Tag Archives: lolo pass


After nearly two weeks of amazing sunshine in January, the weather gods dumped 18 beautiful inches of powder on western Montana this week. Somehow, it even managed to come in wet and heavy, and end dry and light (the preferred configuration to avoid avalanches). After a challenging week of work, I was eager to shred hard.

We go up....

We go up….

Saturday was busy at the G-Spot off Lolo Pass. We were one of the first in, and the last out. Despite our big group, we made 5 laps under bluebird skies. The powder was every bit as good as hoped. Maybe even better. It was the first time I should have legitimately considered a snorkel as part of my kit. Anna, Molly, Larry, and Paul- thank you, ’cause that was a damn good time.

Larry gets the hang of his new Legend XXLs...

Larry gets the hang of his new Legend XXLs… note the powder contrail.

I know I’ve got the right friends when Super Bowl Sunday makes us all think that the ski resort will probably be empty. The snow report pushed us to Lost Trail (4/4 on excellent days there this year), and after Simon missed out on Saturday, he was determined to get it all. With 7 people, our mixed abilities spread us across the mountain. Simon, Trevien and I enjoyed some of the best steep powder I’ve ever had the privilege of skiing. These men make me ski better, and I’m thankful for it. We all re-grouped after lunch for a full afternoon of playing in the trees and coasting packed powder groomers. All smiles, all day.

Despite the great ski turns, I was still turning work stuff over in my head. I don’t like taking work home with me, and don’t like some of what’s looming on my professional horizon (while some other things are very exciting). Interestingly enough, the things that have nothing to do with work have been the most calming. It’s fun to realize that my skiing as important to me as anything else that I do- not because I bask in the glory of being a great skier, but simply because it fills me with pure, authentic joy. Dreading my week, I look back on the things that have stood out over the years. The places I’ve been and people I’ve shared them with seem far stronger than the immediate concerns about sales numbers or workflow planning.


Working with Dustin at the Commons.

The Muldrow Glacier.

Castleton Tower.

Running on the Chicago lakefront.

Playing great music.

I don’t mean to slam work, but when things aren’t going well I usually end up feeling like the world is going to end. It won’t. These experiences remind me why my life outside of work is just as important as my life at my desk. They are mine, and reflect a life that I am proud of. They remind me how capable I am. Of how rich my life is. I’m not sure why that’s so hard for me to keep in perspective, but it’s a perspective I’m determined to keep fighting for.

Saturday's perspective was bright.

Saturday’s perspective was bright.


I get great satisfaction out of many things in life- managing a project on budget, sending a big ice line, or making a new friend.  None of these things puts a shit eating grin on my face quite like a perfect day of backcountry skiing.

The Crystal Theater is 50 minutes drive from my desk, and perfect for a Friday afternoon.

This weekend I got two of them.  My face hurts from so much smiling.

I’ve learned to make plans that keep me away from work.  For example- if I tell my friend Gwen that I think I can get out of work to ski on Friday afternoon, then I feel compelled to honor that statement, rather than spending my Friday afternoon accomplishing work that could just as well be accomplished later (possible on Saturday or Sunday, but more optimally on Monday).  So that’s what we did, and it was perfect.

Way better than my desk.

We started skinning into “the Crystal Theater” exactly 1h 10min after leaving Gwen’s house, and found 18″ of deliciously dry powder and stable avalanche conditions.  Full of stoke, we boogied to the top of the highest thing we could see well before the sun dropped behind the ridge, and proceeded to enjoy face shots almost all the way back to the flats.

Unbelievable snow.

We had such a good time, the only logical thing to do was do it again, so early Sunday morning we headed back up to Lolo Pass proper and skinned as far away from the snowmobiles as possible.  We missed Gwen’s boyfriend Ross joining in the fun, but we made sure to get in some extra laps for him.

Gwen's got the grin too.

Our first run was “exploratory” as the cold temps and bright sun had definitely baked the south aspect, but we headed deep into new territory and found the goods on round two.

Perfect glades full of powder.

We also took note of some of the tallest hoarfrost I’ve ever seen.  While we were largely skiing low angle slopes, this layer might create some interesting avy conditions if we get dumped on again in the next few days.

Huge hoarfrost "crisps!"

The bottom of run two put us on a forest service road, and while skinning back towards more familiar terrain, we both noticed a beautiful east facing slope with just a few tracks on it.  We were psyched to work a little more, and found some of the best snow of the day. Round 3 was not the end of the day.

Getting the goods on round 4, cutting across our own tracks from round 3.

We had a mix of broken trail, well laid skin track, and snowmobile pack, but by the time we got to the car our legs were feeling the work.

Willow gets mad credit for breaking trail most of the day.

Nothing quite like a perfect sunny day in a (mostly) quiet forest full of snow.  SO GOOD.  Many thanks to Gwen for being quick on her skins and eager to work hard- thanks lady!

The dropping sun leaves behind perfect colors.

Lolo Pass Backcountry Skiing Day 2

Got out for some backcountry skiing with solid partners in Ross and Gwen.  It was a warm, beautiful day, and as I will try to always do, here’s the video to our avalanche pit test, which I screwed up when I cut it (but that does say something about the snow stability).  On the video I mention we had a collapse at CT13, but I should have said CT14 (if you count and watch the video…).  Temps were warm (~35-40deg) and we were about 2 miles northwest of the Lolo Pass SnoPark (at an area I think called “the Gash”).

Slope aspect was 300deg northwest.
Slope angle was 26deg.
Strong layers observed at 30cm, 90cm, and 120cm.  Be careful out there!

Gwen gets down to get the scoop on avalanche conditions.

Ross, Gwen, and Willow ready for a beautiful day of turns.

About to exercise good judgement.

Lolo Pass Backcountry Skiing

Note, for the regular readers, this is a more technical post for conditions at Lolo pass.  Sorry to spam your inboxes, at least there are pretty photos and y’all know I’m being safe.

Making the best of a grey day. Looking at Montana from the Idaho border.

I skinned out of the Lolo pass recreation area to the peak just southeast of the parking lot- I was solo, so conservative skiing and careful avalanche investigation were the themes of the day.  I dug two avalanche pits, one on the south aspect, one on the north aspect.  Videos from my tests are below.  It’s been a long time since I dug a pit and may have forgotten some of the process, but there’s only one way to remind yourself.  In each case I picked a location that I thought was indicative of avalanche terrain, but in which I had immediate access to anchors and with minimal snow above me (essentially just below the rollover) in the event of a slide.

It seems like the snowpack is definitely more consolidated from the high avy danger earlier this week, but there are some prominent layers, wind affected snow, and wind affected loading.  I skied the north facing aspect on mostly +/-20 degree terrain back to the cross country trail, and felt no instability (granted, there wasn’t a whole lot of snow either!).  If you have feedback on how I can make my pit tests more useful, please post to comments.  This is about being safe and having fun.

The South aspect pit was dug in 100-108cm of snow, down to the dirt.  Slope angle was approx. 29 degrees, and the aspect was 160 degrees SSE.  Here’s the video.

The North asepct pit was dug in 130cm of snow, but not quite down to the dirt.  Slope angle was 33deg, and the aspect was 350deg N.
Video #1
Video #2

(at time of publishing the videos weren’t quite done uploading, so give it a minute…)

Courtesy of the Forest Service, a little below average, but good for checking your expectations.