St. Mary’s Peak-
West of Stevinsville Montana. rises this behemoth. Access the summer trailhead on a forest service rd. The trailhead is at about 7000 feet making it one of the higher trailheads in the central Bitterroot range. Its proximity to Missoula and prominent east facing bowls high above the rangelands in the valley make it one of the more popular ski objectives in the range.
The standard approach from the trailhead follows the trail for about 5 switchbacks to the ridge which then involves a half mile traverse west before starting to climb the ridge to the summit. The windward slope next to the first bowl is thick whitebark pine krumholtz and is difficult to travel through making the ski approach along the ridge quite good with a few rocks to negotiate passed depending on snow depth. An alternate approach from the last switchback entails a fall line hike straight up the south face or west to the ridge if you traverse the open talus slope at the last switchback. Good option in spring when road is barred by deep snow.
From its 9300 feet summit, its east facing bowls drop dramatically into a cirque via several cliffs, chutes and bowls at 40 degrees and steeper. The runs are short from 600- 1500 but exciting. Most lines into the east bowls require committing to avalanche prone slopes. The exceptions are the modest ridges separating the first from second and second from main bowls, which offer a margin of safety.
There is an open lookout on the summit with boarded windows and significant exposure. Can be a nice place in windy weather, crawl through the floor door. The south face from the summit down through windrows of whitebark pine to McCalla lake can be an excellent ski when the upper slopes have not been windblown bare. Beware of shallow snow. Further on there is an obvious snow pillow below the descending ridge on a east face as well that is always filled in and affords a good ski down to McCalla lake. Behind St. Marys to the west is an excellent if short alpine north facing bowl that drains to Kootenai creek eventually. From there the ridge descends to a col enroute to St. Mary’s Creek and the Heavenly Twins eventually.
One can ski an easy line to the south off the summit a moderate line east along the ridge and then into the bowls, and an extreme line north east off the summit into the cirque. At the bottom of the cirque there are multiple options for regaining the ridge and returning to the ascent trail, all of them require a short 200 foot climb on steep terrain to regain the ridge. These north facing chutes can themselves be fun to ski especially in higher hazard or for chute for thrill skiing.
Skiing back to the trailhead is decent in powder, less so in fast springtime conditions. The glades south to the switchback are an excellent choice when filled in properly and in shape. Ski from the false summit fall line to maximize vertical on face and you will stay out of gully and run into road no matter where you descend.
Seasonability: St. Mary’s road closes due to current snow conditions, making for longer and longer road tours. It is open to snowmobiling as well. If you must park lower down on the road anticipate a long slog up the road. It is not great then midwinter without snowmobile assistance. Great early season due to elevation and trailhead access and windblown conditions filling in bowls. Great in spring for steep skiing and consistent free-thaw cycles. A must tour for the Bitterroots.