2008-2009 Backcountry Focus Ski reports.

 

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6-3-09- For Photos please visit the BLOG.

It 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

 

5-2-09 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.

With 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.

As 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 dangerous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tired 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.


 

4-26-09 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

 

 


4-24 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!


 

4-10/4-18 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.


 


4-7-09 Post- 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 conditions.

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 terrain.


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.

Greeted 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.


 

Friday April 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.

On 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.


 

Wednesday 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tuesday 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

3-29-09 POST!

 

 

3-29-09 This 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.

My good 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 relentless.

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.


 

3-23-09 POST

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.


 

photos 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.


 

 

3-12-09 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.

2-28 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 still scary.

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..


 

2-25 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.

We 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.

While 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.


2-24- Good 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...


 

WOW!

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.

 


February 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 persistent drought.
February 18th- 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

yeah...

 


 

February 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


February 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.


 

February 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.

 

 

 

 

 

photos by Colin Chisholm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 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 maturing.

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 snow.

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 johnlehrman@gmail.com

top two left photos by Don Lange, others by John Lehrman

January 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.

January 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.

January 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....

January 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.

 

 

 

 

 

January 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...

photos 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 Chisholm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 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..

 

 

 

We 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.

December 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.

December 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 out.

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 blast.

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.

Lost 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 an 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.

December 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.

..SIGNIFICANT 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.

 

November 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.

This 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.

November 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*******photos by Jeff Schmalenberg 11-04-08!*******thanks...

 

 

November 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

 

October 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.

October 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.

The 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.

October 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 ice.

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.

Anyway, 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.