the High Lake trail junction we began climbing the south facing slope
to gain the ridge and the hight point there, with our destination the Sear's Lake
couloir and basin.
new snow to contend with, 6-8 inches above 7000', travel was slow. Our route finding
worked well and we skinned the steep face and then into the gentle gully west
of the peak that guards the east ridge of Sear's Lake basin. Gaining the ridge
we had a great view across Mill Creek to Castle Crag. Working our way up the ridgeline
we encountered the couloir where the map has it placed west and below the summit
a handful of vertical. It appeared nice and powdery at the top and it was, but
in many...okay most places, it had sluffed down to the icy bed surface and we
control skied the line alternating between ice, slough deposit and a few sublime
pokes into pristine powder on the sides of the gully.
Exiting the trench in this rocky, treed face skied us onto a fine apron
that rolled over and sang us down to the lake below. The peaks and bowls framed
across the drainage above the treetops and the lake was a fine way to spend the
lunch break. Pearle had abandoned us at the icy crux and headed back up and I
thought she would make her way home from there.
we headed back up and out to the Blodgett side, Pearle came bounding down to meet
us, obviously pleased with herself and success in finding us via another route,
unless she later braved the icy crux. Climbing steadily west we broke onto the
ridge heading for the high point on this portion of Printz Ridge and the great
south facing avy path descent to the creek. We declined trying to climb and summit
ski as the thin veneer of snow on the upper portion rocks was likely rotten and
as well, we pointed the skis down this sweet corn run and farmed for over three
thousand vertical. The lower
run has a rock band running through it and we had to negotiate a snow free brushy
spring lane left of center to reach the snow again below. From there we skied
down to just above the flats and feasted on the Rocky Mountan spring water growing
out of the run. Back to the trail then and the long march 7-8 miles out to the
truck. With the new snow changing conditions back to transition we caught both
the couloir and the south face in waning winter conditions. That will likely be
my last trip up one of the deep canyons this spring to ski a south face as they
are melting out and going rapidly now. Another great season of new peak to creek
runs with this one an inspiration for more next season.
We made a break for El Capitan despite the variable weather forecast. None of
us thought that we would get the weather windows that we did, but it remained
cloudier with a lower ceiling down canyon most of the day while the upper basin
had some consistent and fairly long lived blue sky moments. After the long approach
to the base of the east face of a bit more than five hours, we began climbing
the route we hoped to ski. The initial half follows a couple obvious gullies.
From there a steep traverse marks the first crux as the climber must surmount
a rock step on 50+ degree terrain above cliffs. With firm snow the move proved
to be technically fine, and the exposure intense. Continuing a traverse and then
ascending through the next crux of an icy patch allows entrance to the upper face
pitched from 50-55 degrees. At this point our weather had deteriorated and we
cramponed our way to the summit in a full whiteout. Don and Brian climbed the
rocks to the summit while I watched and then we debated skiing the line. None
of us were thrilled to ski the face in a whiteout so we hunkered down to wait.
We did not have to sit for long as a perfect window opened up for us and the beautiful
face descended below us in splendid sunshine. Brian dropped in first, left of
the summit cornice and made slow deliberate turns onto this wildly exposed and
technical face. We watched for a few minutes while he negotiated hard snow around
rocks before we headed to the climbing line right of the cornice. I skied next
and carefully linked turns between bouts of sideslipping. It was in hard conditions
of refrozen corn with about an inch of powder on top. I passed Brian on the upper
face and continued down skiing through both cruxes, trying to keep my nerves calm
by focusing on the skiing and not stopping anywhere for too long. I managed to
snap a couple of photos of Don and Brian skiing the upper face before traversing
left passed the final crux where I waited for them. Below the snow was variable,
more softened but with plenty of wet slide debris to reconnoiter. Skiing the final
turns on low angle corn was heaven as we enjoyed the smooth slopes and sunshine
alive at the base of this grand Bitterroot test piece. After having been shut
down last year in our attempt, it was great to have made the trek this year and
to ski it in fine style despite the challenging hard snow conditions. Hopefully
powder next time!
photos by Don Lange, Brian Story and John Lehrman
When I returned home the blue sky was bright but with unpacking and chores to
do I did not get into the mountains until Friday. The cold front had passed leaving
a fairly even dusting throughout the Camas Creek drainage. Ten minutes up the
ridge to join the summer trail and I had already crossed fresh wolf tracks. I
skinned up the drainage and over into the Roaring Lion drainage and skied north
from the first point of Ward three and then onto the second summit which boasts
a fine east face with some chutes. Skiing east off the summit I hit the rollover
to find that the bowl had slid and I managed a decent line down to the low angle
cliffs at the bottom. I had to down climb some rocks and trees to get back onto
the skis and finish the run. From there I skied south and back into Camas Creek
and booted up the north face of Camas Peak 2 to ski this short fine line. From
the summit of Ward three I had spied a thin sliver descending from the ridge separating
Camas from the next subdrainage of Roaring Lion. I headed for it and in a snow
squall scoped this steep, hard, thin line before slowly descending it to the bottom.
What a thrill. There was a rock talus and snow climb exit on the west face to
return to Camas Creek. Contouring east and south I gained the Camas Peak ridgeline
and with sweeping views down into the North Fork of Lost Horse and south towards
Koch Peak and El Capitan I plodded onto the summit of Camas Peak where I peeled
the skins for the final run down to Kidney Lake. An excellent day of touring on
generally hard snow surfaces with delightful moments of full sun, partly cloudy
and full snow squall weather. What a day to be alive!
As a family we took off on a trip to the desert and onto Santa Fe to visit my
brother and his family. Along the way I enjoyed a powder day at Alta and skied
from the true summit of East Greeley and the Baldy Chute. Superior was skied on
a fairly mushy day and the mountains had turned red from a dust storm that blew
in from the desert. In Moab we biked, bouldered, hiked, and I squeaked in a solo
ski of the east face of Tukunivitz North a beautiful ski line in a beautiful range
surrounded by desert. I could have spent a week exploring this range but with
a time constraint choosing Tuk North was the right call as it “may be the most
aesthetic line in the range.” Enroute to Santa Fe we endured the dust storm, but
then we emerged from the red cloud to enjoy a partly sunny afternoon exploring
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. What an achievement the cliff dwelling is and so finely
preserved, I recommend a visit there to everyone who can climb steep stairs and
ladders. We rolled into Santa Fe late after soaking in the 17 pools at Pagosa
hotsprings, a beautiful location on the bank of the San Juan River. We stayed
downtown in Santa Fe and strolled the Plaza and enjoyed family company and a birthday.
It began snowing the next day and laid down 6 inches in town and a foot and a
half in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I ventured up Big Tesuque Peak with a
couple of locals I met at 6 a.m. in the parking lot and we enjoyed a fine tour
in the spruce glades and aspen forests of the range. I could not believe the crowds
when we returned to the parking. It felt like Teton Pass. With a sprint back to
Salt Lake the next afternoon gawking at the San Juans as we drove through Durango,
Silverton, and Ouray, I hope to return with some more time to explore this mighty
range of southwest Colorado.
What a great month of snowfall we have had with great skiing accompanying each
storm. This greatly increased the avalanche hazard and we have had multiple reports
of skier triggered slides as well as some natural slab avalanche activity as well
as a full wet slide cycle. With the high snow load and the variable bed surfaces,
as well as potential high temperature swings with the April sun, this is a good
time of the season to be careful while the snowpack settles out fully into spring
Monday April 6th found us back into the mountains for a final day of fast
settling powder skiing in the north facing chutes of the Swan slabs in Blodgett
Canyon. The powder was still good, but will likely only last on full north facing
Sunday April 5th found the sun shining brightly as we approached Sugarloaf
Peak in the southern Bitterroots. With cold temperatures, we had high hopes that
the north face of this splendid peak would hold good stable powder. Following
another party’s broken trail as far as the toe of the western peak approach chute,
the snow was perfect as we broke trail to the summit.
by amazing views of the north face of the Trapper Peak Ridge we basked in the
sunshine and perfect high pressure weather. The descent from the summit was superfine
in well settled powder on the upper face and good conditions in the narrow western
chute. Below in the exit bowl the snow held fast and afforded great skiing to
the flats below.
We headed back
up the trail and headed into the eastern chute to explore this fine looking line.
Bootpacking as high as the skiing would stay good, we had another fine couloir
descent before schussing out the canyon.
During the day
of sun, most of the steep south facing terrain of Chaffin Creek across from the
Sugarloaf peeled off wet slabs running hard and fast to the toes of the slopes.
Every ten minutes we would stop and watch as another flume of wet snow would hurtle
down the steep mountainside. By the end of the day all steep slopes had coughed
debris and the conditions had settled down.
3rd we skied up Mill Creek and climbed the north facing mountain about three miles
up canyon and skied some nice east faces. We had one large cornice collapse which
took me off the ridge but failed to initiate a slide on the 35 degree slope below.
We skied a few laps here before I had to head out for an appointment with the
accountant. My ski partners stayed and summitted afterwards and dropping in off
the steep 45+ degree east facing peak initiated a slab avalanche that ran most
of the way to the toe of the 1500’ slope. The skiing proves to be very good still,
but the ability of the heavy load to adjust has been marginal on all aspects.
In the passed cycle since the high snowline event on Monday and Tuesday March
23-24th there has been considerable loading. The snow that came in March 25th
and 26th was very light density and with the various slabs on top of this there
is the sandwich effect of slab on top of light density snow on hard bed surface.
No wonder we have experienced slides on south, north and east aspects.
Thursday April 2, I skied solo up to Downing Mountain and found additional accumulations
and fast settling somewhat heavy powder on the typical east faces we ski there.
Stability seemed to be still decent though not great within the storm snow. Another
day to stay on moderately less than 35 degree slopes.
April Fools was a day off for me, but friends touring in Bass Creek drainage on
a steep north face found good skiing and considerable avalanche hazard conditions
from the heavy loading the day before and set off a 100-150’ crown fracture on
a due north slope in the 40+ degree realm. The bed surface was the crust with
facets integrated and was a wake up call for us all.
photo by Don Lange
March 31 was a full storm day starting in the afternoon and we headed up Ward
Mountain in fair weather only to be greeted by gale force winds and moderate snowfall
at the summit. We cut our tour short and skied a steep line off the 8000’ shoulder
down into Roaring Lion creek.
On Monday March 30th, we skied up at Little
Downing and the new snow had been driven by strong north winds that whipped cross
loading drifts on east faces and built south facing cornices. The skiing was quite
good and stability seemed okay with the moderate accumulations.
last week was filled with good ski days and powder filled skies, light to heavy
winds, and the occasional break with blue sky, bright sun though cold higher elevations.
With chronic likeness March has produced abundant snowfall virtually doubling
the snowpack since the end of February. With these storms have come natural snowslide
cycles as well as human triggered events.
We paddled the Bitterroot again
Monday with the meltdown, but by Wednesday another storm had laid down 6-15 inches
at Downing Mountain 7000-8000’. With the bomber crust underneath it was a cold
light powder on hard pack event. We opted for the south side as it was going to
be good with the new snow and I had not been all year. The snow was a bit warmed
but still good skiing. When stopping the snow would pile up, consolidate, and
begin sliding. As we descended we kept triggering small loose snow slides that
would stop. At the bottom of the long part of the run, I watched as another big
river of snow slid towards me pushing up a small powder cloud in front. It accelerated
enough to cause me to back off and put away the camera as I watched the 8 foot
deep pile cruise by me in the gut of the bowl. Hiking out was hard with some breakable
crusts, difficult postholing, and edging for nothing, hanging on our poles, slipping
and falling, digging fingers into the crusts.
We switched to east faces
then and found much better colder snow . The snow was flying everywhere and the
first couple hundred feet were with blower face shots in perfect unconsolidated
powder. It seem ripe to slide and sure enough when we got on the rollover it was
sloughing fast and then fractured at the “role of doubt” this season’s bad spot.
Quite small compared to the south side but scary nonetheless. We reascended for
one more and enjoyed the full 2500’ powder run out to the lodge.
friend and his brothers arrived at the lodge that afternoon and we all spent the
night and had dinner with Matt and Pearle. In the morning on Thursday the sun
cracked over the Sapphires and shone on a cold bright mountain of fresh snow.
This was to be the most beautiful day in a spell. We all headed up for a run and
enjoyed sparkling sunshine on cold powder for the entire climb. We stopped at
Mario’s lunchsite before skiing down along the length of the ridge to the far
east end.Then dropping into the powder below the wind blown ridge, they all skied
well and I shot some photos and watched Jenny ski down last after catching up
with us on the trail.
I went to the valley for the night and drove to Bass
Creek in the morning to try for the crags there. We found low motivation at the
trailhead with gloomy skies and wind up high. Feeling sluggish we started up the
trail and skinned into bright blue skies within 30 minutes. Feeling better was
the half of it and the motion and repitition of the trail and conversation made
the sleep fall away to the rear and the promise of a high visibility and splendid
day in the mountains materialized. We climbed up from the creek into a rock buttressed
cirque with none but a double hidden couloir reaching to the ridgeline. Skinning
to the bottom we switched over to bootpacking and began a 1000’+ wallow to the
ridge. Digging and excavating away and floundering around for many minutes to
reach the final couple hundred feet, hungover by the rook’s tower and in a splendid
chute of snow the sun glinted off the swirl, my lungs heaved and my legs rose
We breaked in the sunshine for awhile before heading west along
the ridge to the drop in locations for the chutlets we had passed on the way up.
Colin took the king and I squeezed into the queen and we skied our own lines for
800’ before they merged. The snow was decent with a windslab deepness and resilience
to it. Further below in the open bowl, the sun was shining on fast perfect turns
on a wide blank canvas punctuated by a few larch and backset by the 1000 foot
crag towers, black and guarding. Returning to the trail was more difficult with
some steep tree skiing, brush and rock drops and talus before hitting the trail
for the customary schuss out, which due to warming was fairly slow. Back at the
car it was 45 degrees and melting, up in the chute my fingers had been freezing
and I had my hood on from the wind effect, nice difference.
Today my good
friend and the lodge Chef Matty McKean left in the early morning, catching a flight
to Minneapolis and onto Montreal where he will reside next. With him Tim left
as well and so has the first season of the lodge. We are closed and will be wrapping
up the lodge for Richard’s return to the Grubstake. It has been such a great winter,
I think just what I yearned for awhile. We plan to open the lodge again next year
and will be taking this year’s learning and applying it to next year’s season.
A warm thank you to all our guests who helped make this reality a possibility
for all of us. Please keep in touch.
3-16-09 Monday morning brought some deep powder skiing with about two feet on
the hill above the lodge. We were hosting a family from Bozeman and touring with
the parents and another friend in from NYC when possible. With great opportunities
for photography, we had a great time sharing the mountain with the various visitors.
We are anticipating an article in Backcountry Magazine next season and this week
provided the perfect backdrop for the writer and for photography. Tuesday brought
some more deep snow skiing and by Wednesday we were able to tour out in clearing
skies to the crown and the wave. There was enough heating in the morning to leave
a centimeter thick zipper crust on east faces while north faces remained cool
powder. Thursday and Friday were very warm and I did not get out in the mountains.
The reports I received from others was that Saturday was quite rough but by Sunday
the snow had settled enough to make for some better conditions. Saturday we took
King Bob out on the Bitterroot River for a trip by canoe. With a warm wind and
great views of the mountains we enjoyed paddling by geese, eagles, and a swarm
of fishermen chasing skwala stoneflys. Seeing my friend Brock out on his one man
cataraft, I tried swinging a deal for his four buckle Dynafit boots for Don while
we shot passed in the Northwind. Maybe next week when he is back from a work trip.
With the end of the first season at Downing Mountain Lodge coming up fast, I have
been reflecting often on the winter. From deep powder skiing to south facing January
corn snow, to the ice road of February and continuous plowing of January. Groups
of familys, telemarkers, randonne skiers, split boarders, and snowshoers, we hit
a broad cross section of the outdoors minded culture and had a great time meeting
and offering the lodge to all. Dinners of striking variety mixed in with Euro
style hut lunches and good wine,, the lodge business provided fun and filling
fare. I will be getting out into the mountains all spring and looking forward
to some fine touring in the long days of spring. With rock climbing and paddling
season coming on now I will be jumping into these options when the snow seems
marginal. Glad for the last month’s 6 feet of snow it should keep us in the winter
for awhile yet. There should be more on the way as well, like last night with
12 inches in the Pintlars and 6 inches at the Twin Lakes Snotel.
by Ben Pomeroy
3-14-09 Saturday found us back at Downing Mountain with a group of guests at the
lodge. With a friend in from out of town and more great weather we skinned out
to the far bowls and bounced around on good powder and some wind affected. It
was a really fun day touring with some hard charging Missoulians all great skiers
and finished off with a perfect dinner at the lodge.
Thanks Erik and your
whole group for a fabulous day in the mountains.
Another amazing day in the mountains, this time with a compass bearing north,
we went to the Missions. Skiing in from the Ashley Lakes trailhead, our destination
on this bluebird day was Sheepshead Peak directly in front of MacDonald Peak.
We made good time approaching the peak again crossing fresh wolf tracks. Alternating
between skinning and booting we made it to the summit and a grand view of the
Mission Mountains. Making it this far seemed good news today as we managed in
the fresh powder and sugar base to get the truck stuck for about an hour, I lost
my camera on the skin trail somewhere and both Don and I had cut our skins on
a sharp rock descending the trail into the canyon. But with the bluebird day,
it was meant to be that we sat in the summit sunshine admiring the face of MacDonald
and Mountaineer Peaks, the backside of St Mary’s and all the other fine summits
and canyons to the south, in the heart of the range. Leap frogging each other
we descended the slope in fine style and great conditions. The upper bowl and
couloir was a bit hard but very manageable. We skied through the rimed choke enjoying
the white on everything but the air. Below, on the vast apron lay another three
thousand five hundred feet of powder skiing. It only got a bit funky at the bottom
where Don managed to sprain his wrist slightly on a fall. I had continued down
to look for my camera and I was digging through the old avy debris at the bottom
of the choke where we had changed over to booting. No luck there but as I skied
further down by the side of the uprtrack I skied up to the shiny orange Olympus
sitting in the trail, right where it must have fallen out of my hip belt pocket.
What a great ski day and descent this one is with a heady amount of vertical with
an upper and lower crux. To have it in full sun and powder made for a sublime
day. Without further incident we cruised back to the truck and made it to the
valley for an alpenglow sunset on the range. Photos courtesy of Colin Chisholm
and Don Lange
photos by Don Lange
3-9-09 Digging a good pit today started off what would
become one of the best ski days of the year. Feeling strong and fresh we stopped
below the tarn to dig the top layers and see about the crusts and new snow. What
we found indicated increasing strength from earlier in the storm cycle with clean
shears taking quite some force to move. The concern seemed to still be the boundary
of the drought breaking event and the snow on top now about three feet deep. With
CT scores in the 20s we were feeling okay about the stability, willing to step
up to the crown and kiss a jewel or two. That feeling of dropping into a familiar
bowl, steep and powdery fresh, confident in your turns and heading down the fall
line was relaxing today, and taking a conversational pace through the day we skied
a few thousand vertical on the back bowl. Starting partly cloudy, we walked up
into the sunshine and felt warmed in the arctic air. Staying high and blue the
sun shone for a few hours fairly steadily through the early part of the day before
relenting to snow showers. We could not get enough of the great cold snow and
talked on the track and skied run after run of perfect snow on Little Downing
Mountain. Pearle waited for us at the bottom of the run curled up on my jacket,
or followed us up and stared intently at the bottom. Once I watched her walk out
of the woods to sit and watch us come down, always excited by our arrival back
at the bottom. Skiers Anon came up and we laughed about or fetish for the mountaintop
powder and delighted in its presentation today. Days without wind in the mountains
are gems, gifts to be cherished while memories and experiences of storms scare
and prey on the senses. With sun shine and snowflakes blowing out of the sky,
we just kept skiing.
3-8-09-We had a great ski day at Lost Trail Pass on
Thursday with the six inches of cold dry snow, it was mostly dust on crust skiing.
Chair four was virtually abandoned as was the backside of the area. Friday we
skied about fifteen inches of fresh snow at Downing and enjoyed two perfect runs
and a powdery runout to the lodge for lunch. It had been two days snowing up there.
Saturday I got a late start and skinned up Blodgett Canyon to the prominent east
and south facing bowl passed Mill 3. The weather was rolling in windy and snowy
as I climbed up through the rocky choke, bypassed the ice fall climbers right,
and entered the upper gullies. There was much old snow roller and glide slide
debris and I eventually got on the ridge between the middle and right gully and
worked that to the summit at 8356’. The ski back down was good south facing storm
powder well bonded to itself and the crust below. No sloughing, cracking just
an inch of wind slab affected snow. I had been hoping to ski this prominently
viewd bowl from the valley for years, andI finally just went and did it. Not the
greatest of ski terrain in the two main gullies due to high amounts of glide crack
holes to the rock base, large 3 foot snow rollers refrozen, as well as prodigious
glide slide debris. The line I found was clean and direct from the summit to the
ice fall bypass. The lower 1000 of the 3000'total was death breakable crust and
in my Sahales I wiped out a few times and survival skied most of it.
I am tired...after a fine day skiing south and north facing aspects in upper Bass
Creek drainage. Cold morning of 15 degrees with some warming by mid day to produce
nighttime crusts on south aspects. North facing powder was sublime with still
a considerable hazard on 35 degree terrain.
2-27 I had the spa doctor come fix the tub and Colin, Brad, and I made
a few runs on the hill in primo settled powder, no instability noticed though
2-26 One run on Downing at noon, 6 inches fresh on the 18 and colder.
What a run in the "safety of the left lane" I made an abrupt stop check
above the rollover and experienced a small settlement. I skied out from there
to the lodge where I had chores and some winds to witness. Windy afternoon gave
way to calm and clear for the night..
Went up to Downing to do some maintenance at the lodge, break the trail and ski
the fresh snow. There was a couple inches of wet slop at the parking lot at 4800'
but by the time we reached the lodge at 5550' there was a full foot 12" of
fresh, heavy snow. We broke trail to the top of the first point for two hours
digging a couple of hasty pits enroute and finding marginally bonded snow at the
interface with the old stiff hard slab. CT12 Ct17 and Ct20 at 50-60cm deep. This
alongwith the continual whumpfing at 7700' and above made warning signs clear...considerable
hazard with the one to two feet of fresh snow settling fast at warm temps just
below freezing. Snow was falling from trees often, especially when the clouds
thinned and the sun shone brightly through them. While these signs of settlement
are good for future stability they harken a touchiness in the moment.
skied the edge of the bowl in the trees and stopped at the rollover. Proceeding
one at a time with Matt spotting me I took a few hard turns and then noticed down
70 yds and to my left the fracture lines beginning. I kept skiing to maintain
my balance and speed, sure that the fractures would soon encompass me as I was
expecting instability to my right...not left. While I skied I watched the avalanche
grow beside me and gain volume and speed as it charged down into the glades below
this short open slope. The line I was skiing never broke and I waited breathless
below the debris, wondering. I called up to Matt to ski in my tracks and he safely
made it down as well. I skied down most of the rest of the way before returning
to the top with Brad to take some photos of the avalanche and try another run.
inspecting the avalanche it had fractured about two feet deep and slid on a weak
interface between two crusts. Bonding appeared decent with the initial crust but
the hidden facets between the two was the obvious culprit on top of a bomber slab.
With the propagation limited and the similar terrain vast, I wondered why so isolated?
Maybe the further south had less crust and sure enough when I slipped over there
it was a softer base that it slid on there. I had not seen a slide in this side
bowl before that was this large and it reminded me to play it safer still with
this much fresh snow. The "edge" is now further left 50 feet for me.
I was lucky this time. The skiing was superb above 6500' where it was silky and
slow and deep. Below about 6500' it became mashed potatoes, hopefully more snow
a cool down and clearing will settle and make it safer and better.
Be careful out there this week...
Weak point on right upper margin of slide, covered by new snow.
news...the end of the drought! We had snow overnight down to 4000' in theBitterroot
Mountains. With 6 inches accumulating at 5550' we will have much fresh snow ths
week to work and play with.
2-23- A quick run up Downing today after cleaning
the lodge. Sun warmed powder on the north aspects was still fun and good skiing.
The new snow set to come in tonight and tomorrow may bond well to this layer because
of the warmup. I hope so...
February 20-21- Spent a couple days skiing at Little Downing Mountain
and with the 4-6 inches of fresh the sking was superb. With sunshine both days
and stable snow, Will and I were able to ski the steeper lines off the far ridgelines
and lay down some nice tracks. We had some day skiers come up to try out the mountain
on Saturday and with the clear, flawless weather they were able to ski some good
lines as well. With dinner for some restaurant guests, we served Thai food for
them after they hiked in for the evening. After the meal, we shuttled them down
the mountain on snowmachine and they drove home happy.
19th- We went up for two runs at Downing today and found about 3-4 inches
of fresh nice snow with very light winds...not enough for transport yet.
The blue sky and the lighting combined to make this a magical relaxing day out
in the mountains again. What great skiing there has been available despite this
We made a half day of touring up Boulder Creek and skiing a technical line from
the summit of East East Boulder at ~8250'. We skinned and bootpacked our way up
from the bottom as we knew there was a cliff in the bottom that we were hoping
to skirt west around. It was steep and difficult but we made the bypass and exited
back into the gully to hike the final 2000' vertical to the top. Boot packing
was extremely hard in the upper run where sugar, shallow snow and steep terrain
conspired to try keeping us from the summit ridge. It took us a full 3.5 hours
and we made the summit from the creek. Skiing back down was the fun part and we
leapfrogged back down in decent powder conditions to the sneak left and plunged
the final 1000 to the creek, with nothing but powder from Peak to creek!
17th- Skinned up Trapper Creek to take a look at skiing something on the north
side of North Trapper Peak. The small basin due north had been wind scoured and
the one gully that wraps around the mountain from the east was thin and protected
by an icefall at around 8400'. What a huge chunk of alpine rock this north face
is and hope to get back with some ice climbing gear to get up the gully later
this winter or another. Felt like we were in the Tetons with the 1500' vertical
of rock towering treeless above. The gully seemed like a canyon country slot hike
with rock walls descending right down to the gully which was then a slab of rock
with and icefall fully within it. We skied from the ice and made our way back
downcanyon scouting for any other potential ski lines. Trapper creek trail leaves
much to be desired for a skier approacj it is a difficult one to follow. So we
followed the abundant wolf tracks which helped at times they were not distracted
by Moose scent.
13th- We made our way up Boulder Creek for another great day in very fortunate
bluebird conditions. Parking was mandatory at the canoe launch on the West Fork
of the Bitterroot making the approach longer than usual. We skinned up the skier
broken trail until we were last and breaking new ground and headed south up the
main bowl leading from Boulder Peak. The skinning on shallow powder made the approach
different than most recent tours and we worked our way up through rocky and rolling
terrain to the cliffband below the summit ridge. We found the vast basin inspiring
with the good snow, blue sky and great views of of Trapper peak and the basins
to the west. From the eastern tarn their were a few gullies that reached to the
summit ridge, but the main peak is well guarded by an extensive cliff band. We
skied the 4000 feet back down the moderate basin passed the falls for a fairly
quick hour and a half return to the truck.
11th- Skinned up Big Creek for the day and skied up a north facing bowl that we
had been curious about for years. The entrance had quite a bit of willow, aspen
thicket and was a challenge to get up into the lower basin. From there the views
began opening of the upper bowl with its series of chutes and cliffs and ice falls.
What a beautiful quiet obscure bowl we were welcomed into as we made it to about
6000' From there the snow got better and progressively deeper POWDER until we
were breaking trail in about a foot of good snow on slopes that eventually raised
the eyebrows as they approached 45 degrees. We topped out six hours after leaving
the trailhead thankful that we could begin what turned out to be an excellent
falline descent for about 4000' vertical. The powder was sluffing very manageably
and we enjoyed some of the best snow of the season...go figure where it blew in
from but there it was. Back at the car three hours later for a full nine hours
on the trail.
February 10th-Don and I made it out for a day skiing
in the backyard. We escaped from the valley and skied up Romney Ridge to check
on the conditions of the Swan Chutes above the ice falls. The falls had looked
really good yesterday as there has been virtually no new snow in weeks. Blue and
thick it is well built up and solid. The ski run however is suffering due to the
lack of snow and many rocks were showing in the bed of the twin gullies. Don skied
the left lane and I skied the right and we met down a thousand vertical where
they come together again. The snow was a mixed bag of sugary old snow, windblown
powder and bed surface crusts. It was managebale in decent form and the exit to
the left around the upper falls was fine though it is a small route that actually
gets the skier down without mandatory air. A great half day venue to ski 3000+
vertical in twin chutes and car to car in only four hours. More reports keep making
there way in of folks still getting after it in the mountains. Peak to creeks
are still mostly intact in the mountains above 4500 especially on north faces
and with the lack of new snow, avalanche activity is at a serious lowpoint for
the season. If you are excited to ski steep terrain, now is the chance, take whatever
conditions are there as skiing is better than no skiing!
February 9th- I
heard good reports from the weekend skiing the backcountry. Sounded quite fun
with south faces bearing corn snow and north to north east aspects still holding
some decent powder. An ideal weekend for getting out and skiing in the Bitterroot
Range despite the lack of new snow. We may get some new snow this week but it
does not seem like very much in the forecast.
Today I went for a tour up
Blodgett Canyon to get out, check the conditions and scope out a few new lines.
Having heard that the arch bowl had been skied earlier this winter, we looked
at it quite closely and found it to be an aesthetic and appealing peak to creek
line. Hoping for some new snow to go try it out. Was able to get a look at a couple
more lines that have been question marks in my head for awhile and both of them
looked doable at least and likely enjoyable as well. The trail was very fast and
the egress down canyon quick.
by Colin Chisholm
4- Don and I went for a big line and skied the east Como Peak's south face. At
4500' vertical it is one of the longest runs in the range. With variable conditions
the descent took us and hour and twenty minutes as we rested every five hundred
vertical. The skiing was challenging but softened by the bright sun and we enjoyed
great views of the Fortress (Shard) and the sea of peaks to the north once we
summited. El Capitan dominated the view again and we looked to see if the line
there is ready again...hard to tell. With a six hour approach and another four
hour return it ended in the dark as our longest day tour this year. I recommend
south faces again as long as the sun shines. Last years tour to the top of the
Tin Cup Chutes had yielded photos that showed that the cleft in the rock cliffs
above the first major talus field along the trail would allow passage to the upper
bench and then the upper mountain. Other than this pass the first draw and opening
along the trail about a mile earlier also allows passage to the upper bench and
the Como Peaks and El Capitan. photos by Don Lange
2- We made a trip up Bass Creek to ski the north and south facing terrain above
Lappi Lake. We dropped off the summit of Pt 8524 to endure wind raked hard slab
interspersed with hard bed surface crusts. We returned to the ridge and skied
the northeast glades from the false summit at 8200 for a couple of laps in about
a foot powder that bore the effects of wind to a much lesser degree than we had
anticipated. The bonding within the slab is high and with the old bed surfaces
seemingly decent. We were reminded of dangerous Bitterroot rollovers when we encountered
a major steepening that once we bypassed via a traverse left and eventual descent
through a breaking ridge in the terrain found that we had been skiing above a
slab cliff with its associated icefalls and rock outcroppings. Overall a great
tour despite recent lack of snow, high winds, and the associated lack of enthusiasm.
Another reminder came after the first run in the powder where I had been struggling
with the wind affected snow on my skinny skis while Colin held better with the
fat boards. We returned to the summit for another run despite my internal struggle
and on the second round, I skied truer, the snow to the left was better protected
and a smile erupted from my erstwhile internal scowl. Sometimes to enjoy the backcountry
requires a total commitment and shedding of all but a desire to be out there,
somewhere new, making the best of what could be otherwise described as a marginal
opportunity. To wax philosophical, an attitude of commitment can be a great help
in life as we push through challenges, down days, injuries, seeking the good life
as well as turning constant challenges into opportunities for growth and further
January 30th- A quick trip up Downing Mountain to wind blasts
and all open north through east slopes slabbed with crusts and drifts. Very difficult
skiing until I ducked into the trees where I found some good soft snow and was
able to descend with some control and grace.
January 28th- With 2-6 inches
of fresh at Downing, I went to ski. The Northwest wind was the kicker today at
Downing raking deeply into the snowpack and drifting snow erratically on the east
faces. It drifted to a foot in some lanes with adjacent runs quickly getting shallow.
Below the wind there was probably about 5 inches of new snow. The bonding has
improved within the deeper slab from yesterday in places but with the wind spatial
differences are high. Received reports of this wind slab yesterday fracturing
more deeply than what I saw then. Today the slab is deeper and fairly well bonded
to itself, BUT not to the old bed surface. Hand tests were showing that the isolated
columns 6 inches deep were very loosely bonded to the old snow. I believe with
more snow or steep terrain this will become reactive dangerously. The skiing on
the fresh snow was really good with powder flying, especially where the bed surface
was still soft snows. Below it was dust on crust, fast and fun. East through south
runs are my recommendation with that wind out there.
A report from Lolo
Pass described less wind and great surface snow conditions with sloughing frequent
on steep slopes. Seems like good surface conditions have reestablished in the
Bitterroots on non wind affected slopes.
January 27th- Headed up
to Downing today for a few quick runs. I skied the notch and the bowl and the
new snow at 2" was seemingly not well bonded at all to the old snow. It was
both sluffing and in winded spots breaking out in small slabs. With the interface
cold and the snow not bonding well potential for avalanches will be increasing
tomorrow with the new snow; be especially careful as it accumulates deeper than
4". The base was quite soft still at higher elevations and on the protected
NE and East aspects and the skiing was remarkably good considering. I plan another
venture above tomorrow to further check on conditions and hopefully get some great
skiing in then. Winter has returned and with it the cold temps and hope for deeper
We are opening the lodge to day skiers and diners this weekend with
a great menu and potential for good powder skiing. If interested in backcountry
skiing and finishing the day off with a well earned meal, please get in touch
to make a reservation. We are limited to 16 for dinner on both Friday and Saturday
nights. $60 for day skiing and your best meal ever. Why rush for powder when you
can have it all to yourself...call 406-531-1486 email@example.com
top two left photos by Don Lange, others by John Lehrman
20th- We pulled off a great link up today of the east face of Alaska Peak (Mill
2) and the direct south face of Mill Pt. Alaska peak's east face was not as heavily
clad with snow as we had hoped, and once we dropped into this 50+ degree slope,
we realized there were a couple rollover rock bands that needed our FULL attention.
We made the moves, felt lucky for the warmed settled powder snow staying well
put(except for one wet slide we kicked off about a third of the way down) and
moved on to Mill 1 where we skied a peak to creek non stop 3800 vertical run from
bright sunshine into the ice fog canyon. What an incredible day ski of these two
fine peaks in Hamilton's backyard. The south approach to Mill 2 while difficult
is straightforward and offers a good alternative to reach the summit with a minimum
of rocky ridge fuss. To link the east line to the south line of Mill 1 was an
extraordinary tour that gave us about 5600 vertical skiing for the day and seven
hours on the trail.The south faces have seen so much sun settling that they seem
to have stabilized nicely, however the east faces are still in the process of
settling and therefore allowed for a pretty good loose snow wet slide to break
under foot and propagate and run another 800 vertical or so. There was sun warmed
powder, settled powder and full spring slop on this day tour.
January 18th- We skied
another fabulous line today from Printz Ridge south off Alaska Peak. With its
sunny 3500+ vertical well softened, we skied top to bottom non stop in about fifteen
minutes. It was a thigh burner. This peak to creek really excited my season with
many more looking somewhat filled in with snow. With the valleys filled with fog
and temperatures hovering about 15-20 degreees colder in the canyons, the south
face was a scorcher of deep reflected solar gain and we sunglass and t-shirted
it up to the summit in about 4 hours. The run is a long undulating steep run with
quite a difficult and exposed approach ascent. There was lots of week old avalanche
debris piles and snow rollers. All variably refrozen snow on the approach, we
were happy for the harscheizen and whippets. The narrow gully splits a thousand
or more feet up from the bottom and the descent route is in the steeper eastern
chute. At the top, below the rocks of Printz Ridge the face is a 35+ degree steep
broad canvas broken by the occasional tree clump and rock outcropping. We sideslipped
into this face from a notch in the ridgeline, before laying into continuous linked
turns down the headwall, passed Douglas Fir, around corners picking up side gullys,
rolling over slab rock faces, pinching through narrow gullys and chokes,, and
spilling out into the valley through an open thicket of talus and willow all the
way in the shade to Blodgett Creek. The descent run, then obscured behind turns
and rolls, trees and rocks rose far above into the sunshine we quickly noted was
missing. Donning parkas for the inversion cold we skied back east toward the valley
hiding under a dense fog. The sunny side of the Bitterroots have elegant patchy
old growth Ponderosa and Douglas Fir and Sub Alpine Whitebark glades nicely open
for ski runs. With the wide open bowls, steep chutes and lanes generally stretching
directly from Peak to Creek, there are hundreds to explore in the Range.
16-17th- We opened the lodge for fine dining over the weekend to great success
and enjoyment of our dinner guests and the chef. I am learning the restaurant
business for the first time and enjoyed the opportunity to present the lodge to
diners in this unique environment. With a set menu and a view of the valley most
of our guests hiked in the 1.5 miles and revved up their appetite. With the fireplace
roaring and the courses flowing, we were told by many that it was one of the best
meal of their lives. Hopefully we can entice enough people to come for this destination
dining opportunity to make a successful go of this part of the business model.We
plan to open the restaurant again for the weekend of January 30-31. please take
a look at our menu for the weekend.
15th- I made a trip up Blodgett Canyon today with two others and we crossed into
Mill Canyon via a bowl east of Sears Lake. The snow was warm and sunbaked on the
southfacing approach with increasing avy hazard. The ascent was gorgeous with
views of High Lake, Blodgett Peak and the whole canyon below our feet. We stuck
with the plan of descending the north face to Mill Canyon via a steep headwall,
followed by a mellow bowl ski, to a treed traverse to the outer east face which
we descended on challenging hard packed variable conditions. We found nothing
more than two inches of powder blown here and there and in the trees. Today was
the day for this tour and hopefully others. There have been some slides on the
south sides and rather little noted today other than some probable ice fall noise
and a southeast facing pocket had pulled out high on the ridge west of Castle
Crag. On the tour out Mill we ran into wolf sign after about two miles and the
moose the pack had been following. Blodgett Canyon in better shape for skiing
than Mill as found last year as well.
January 12th- Brad and I toured to
the top of the bowl at Downing today after putting in some hours at the lodge
and we found variable conditions with a generally stiffening snowpack. Despite
the wind affect the east facing slope was good skiing if challenging. There was
about 2" of new or blown snow and at lower elevations the crusts were quite
supportable and skiable. We did the roundtrip from the lodge and back in 2 hours
for the 2500' vertical. All other tracks had been blown in and the run was once
again a blank canvas. While not as stellar skiing as it has been, the challenge
reminded us to use good technique and form and that getting out in the mountains
is the only way to know the snow, rather than assuming poor conditions. We are
offering day skiing and dining for a limited number of guests this weekend who
would like to come experience the mountain skiing and lodge dining. The lodge
chef Matt McKean arrived a week ago and is ready for our Saturday
Night Dinner Opening.
Janaury 11th- Guests at the lodge reported good
times and an increasingly windblown upper elevation snowpack. The hazard has certainly
lessened with this round of dry weather and with it comes the challenging conditions!
Get ready for all kinds of snow up there and hunt around until you find the best,
often in the untracked trees. East facing bowls seem to still be somewhat protected
but winds are coming from every direction. Time for the skinny skis again. High
pressure is forecast to stregthen as the ridge moves onshore, further drying and
warming the atmosphere. We all know this as the January thaw. It will be pronounced
by the end of the week. Hopefully we enter another round of snow afterwards....
9th- Out for a day in the settling snowpack with mostly sunny skies we skied the
shady side of the ridge. The skiing was fast and dried out powder with great carvability
above the deep current base of 5-9 feet. With the continued presense of the depth
hoar and deep recently layered snowpack the forecast remains High and Considerable
on steep slopes. We enjoyed a great tour of the various bowls on Downing Ridge
and managed to stay out of trouble by sticking to familiar terrain and being especially
route conscious. It is so wonderful now to have such a base. With lingering high
pressure through next week, this may be a good opportunity to go for a longer
tour with nicer weather. I hope to next week. Folks are again renting the lodge
this weekend and they should have great skiing conditions above 7000 feet elevation
where the crust stops and is buried under last night's snow shower.
7th- Well the forecast is right on with snowline jumping to around 5500 feet right
at the elevation of the lodge. We were up skiing again yesterday and found excellent
riding conditions with 4-8" fresh on the solid soft slab below. I had loaned
out my fat skis and managed to ski comfortably on spring skis. With the meltdown
today the avy conditions will be HIGH and the West Central forecast has posted
a special warning for today due to high loading and wet weather. Beware of any
rain on snow incidents. A cold front is forecast to come through tomorrow sometime.
Be especially aware if temps drop quickly and you are out in to BC because as
the snowpack cools it will contract and become at first quite susceptible to triggering
events as it adjusts to the cool down.
Chef Matt McKean has arrived and
we have had 3 successful promotional dinners of leek/parsnip soup with nutmeg/chive
creme freche, arugula sald with pomegranate seeds, and shaved parmesan with citrus
vinaigrette, eggplant with red wine/ sage marinara, whole foods enchiladas, and
wild mushroom dumplings with ponzu, and thai night noodles with tofu and chicken,
bok choy with garlic and sweet chili and coconut milk prawns.Mmmm...
courtesy of Don Lange
January 5th- Out for another day of great powder
skiing. With a windslab having blown in old tracks and about 2-3 inches of new
snow, conditions were back to winter storm weather with lighter accumulations
today than in other recent storms. Slabs are well formed now with hazard still
posted as considerable. Skiing terrain 30 degrees has felt like full committment
this last week. Many big avalanches have been spotted including the massive north
face bowl on Big St Joseph Peak.
See photos below courtesy of Colin
3- As all will attest, this passed weeks' storms have been great putting down
an incomparable base for the mountains. Up at the lodge there is three to four
feet of snow and at the 7500 mark there is 5-9 feet of snow.according to guests
who have been there. With todays bluebird conditions and cold smoke powder the
skiing was as good as it gets with the entire 3000 vertical filled in and sweet.
The crust line is right at the lodge fortunately allowing good powder skiing back
to home base. Our first two groups have reported great skiing conditions on safe
2000' vertical gladed terrain in the Lost Glades. Deep instabilities still exist
and there have been a few recent avalaches reported especially from yestedays
warmup. With another cycle of storms expected to continue tomorrow night with
another round of good precipitation, expect avy conditions to increase again through
the storm cycle..
still have a few weekends open on January 17th and 31 and February 14th and we
hope folks will skin up to the opportunity to ski a deep base out of a fun lodge.
The lodge chef is arriving from Montreal tomorrow and we will be firing up for
dinners whenever folks are interested and especially on weekends. Please get in
touch if you are interested in this unique dining experience.
28- Out again today to Gash Point with friends to take in the wild winter weather
out there. It had snowed about a foot overnight and we enjoyed deep trail breaking
with the occasional bottomless step. The wind was howling from the north, south
and swirling all about. It snowed very hard all day obscuring our uptrack from
first run to last. The skiing was variably good with deep snow in the trees and
a wind affected slab in the main east bowl. We remotely triggered a slab on the
south facing slopes into the bowl which broke to an interface layer about two
feet deep in a rocky steeper section of the bowl downhill from the main "safe"
entrance around 8000'. No whumpfing, cracking or warnings of any kind other than
the high snow/wind load, upward shift in temperature and known weakness on the
ground and at crustal interfaces above this weak base snow. This storm if it does
not pull out the many good ski slopes has sealed the backcountry with a four to
five foot base above about 6500. Twin Lakes Snotel reported 2" snowwater
overnight and only about a foot of snow. This means higher density snow and likely
ubiquitous slabs everywhere the wind has been blowing. With continued reports
of fatalities on ski areas around the west, it has been an infamously historic
start to the ski season. BE CAREFUL AND PLAY SAFE. STEEP SLOPES THAT HAVE WIND
LOADED WILL LIKELY SLIDE GIVEN A SKIER TRIGGER. Other reports of slides have come
from St Mary's Peak and from Powder Mountain Ski area. The deep instability in
the lower snowpack will likely persist for a number of weeks/months and become
reactive over and over with all forthcoming snow loading events. As the slabs
deepen the power will only increase. Watch this sugar snow at the ground and around
the crusts above.
December 24- I went out skiing up Little Downing Mountain
on the 24th and we found excellent surface conditions on a shallow and fragile
base. With about 3.5 feet of snow at 8000 feet and some serious depth hoar, the
avalanche concern was considerable. Playing it safe we skied the edge of the bowl,
hitting a few rocks but enjoying the sweet light powder frosting. Our pit resulted
a Compression test of CT17 at the ground which was the main concern. Below about
18 inches the snow was in the Temerature gradient metamorphosis, growing larger
and larger crystals the closer to the ground. Above the 18 inch depth we found
some stiffer slabs with decent bonding and about a foot of new snow everywhere
from 8000 to 5000 feet. Today Christmas, the temperatures have warmed and the
wind blew in another storm last night. From a snowpack perspective a warmup would
be a good thing now, but from the looks of the weather it will be shortlived and
maybe ineffective for settling at the 8000 foot mark. In the Bitterroots we often
have a safe base of Maritime Snowpack. This year, we have a very Continental Snowpack
to start and folks should be excessively careful on any steeper slopes as the
failures at the ground are likely with the right trigger in the right area. Additionally
with the light nature of the snow, it is less supportive than usual and hitting
rocks and stumps and deadfall is also still very common and likely.
19- A year ago we triggered a 40cm slab at 8500' with about a 2 meter base. This
year we are lucky to have a meter! It is continuing to trickle in and once we
get the punch line of a storm watch out because the skiing will be great and the
snowpack dangerous. I skied around at Lost Trail Pass today both on area with
a quick trip off piste. The surface conditions were terrific and the snow was
deep if quite hollow. There may be a meter in places but generally there is less.
Fat skis were required for flotation in the untracked.
December 16- The
weather service was right! What a great storm. I was teased out on Sunday to ski
some baseless fresh and managed one run top to bottom at little Downing Mountain.
The surface conditions were great so above 7500 the skiing was good. Below...watch
Thanks to all for participating in such a turnout for the Downing Mountain
Lodge openhouse. We had close to 70 folks show up. The 5 gallons of beer from
Bitterroot Brewery was gone. Free Range string quartet played the house keeping
us all into great acoustic music with their soulful tunes and singing. We stayed
the night and kept the place warm, enjoying the hot tub and winter's first icy
There is another round of moisture forecast for wednesday night and
thursday. It should bring another layer, but is not supposed to pack the punch
of sealing the slopes under a big base.
Trail Powder Mountain is opening limited terrain this thursday. It should
be some fun on meadow run and north bowl. Maybe a short detour to Elk Meadow for
some bear grass meadows!
December 11th- With
arctic outbreak forecast for the day of the lodge gathering, please take the
time to outfit your self and your vehicle properly for winter travel.
10th- To at last get my first day of skiing in this season was a welcome remembrance
of a special, wintry joy. Also it happened to be the most relaxing day I have
had in months. At the top of Fish Peak there was 120 cm of settled snow topped
with new dense powder. We had some sleet on the tour in and it mostly seemed to
switch to all snow by noon. Other aspects that were not loaded and below the ridge
had been measured at 60cm deep yesterday. With a decent base and very dense snow
to stay up, we skied a short drop before exiting to the pass. It was so refreshing
to be out skiing and what a great way to start the season out with friends and
a deep foot of new snow.
I plowed the Grubstake Road up to the Downing
Lodge yesterday when I returned home. It only had 1-4 inches of snow and took
a fairly short time to accomplish. Four wheel drive or all wheel drive vehicles
and good winter tires are now required to reach switchback eleven
or the lodge. Chains may be necessary to reach the lodge for Sarturday's openhouse
and should be available. The weather is forecast to be cold and wintry for our
openhouse on Saturday. Please stay tuned for updated road information. I will
be up there over the next two days finalizing preparations and plowing. At switchback
eleven please close the gate and look for any messages. RSVP for info on saturday
openhouse Noon to Dark.
WEATHER SYSTEM FOR THIS WEEKEND BRINGING WIDESPREAD SNOW AND FRIGID TEMPERATURES...
We found mostly stable conditions today; however we noticed numerous crusts
and density changes that isolated themselves well in distinct layers through the
various stability tests: Shovel Shear, Compression Test Ct14@95 Ct25 at60cm, Ct35@95
on extended column test, Rutschblock test score of RB4 @95 RB5 @55 Q2 generally
with density change below double crust 5 cm, released most significantly 60cm
deep with RB test. We skied an adjacent short 36-38 degree run with good results
before skinning directly out between our downtracks. It was snowing needles obscured
vis and warm. Snow had settled and formed slight melt/sleet crust on surface conditions.
Unnoticeable other than as dense powder on the descent.
29th- The change in weather pattern is upon us with some forms of precipitation
moving through the Montana Rockies over the next week with a cold front projected
to hit tuesday with accompanying snowfall. Week ridging will occur tonight and
tomorrow through monday but the long term high pressure ridge which has dominated
the eastern Pacific is supposed to breakdown next week with the passage of the
front and the southward spread of an artic outbreak wednesday. Winter has been
slow to arrive with elevated snowlines and mild weather. We are truly now squarely
in the midst of swing season. The lodge is coming together for the opener on Full
Moon Saturday December 13th. Last week 10 of us hauled the billiards table from
the valley to a trailer and then up to the lodge. This week I am installing the
snowplow on the old Beastly Blazer I have had for twenty years. I plan on plowing
to the lodge through December 13th and the celebration to allow access to guests.
Please be advised however that the road to the lodge is steep and REQUIRES at
least a set of chains and good snow tires and 4 wheel or all wheel drive. If you
are planning to come please RSVP 406-531-1486 to find out the local conditions.
Barring a really significant snowfall the road will be open. I have not heard
much from the slopes as folks have been cautiously staying out of the mountains
with the extremely variable conditions there. One more good snowfall and some
of the early season higher elevation spots should open up to users.
weeks Missoula Independent featured a
story about the backcountry snowsports options in Montana. Chad Harder wrote
a fine article to include the Downing Mountain Lodge and Seeley Lake's Yurtski
operation. Thanks Chad for the positive press promoting our businesses. Now for
the white stuff please Mother Nature...
November 16th- What a gorgeous
weekend of Indian Summer weather. Skiers are cringing at the lack of snow and
chomping at the bit to get into the mountains. A few more reports from skier folks
from the mountains, and I have yet to make the effort, though my skis are ready
and my "bags are packed" waiting for the next good storm. If you have
any information to share please do so.
November 11- Snowline dipped yesterday
to 6500 feet and laid down another four to six inches above there. We moved the
bunkbeds into the lodge, checked out the pool table in Hamiltn and pulled a pocket
to get replacements, and cut and stacked another load of wood. A couple days ago
I met in Darby with the owner of a snowcat who had called expressing interest
in partnering with us to help shuttle folks up the mountain road for weekend dinners.
It looks really positive that we will have his services and that of his ten passenger
snowcat for access from Switchback 11 to the lodge on friday and saturday nights
for weekend dinners at the lodge! I will be at the ski patrol fundraiser tomorrow
wednesday at the Pharaohplex in Hamilton from 4-6 p.m. for the new TGR film. They
have generously encouraged me to make a short presentation there about the opening
of the Downing Mountain Lodge. On a personal note I was invited on a fundraiser
expedition for hospice care to climb and ski Denali Peak in Alaska in the spring
of 2010. Saying yes was easy; for a good cause even better.
6th- With a couple more ski stories emerging from this season, I am getting excited
for the coming winter. Seems as though there is up to 2 feet of snow in high places
and people are visiting and getting after it. With snow line projected to march
up the mountain tonight and then by Saturday lower to higher elevation trailheads,
I imagine folks may be out at familiar early season spots, following hunters roads
up to 6000' and higher. Love hearing the stories of early Powder, please be careful
out there early, as there is much of winter yet to come. I cut another load of
firewood today for the lodge. I am looking forward to the snows pushing me indoors
to get the bunks setup, pool table inside, couch placed, and general BCF infusion.
The cat has been doing a good job keeping the rodents out as fall descends and
gets these critters looking for places to live and stash their seeds! We are planning
our Opening Celebration to the full moon on December 13th. From Noon to Dark we
will have the place open for folks to enjoy the coming of winter, some food and
camaraderie and hopefully the music of a local band. More later on that though
suffice it to say with our limited parking, carpooling and RSVPing will be greatly
appreciated and smiled on then. In the meantime I have to mount the snowplow on
the blazer and keep my eyes on the goal of skiing better each winter, climbing
and paddling stronger each summer, and staying safer and smarter the whole time.
I will be headed to the West Central Avy fundraiser this Saturday. 4p.m and 7p.m.
shows at the Wilma.
Thanks to Steve Powell in Hamilton for winning the
two night stay at Downing Mountain Lodge at the B.E.A.R Halloween fundraiser.
As a committed backcountry enthusiast and the fine keyboardist in the Big Sky
Mudflaps, I am sure he will enjoy the lodge piano when he is not skiing.
by Jeff Schmalenberg 11-04-08!*******thanks...
3rd- Another shot of wet snow hit the higher terrain last night. More tonight
and tomorrow and soon it will start looking wintry as the last of the leaves let
go and the snowline descends repeatedly to the valley floor. I worked on a mailing
card this weekend and have put the finishing touches on it for tonight. I am pleased
with my effort to relearn Photoshop and after much trial and error I have it close
to how I want it. Now onto finding folks to mail it to and hand it out to...see
you at Warren
Miller's Children of Winter next weekend on Saturday November 8th at the Wilma
in Missoula for the West Central Avalanche fundraiser two shows 4pm and 7 pm,
and also for the Lost Trail Ski Patrol Fundraiser November 12th in Hamilton at
the Paraohplex with TETON
GRAVITY RESEARCH's Under the Influence
30th- I took the day with a friend to run Alberton Gorge for the last nice day
in October. With the river to ourselves and larch glowing on the foothills it
was an excellent day to be in Western Montana. Tomorrow the weather is supposed
to begin generating storms by Sunday when the high is forecast to be in the 30's.
With gusty winds the shift may release many leaves and bring the waning autumn
to an abrupt end as early winter again shows us its power. I finished installing
the wood stove in the lodge yesterday with another friend and kept adding good
dry douglas fir to the woodpile. Hard telling how much we will need.Two bunkbeds
have been ordered for the rooms and we are excited for their arrival so we can
get to some more work getting ready. A couple friends were out trying the new
snow last weekend and with grins on told of a powder day and only one core shot.
So began the powder season in October this year, for the committed and relentless
snow seekers. I had heard that last storm laid down up to 4-5 feet in the Tobacco
Root Mountains and folks were skiing in the waist deep goodies. In a climate of
beleivable warming it is hard to keep faith that winter will still come and stay
for many months.
October 25- I received good news today from the Gallatin
National Forest Avalanche Center fundraiser. Apparently bidders at the silent
auction raised the stakes for a three night stay at Downing Mountain Lodge to
a thousand dollars. The center was psyched and so were we to be able to help in
this small way. The Gallatin
Avalanche Center is a premier forecasting center, with a great website and
learning opportunities. With daily advisories and You Tube videos to watch their
standardized testing procedures, regularly visiting their site and reading their
posts is a sure way to gain a good insight into stability testing as well as local
conditions and trends with avalanche conditions.
24th-With the fourth dusting of the mountains beginning to melt and recrystallize
after the October 20th storm, fall is peaking here in the Bitterroot Valley. The
firewood pile gets bigger and various details to outfit the lodge are underway
these weeks. Last friday's Ravalli Republic featured an article about the opening
lodge. Will Moss did a good job with the write up. Thanks Will.
Read the story here.
Plans to plow the road to switchback 11 are on
track. Here guests will be able to park and stage for the remaining distance to
the lodge. The road continues on about 1.3 miles to the lodge through private
property. It will be important for guests to stick to the roadway easement and
be respectful of the other private landowners on this unique Bitterroot mountain
road. There is some concern in the community that guests will trespass on others'
land. The lodge property is 40 acres and the parcel at SB 11 is 20 acres. The
forest service land to the west adjoins the 40 acre piece and will allow direct
access to and from the mountain ridge without having to trespass at all. More
details if you sign up for the night!
October 10th- More snow overnight
and the Sapphires and Bitterroots looked pretty frosty this morning with a low
snowline (4500') and accumulations at Twin Lakes reporting 5 inches of fresh...it's
coming. I bought a big wood stove for the lodge today; a needed accessory as the
old one needed replacement. Looking forward to installing it soon and giving it
a test run. I was up on the property a couple days this week collecting firewood
and the stack in the breezeway just outside the door is starting to look respectable.
West Central Avalanche Foundation is
having a few fund raising events this fall to benefit the backcountry community
with another season of avalanche forecasts. This year the center will be doing
two forecasts a week which is great news. With their kickoff of the Burning Dog
Festival next friday the 17th and on November 8th a Warrren Miller film, you can
count on some good Missoula revelry to celebrate the coming of winter. Check out
their events calendar here.
In the meantime keep in shape or ramp it up and start getting back in shape for
the uptrack and the descent. Also look for the latest Off Piste and Backcountry
Magazines at the newstand or the Trailhead and Pipestone Mountaineering shops
in Missoula. As always there are some good letters to the editors.
7th, 2008- With snow deposited on the mountain peaks today and more in the forecast.
it may be that our first turns are only a month away. Some folks may make the
effort to visit Glacier and try a little snowfield skiing with the new snow on
them. October has traditionally been the month to try this. Bring your rock skis,
self arrest, and crampons as any old snow is going to be as hard and slick as
The winter weather forecasts are mixed with the farmer's
almanac stating colder and snowier than average for our area: NOAA
states that the forecast area we are in will likely be normal for precipitation
and maybe a bit warmer than average especially to the east of the Bitterroots.
The La Nina that we had last year has broken down without any fromation of El
Nino characteristics, in fact atmospheric conditions are similar now to La Nina,
showing lingering La Nina characteristics. Most historical La Nina and El Nino
events would have me believe that we are in for a normal winter, which is good.
we get what we get and with backcountry skiing, I have found that whether a great
snow year or not there is always plenty of opportunities to get out and ski powder
at your favorite spot or go exploring when the conditions are stable. Banner years
give us longer seasons, but the important thing to realize is that every year
requires us to focus on the current conditions and plan our ski ventures accordingly.
This might mean heading new places sooner or later, staying off certain aspects
or mountains until filled in or not getting there because they do not fill in
at all. One of the fun challenges about backcountry skiing is just this aspect
of it, trying to figure where and when to go to the places you know and the places
you do not. Most mportant is getting out in the first place to understand the
current conditions. I will be out there soon to check on conditions as well as
to condition those leg, heart, and lung muscles long used to not carrying skis
at this point.