Tag Archives: powder

Mine

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.

Skiing.

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.

Bliss

The start to all good adventures.

The start to all good adventures.

I had about 12 hours between getting back from a full work week in Thompson Falls and getting into a car full of friends headed to the southern Bitterroot for a weekend of yurt skiing. It was my favorite kind of transition. More on Thompson Falls later, it’s about skiing now:

Bad habits from telemark skiing carry over. I'm still a back seat driver.

This weekend did not suck (Photo: Evan Smith)

Simon had texted me: “can you get next Friday off?” Knowing Simon, my reply was simple: “Whatever it is, count me in.” He had booked two nights at the State Line Yurt tucked just a mile or so behind our favorite ski resort, and had backcountry turns on his brain. Mel and Simon are an amazing adventure duo, and their friend Evan is a hard charging Jackson native. With a yurt and good snow, the stage was set. I felt damn lucky to be included.

The fun begins. I love the looks we get in a resort with big packs on.

The fun begins. I love the looks we get in a resort with big packs on.

The State Line Yurt is a revival of an old thing, and I had never had the pleasure of yurt supported skiing. After more than a few freezing nights in a tent, I can’t complain. A potbelly wood stove, ample mattresses, and a stellar kitchen setup made the living pretty plush.

New use for the crampon pocket.

New use for the Cilogear crampon pocket.

While we had packed a few party supplies, it was more fun to realize that my companions and I were all on the same page- we just wanted to tour. We skied hard all day, ate well, and slept immediately. We might be the first skiers in the history of yurting to carry beer back out with us. The touring was just too fun to miss.

Evan gets some.

Evan gets some.

We found quick turns on Friday afternoon just over the ridge and out of earshot from the resort. The north facing powder was deep and dry. Our excitement skyrocketed. None of us had really expected decent snow- friends and solitude were enough. With a little looking though, the mountains had treasure waiting for us.

The best of Saturday mornings.

The best of Saturday mornings.

Saturday we all agreed was for a longer tour, someplace we would never go without the yurt location. We headed south to Pt Hughes, and after some navigational arguments, found a spectacular burn with decent steeps. The views south into Idaho beckoned us on like sirens, but the snow held our attention and the turns were not to be missed.

If you don't GoPro, don't go... (or something). Photo: Evan Smith

If you don’t GoPro, don’t go… (or something). Photo: Evan Smith

We got back to the yurt just in time for a perfect sunset, and another epic meal. Mel and Simon prepped the whole trip at Costco, keeping things cheap, efficient, and tasty. Despite all the touring, I’m not sure I lost weight on this one.

Eager.

Eager.

Somewhere in the course of skinning I remarked to my companions “I’ve hit a state beyond excitement, and I can only describe it as bliss.” It makes sense to me that the silent physical work of skinning, followed by the pure rush of downhill powder turns adds up to a singular, superlative experience.

The best kind of tired.

The best kind of tired. (Photo: Evan Smith)

Sunday we skinned over to Saddle Mountain for incredible looks north at the Bitterroot valley, and hopefully more great snow. The views delivered, but the snow didn’t. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfect. Clouds rolled in, adding texture to the sky and snow to the Pintlers- topping our together felt like the perfect end to the trip. We got a few great turns on some south facing corn as we headed back to pack up, and caught the tow rope in the resort before it closed.

Snow not required for fun. (Photo: Evan Smith)

Snow not required for fun. (Photo: Evan Smith)

I’m gonna say it to set the bar (and cause it was true): I think this was the most fun I’ve ever had on skis. I cant wait to see what’s next.

Grin

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.