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SKIVT-L  March 2006, Week 3

SKIVT-L March 2006, Week 3

Subject:

Big Mountain, MT 25FEB06-26FEB06 (pics)

From:

Jay Silveira <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Vermont Skiing Discussion and Snow Reports <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 18 Mar 2006 08:43:41 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (529 lines)

The text version of the report is below.  For the integrated report with 
text, links, pictures, and maps, use the following link:

http://www.JandEproductions.com/2006/25FEB06.html

Back in early January, not long after returning to Montana from holidays in 
Vermont, I received an interesting offer in the mail.  It seemed like your 
typical piece of junk mail, but I skimmed through it as usual while I tossed 
the pieces into the recycling bin, just to make sure it wasn’t something 
important.  It was an offer to stay at a resort and do some skiing up at Big 
Mountain, and it said something about $79 for two people.  I figured it was 
$79 per person per day, or something like that, and I kept looking for the 
text that would confirm this so I could toss the final page into the bin.  
However, I couldn’t find it.  The offer really was for 4 days, 3 nights of 
lodging, 2 lift tickets for Big Mountain (or other similar recreation 
choices), a gift basket with wine, local huckleberry preserves, etc., all 
for $79.  This seemed like a pretty good offer, and the only sort of catch 
was that you had to listen to a timeshare presentation.  E and I had never 
tried one of those timeshare presentation offers, so we figured it would be 
a good opportunity to see what they were all about.  We hadn’t really 
considered getting into a timeshare because they felt too limiting, but 
maybe the presentation would surprise us.  From what I’d heard about other 
people’s timeshare offer experiences, I was sure the salespeople would try 
their best to impress us and close the deal.

We left on Friday afternoon as soon as E was done with work, and headed 
north on highway 93.  The place where we were staying was called Meadow Lake 
Resort, and it was located in the city of Columbia Falls, just outside 
Whitefish and about 15-20 minutes from the base of Big Mountain.  During the 
week, a period of somewhat dry weather had ended with the arrival of a very 
moist Pacific system.  I’d checked the Big Mountain website and it looked 
like they had picked up about a foot of new snow from the previous couple 
days of snowfall.  The precipitation had temporarily shut off for a day, so 
that made for a pleasant drive that took about 3.5 hours.  As we approached 
the Kalispell/Whitefish area, I saw lots of lights on the slopes of Big 
Mountain, and remembered that they actually had night skiing.  We were 
excited by this revelation, since that would really expand our options for 
skiing with Ty.  We checked into the Inn at Meadow Lake, and went to bed 
with plans to ski the next day.

The plan for Saturday was for E and I to ski together, and let Dylan and Ty 
stay at the Big Mountain Kids daycare area.  Having the two free tickets 
seemed like a good opportunity for Mom and Dad to ski together without the 
boys for a day, especially since we had missed the chance during holidays in 
Vermont when E was sick on the Sugarbush $5.50 day.  We had initially hoped 
to do a half day of daycare for Ty, combined with a half day of ski lessons, 
but even though he was finally three years old, he was still too young for 
everything but a one hour private lesson.  Pulling Ty out of daycare for 
only an hour would have been tough on him, and I was also hoping he could 
get some interaction with other children during his lesson, so we decided to 
just ski with him ourselves later.  Fortunately, Ty was immediately 
enthralled by the play area at Big Mountain Kids, which had an expansive 
assortment of cars for the children to ride, an area with couches to watch 
TV or videos, plus tons of other playthings.  Mom and Dad immediately lost 
importance for Ty as he explored the play area, and Dylan was just going 
down for a nap.  The Big Mountain kids area was a bit more relaxed on 
security than the childcare at Deer Valley (where you got a special 
fluorescent stamp on your had to prove you were a parent) but they seemed 
quite capable.  With both boys happy, Mom and Dad were off to ski.

Although this was E’s first time skiing Big Mountain, I had visited the 
resort before, during our 2003 ski trip on the way up to Fernie.  That day 
had been socked in with freezing fog (supposedly a common feature for Big 
Mountain) which eventually turned to steady snowfall, so I never really got 
to see much of the mountain layout.  This time, the weather was quite 
different.  It was clear and cold, with a temperature of 8 degrees F at 
Meadow Lake Resort in the morning, which had risen to 14 degrees F by the 
time we got to the base of the mountain.  With the bright sun, the 
temperature was still rising by the minute, and we knew it would be a 
comfortable day on the hill.  The other difference in this trip was the snow 
surface at the base.  On our previous trip we had arrived to a sprinkle of 
dust on a substantial crust at the base of the mountain, but this time there 
was plenty of powder snow even at the base.  This was undoubtedly due to the 
new snow and recent cold temperatures.  The base depths were around 120 
inches at the summit, and 53 inches at the base, which I think are pretty 
respectable for Big Mountain.  Although I couldn’t remember too much about 
the base area from my previous trip (the dust on crust scared us right to 
the summit and back side of the mountain where we found good snow) I did 
recognize that we parked in the same lot as last time (the Cedar lot).  This 
lot was right below the Birch lot (the topmost lot where they were charging 
$5 to park) and right next to the mountain’s main lift, the Glacier Chaser 
high speed quad.  Although everyone thinks of Montana as a place without 
much in the way of lift lines, they certainly happen sometimes, especially 
on a Saturday after some good snowfalls.  There were a LOT of people in line 
for the Glacier Chaser, but fortunately it sucked people up pretty quickly 
and we only had to wait a few minutes.

The ride up the Glacier Chaser was a chance for me to finally see the layout 
of Big Mountain up close and in person.  Some of the most interesting sights 
were the snow ghosts created from the sparse trees in Ptarmigan Bowl near 
the summit.  The snow ghosts (trees caked with snow) are a classic feature 
at Big Mountain, as well as several other regional ski mountains like Silver 
Star and Big White in British Columbia.  At the summit, I got a few pictures 
of the views into Glacier National Park, something that wasn’t possible on 
my previous ski trip.  It was very sunny, but there was still a slight haze 
off in the mountains so the views weren’t as clear as they might have been.  
A quick look around at the slopes revealed that the snow from the past 
couple days was mostly tracked up, but we could see only a couple of tracks 
heading down from the radio tower area above Hellroaring Basin.  It would 
require a few minutes of hiking to get some fresh snow, but it seemed like a 
worthwhile way to start off the day.  Once we got closer, we checked the 
snow and found that it was variably wind packed (E had even surmised this 
when she first saw it from a distance) so we decided it wasn’t quite worth 
the hike and continued our traverse along the Hell Fire trail.  I was 
somewhat keen on visiting Hellroaring Basin, as it was an area of Big 
Mountain that we’d totally skipped on our previous trip.  So, E and I kept 
moving in that direction.  As we approached the Sling Shot and Picture 
Chutes area, we could see a lot fewer tracks in the snow below us, so we 
eventually dropped in.  The terrain at the top of that area is really quite 
steep, and we skied a sweet chute in there that unfortunately had a bit of 
ice in it below the new snow.  Lower down we found some untouched powder 
shots in the trees, but all the terrain in the basin began to funnel 
together into the Glory Hole and Hell Fire trails rather quickly.  I 
commented that it was like suddenly switching from skiing the trees at 
places like Sugarbush, where you typically find plenty of untracked powder, 
to skiing the glades at Jay Peak, where the snow is often packed out into 
hard bumps unless there had been a recent snowfall.  It seems that 
Hellroaring Basin funnels so much terrain into one basic trail, that the 
traffic is just a bit too much to maintain a really soft snow surface.  E 
totally agreed with my analogy, and it made me wonder what the lower section 
of Hellroaring Basin would be like when snowfall was sparse.  We eyed a lot 
of untracked snow off to our left in the bottom of the basin, but my ski 
sense suggested the reason it was untracked was because the area was just 
too flat for powder skiing.  So, we stuck to the groomed run, and as I’d 
find out on our next run, we’d made the right choice.

We found ourselves at the bottom of Chair 11, the Hellroaring Chair, and I 
noted that this was a place where you would not want to miss the bottom of 
the lift.  The bottom of the lift was the last touch of civilization for 
quite a while, and it looked like it would be a big hike out from below.  
While riding the chair back up, we could see that there were very few tracks 
in the trees along the lift line trail (which is somewhat appropriately 
named Purgatory).  The further we rode up the lift, the more it seemed like 
a run through those trees would yield a bunch of fresh powder.  Once off the 
lift, we headed to the skier’s right of the lift line, and found fairly 
tight trees intermixed with small open areas.  Being about 100-200 feet out 
from the lift line, we had untracked snow all to ourselves.  We gradually 
worked our way back toward the lift line during the run, and did encounter a 
handful of other tracks as we neared the trail.  In the middle of the run, 
we crossed right over the Highway to Heaven trail, which seems to be your 
last chance to get out of Hellroaring Basin without heading all the way down 
to the Hellroaring Chair.  Interestingly, Highway to Heaven was just a 
simple ski track traverse and wasn’t groomed at all.  I wouldn’t have even 
thought it was a trail had I not looked at the map later in the day, but the 
beauty of such and inconspicuous little traverse is that it really didn’t 
interrupt the ski lines we were hitting in the trees.  In the last couple 
hundred feet of vertical, E found her lines closing in and headed for the 
lift line, while I continued on down through some slightly more open trees 
further away from the lift.  While I did get a little more powder, I ended 
up in the streambed along the side of the Hell Fire trail, and had to 
contour above it for a bit before I found a stream crossing track that 
someone had created.  Encountering the streambed, I realized that my 
previous suspicions about the nature of that terrain were correct; it was 
too flat for powder skiing and that was why there were no tracks in there.

Although there was a lot more powder to be skied in the trees around 
Purgatory, we decided that it would be best to continue our explorations of 
the mountain.  Heading down into Hellroaring Basin sort of leaves one 
stranded on that side of the mountain, with the only way out being to ride 
the Hellroaring Chair back up.  Even then, you are a long way from getting 
back to the summit for another run, which is probably why Hellroaring Basin 
doesn’t get as much traffic as it might.  The trip up the Hellroaring Chair 
dumped us relatively low on the mountain, among a variety of mostly beginner 
and intermediate trails above the village.  There were several trails in 
this area that would be lit for night skiing, so we did some reconnaissance 
for Ty in anticipation of skiing with him in the evening and the next day.  
There seemed to be plenty of terrain that would suit his abilities.

The morning was moving on fairly quickly after the time we’d spend exploring 
Hellroaring Basin, so I decided we should head to the back (north) side of 
the mountain to continue our tour.  The line at the Glacier Chaser was even 
bigger at this time of day, making for close to 10 minutes of waiting before 
we could load and return to the summit.  I was very familiar with the back 
side of Big Mountain because on our previous trip, it held the only good 
snow and we’d spent our entire day there.  The steepest trails on the back 
side of the ski area are right near the summit, and on my previous trip, the 
main runs had been scraped to hard pack so we stayed away from them for the 
most part.  On this trip however, E and I traversed skier’s left for a while 
and found ourselves atop Bighorn, which looked really good.  I didn’t 
realize it until I was near the bottom of the pitch and looked back up at E, 
that this terrain was actually really steep.  The slope must be in the 40 
degree range.  While we started our run near one of the steep chutes at the 
center of Bighorn, near the bottom I noticed that the skier’s left held a 
lot of untracked snow.  We finished off there with some very sweet turns in 
the steep fluff.  After that big pitch though, things are pretty tame on the 
skier’s left of the back side, so tame in fact that if you go into the woods 
with any substantial depth of powder, you’ll have to do a lot of walking 
through the flat areas.  I recalled this from my previous trip, so E and I 
just ran out the vertical on the Gray Wolf trail to get to the Big Creek 
Express quad that brought us back to the summit.

On our return to the summit, I showed E some of the many places that we had 
enjoyed on the mountain’s back side on our 2003 trip.  It got me thinking 
about the Bigfoot T-Bar.  It’s a lift on the front side of the mountain, but 
it also provides access to some great “out of the way” terrain on the back 
side.  It’s really an obscure lift tucked away in a far upper corner of Big 
Mountain, and I’d almost forgotten about it until the other skiers on our 
chair started talking about it.  I decided that E definitely needed to check 
it out.  We followed Russ’s Street to get there, and I had a hard time 
remembering the run because once again, I’d never seen much of it through 
the fog and snow on our previous trip.  We still managed to find our way to 
the T-bar terrain, and there was a lot of it that was still untracked.  The 
T-Bar services just a couple small trails, but there are a lot of nice trees 
in between them that make up the bulk of the terrain.  One of things that 
had clouded my memory about the T-Bar was that it is actually a hybrid lift 
of platters and Ts.  Even with the Ts on the lift, they were only letting 
people ride singly on this day.  They said that if they load the lift up too 
heavily it puts more strain on it and they have more frequent repairs, so as 
we were told “We only let doubles ride on days that don’t end in the letter 
Y”.

At the top of the T-Bar, we noticed a knob of terrain up and to the left.  
It had a smattering of snow ghost trees, and a few nice tracks in the 
powder.  It would take just a short hike, so we marked it for our next run.  
We then skied the trees around the T-Bar, which were only lightly tracked.  
The powder was strange in that there were a few inches of light snow on top, 
with a denser, spongy layer below.  It wasn’t really deep powder skiing, but 
the T-Bar terrain was a perfect match for the conditions.  We weaved our way 
through some mellow tree lines in the Trapper’s Trail area, and were all too 
soon back at the base of the T-Bar.  On the next run we took the short hike 
up to the knob we’d seen.  We were fortunate that a few others had blazed a 
trail, because it would have been post-hole city otherwise.  The hike took 
only about 5 minutes to the area we’d chosen, and on the way we wrapped 
around the back of the knob and noticed some fantastic, steep, untracked 
lines that led down to the back side.  I didn’t know if that back side 
terrain had a name, but now that I’ve examined the map, I realize it’s the 
topmost section of Stumptown.  We mentally marked the area for a subsequent 
run, and hit our front side stash.  The stash was fun; it had a couple of 
pleasant rolls of terrain through the snow ghosts.  We then skied more of 
the Trapper’s Trail trees and hit the T-Bar again.  We’d been waiting to 
take a late lunch, since the crowds suggested the Summit House would be 
mobbed, but it meant E was starting to run low on energy.  I had planned for 
this run down the back side to be our last before lunch, and thankfully she 
had some energy in reserve.  The run down the steep upper face of Stumptown 
was awesome, with an excellent covering of north-facing powder.  E was 
really excited by the lower sections of Stumptown. The tree spacing and 
remoteness made her describe it as a “magical land”.  I’m sure the 311 boys 
would agree with her, because it was definitely one of our favorite areas 
during our 2003 trip.  I swear we went right by the same curved tree that 
Greg had jumped on back then.

By the time we returned to the Summit House to get lunch, it was closing in 
on 2:00 P.M., but there was still quite a crowd at the tables.  We were 
lucky to find a table on the main floor, and had an enjoyable lunch.  As we 
were leaving, tables were just starting to open up, so it had obviously been 
quite a busy day.  We planned to wind down our day at this point, with the 
intention of skiing with Ty in the afternoon/evening, so we took a nice long 
cruiser down Toni Matt.  I had liked the way the Toni Matt trail sliced an 
interesting groomed swath down through Ptarmigan Bowl, and it turned out to 
be a nice long run.  We worked on technique a bit, varying turn size, speed, 
and weighting between our inside and outside skis.  At the bottom, we 
explored the Village Chair area, the other beginner pod at Big Mountain that 
is partially lit at night.  It looked like another great place for Ty to 
explore.

We picked up the boys at Big Mountain Kids, and were happy to see that they 
were still having a great time.  Fortunately, Ty was excited to go skiing, 
so we skied right down to our car at the edge of the Cedar lot, and suited 
him up.  We all skied down to the Outpost Day Lodge, where E took Dylan 
inside, and I hit the slopes with Ty.  Our free day tickets continued to 
work into the night and Ty had obtained a free 3-day ticket at Big Mountain 
Kids, so it had been a really inexpensive day in terms of lift access.  Big 
Mountain uses one of those systems where they scan the bar code on your 
ticket at every lift, so you really need to make sure you have the correct 
ticket for when and where you’re skiing.  Ty started out wanting to use the 
ski leash, but soon he realized that he could handle all the Village Lift 
trails easily without it, especially if he turned frequently.  We did 
several runs on the Village Lift, enjoying the scene as the lights came on 
across the mountain.  Ty had fun watching other children work on their turns 
on the Chipmunk and Beargrass trails below the lift, something he really 
doesn’t get to see below the chairlifts at Lost Trail because most of them 
are over more difficult terrain.  Ty got his first opportunity to ride a 
magic carpet lift (the “Big Easy”) but we only did one run because it’s not 
one of the lifts lit for night skiing and they were shutting it down.  
Actually, a magic carpet would be a nice option for Ty because he would be 
able to do laps entirely by himself (no need for adult lift loading 
assistance) but the Big Easy terrain was a little too mellow to offer him 
much of a challenge.  There was a bit of contour in the Beargrass area 
terrain, so I brought Ty over to try a few “jumps”.  He liked that a lot, 
and the extra contour created a few steep pitches that let him work even 
more on speed control.  The Huckleberry Patch trail looped around to the 
skiers left of the lift, and had some nice bobsled tracks at the edges and 
in the trees.  Ty worked on a couple of these and seemed to enjoy it.  
Occasionally he would not have the speed to make it to the top of one of the 
many large bumps in the bobsled tracks, and I’d have to help push him over 
the top.  It was certainly a nice introduction to some new terrain for Ty, 
and it was a good setup because there weren’t any long flat areas to deal 
with, so the skiing was very continuous.  After several runs, we popped into 
the lodge, met up with E and Dylan, and had some snacks.  Then, E went out 
with Ty and did several more runs.  Ty really got a great evening of turns 
out of the Village Lift area, and I think the variety in terrain was a 
pleasant change for him from what he was used to at Lost Trail.

When Ty and E started skiing, it began to snow.  It was extremely fine and 
light, but it got us even more psyched for the next day’s turns.  We 
finished up skiing at around 6:00 P.M., and after we convinced the lift 
operator that we wouldn’t be going skiing with Dylan (we had no front or 
backpack with us anyway) we were allowed to ride up the lift with him to get 
back to the car.  Unlike Lost Trail, Big Mountain’s policy does not allow 
you to ski with children in packs, so that caused the attendant to question 
letting Dylan on the lift in Erica’s arms.  In the worst case, we would have 
just driven the car down to the Outpost Lodge, but the lift operator was 
gracious enough to let us avoid that.  Now that we were at the end of the 
day, my Avocet Vertech indicated that it had seen 13 runs for 12,620 feet of 
vertical, which is pretty typical for when we are exploring.  At 2,000 
vertical feet a pop, a typical skier riding the high speed Glacier Chaser 
could do a ton of vertical in a day at Big Mountain if they wanted.

We grabbed some pizza takeout in Whitefish at Truby’s Wood Fired Pizza (a 
place we’d enjoyed on a previous trip) and brought it back to Meadow Lake.  
While I was picking up the pizza, I think I saw Bode Miller miss a gate on 
one of his slalom runs, which unfortunately meant no Olympic medals for him 
this time around.  We watched more Olympics back at the room, and I got to 
see Apolo Anton Ohno have a great night of short track speed skating by 
winning the gold in the 500 m and totally pulling out the bronze for his 
team in the short track relay.  Ty and I also enjoyed a trip to the hot tub 
near our room, which was somewhat underutilized.  I bet most people go to 
the full-blown recreation center a couple of buildings away, but it meant we 
had the local hot tub to ourselves.  It continued to snow lightly while we 
were in the hot tub, and Ty and I enjoyed the weather and had some good 
conversation.

The next morning E and I had our timeshare presentation at 9:30 A.M., so we 
first went into Columbia Falls to grab a little breakfast, and then returned 
to the hotel.  The weather had changed dramatically from our previous 
morning of 8 degrees F and clear, to 37 degrees F and spitting snow and 
rain.  Meadow Lake had scheduled a baby sitter for us, and she came to the 
room to look after the boys while we went to learn about the resort.  Meadow 
Lake was apparently started at some point back in the 1970s as a small cabin 
or lodge, and the owner, Ron Holiday has been gradually building it up over 
the years.  Now there are hundreds of condominium units of various sizes, 
single family homes, the inn, a golf course, recreation center, etc., etc.  
We really went in without much intention of buying into a timeshare, but 
instead wanting to learn more details about the whole timeshare concept in 
general.  Going in, the thought of having to commit to a week’s stay every 
year was what turned me off the most.  As it turns out though, most modern 
timeshares aren’t like that.  They’re based on points.  You get a certain 
number of points each year with your investment, and you can split them up 
any way you want.  You can even carry them over from year to year.  With 
your typical allotment of points, you can stay at really nice five-star 
places for shorter amounts of time, or more moderate places for longer 
periods of time.  One thing that pleasantly surprised me was that you could 
use your points in single-day increments, or whatever multi-day increments 
you wanted.  This would have worked for us, because even if we didn’t take a 
week’s vacation every year, we could easily use up our seven days at Meadow 
Lake with a couple of trips up to Big Mountain, and our usual couple of 
trips up to Glacier National Park.  So, for basically $480 a year (plus your 
investment in the real estate, which would hopefully appreciate), you would 
have seven nights of lodging in the Whitefish area at nice places with 
multiple bedrooms, full kitchens, etc.  What really sold us on Meadow Lake 
specifically was that simply by being an owner, you got unlimited access to 
their private day lodge on Big Mountain.  So, while most of the features at 
Meadow Lake would probably be found at other timeshares, the private day 
lodge at Big Mountain was the perk that made the purchase worth it for us.  
If we were planning to stay in Montana long term, we probably would have 
taken the offer.  But since we aren’t planning on staying in Montana 
permanently, the perk of the day lodge would for the most part be lost.  At 
the time of our presentation and tour (the 2 and 3-bedroom units we saw were 
very nice) we hadn’t yet seen the private day lodge to make up our minds, 
but we would get a chance to visit it in the afternoon when we returned to 
Big Mountain.

After a quick lunch of sandwiches back at our room in the Meadow Lake Inn, 
we headed back to Big Mountain for some afternoon skiing.  Since Ty had done 
so well the previous evening, both E and I wanted to go skiing with him 
together and encourage his continued progress.  We decided to let Dylan 
spend a bit more time at Big Mountain Kids, and since he was just going down 
for a nap anyway, it worked out well.  We’d actually seen the building that 
housed the Montana Vacation Club day lodge on our previous day, and with a 
little further description of the location during our Meadow Lake 
presentation, we found it easily.  It sits right in the Big Mountain 
Village, a few building down from the Big Mountain Kids area, and right 
below the Easy Rider and Tenderfoot lifts where we wanted to ski with Ty.  
We brought our equipment into the lodge, and signed in with the attendant 
using our guest pass.  Just inside, there’s a room for everyone to store 
their skis, and local members who ski at Big Mountain all the time simply 
leave their gear there permanently.  It’s like having a ski locker on the 
mountain, with the added bonus of the day lodge facility.  The back of the 
facility contains numerous couches, a few televisions, a large fireplace 
area, restrooms, a kitchen area with refrigerators for storing lunches, and 
a bunch of dining tables to use for lunch.  This type of lodge seems 
especially great if you have young children, since you can easily find you 
own nook of couches out of the way for diaper changes, naps, quiet time, or 
whatever.  There’s also a nice assortment of toys around to keep the little 
ones happy between runs.  After we took a quick look around, I went out to 
park the car.  When I returned to get my ski clothes on, E and Ty headed out 
to grab some lift tickets.

Since we would both be skiing with Ty for the entire afternoon, E purchased 
lower mountain lift tickets.  They were reasonably priced at $28 for the 
day, and they still let us use everything except the Glacier Chaser and the 
other upper mountain lifts.  We started out with a trip up the Tenderfoot 
lift, which gave us a bird’s eye view of the action in the terrain park 
below.  We saw some pretty great jumps along with some painful looking 
falls, and Ty commented that he might like to go on jumps like those, but 
not until he was “bigger”.  In the village area, there had been a few inches 
of snow overnight, but at the low elevation of Big Mountain’s base (~4,450’) 
it was getting a bit mushy in the afternoon sun.  We got off the lift and 
headed to the right.  Ty initially had us pull out the leash, but he 
actually just wanted it so that we could pull him across the flats.  He 
seemed primed and ready for going without the leash once we’d made our way 
to the real slopes, so we just let him go.  I was initially guiding him 
toward the flatter sections of terrain, but he was confident he could tackle 
the steeper intermediate pitch along the edge of the half pipe.  He had no 
problems on what was probably the steepest pitch he’d ever skied on his own, 
so we were confident he could go without the leash all day.  We worked our 
way back down below the Tenderfoot lift and headed up again.  During the 
lift rides, we could clearly see the huge plumes of smoke that came from the 
Plum Creek Timber Company’s facility in Columbia Falls.  The facility was 
practically next door to the Meadow Lake grounds, so we had a good idea of 
our lodging location with respect to Big Mountain.

For a little variety, we headed in the direction of the Home Again trail, 
which ended up (after a bit of navigational trouble) bringing us all the way 
down through some of the various housing complexes to the Village Chair and 
the Outpost Lodge.  While not very challenging, I think Ty enjoyed this run 
because of the way it went right along the sides of houses, and under and 
over bridges.  Well, at least Dad enjoyed that part ;).  We were now back at 
the lowest point of the resort, in the area in which Ty had done all his 
runs the previous evening.  We did a couple of fun runs in the Village area, 
but soon brought Ty back up above the village for a little more challenge.  
Fortunately, even though Big Mountain doesn’t have night skiing on Sundays, 
the lower lifts run until 4:30 P.M., giving you a little extra time.  We 
skied in the Tenderfoot area until closing, and as we were finishing our 
last run, Ty decided he want to work a little bit on skiing switch.  
However, whenever he spun around on the flat terrain, he would come to a 
stop.  It was really interesting to me that he would even think of the 
concept of skiing backwards at this age, but he probably sees it on so many 
ski movies that to him, it’s just a natural part of skiing.  It could also 
be that he simply thought of the concept himself and he’s curious about what 
it would be like.  Personally I find skiing switch a fun challenge, but I 
think it’s more difficult than it might be because all skis aren’t 
necessarily engineered to initiate turns very well in reverse.  Overall for 
the day, I think Ty logged around 2,300 feet of vertical throughout the 
several runs, although I forgot to record the exact number.

After our final run, we returned to the Montana Vacation Club lodge where 
our bags were stored.  E went off to pick up Dylan, and since he had napped 
for much of the afternoon, we were only charged for an hour of care (Big 
Mountain Kids does hourly care for $12 and hour).  We were pleasantly 
surprised, and it made the afternoon even more economical.  While E was off 
getting Dylan, Ty and I set ourselves up in one of the lodge’s couch nooks, 
and Ty played with some of the toys while we changed and I packed up the 
gear.  It was quite a pleasant experience compared to the end of the day 
melee you sometimes get in the normal ski lodge.

That evening, we all had dinner in the North Fork Grille at Meadow Lake.  I 
ordered the rack of elk special, which was really good.  The boys were well 
behaved, and Ty had what was probably his best restaurant dining experience 
in a long time.  He flirted with the waitresses, colored with crayons, and 
ate really well.  Hopefully he’s moving past the stage of requiring constant 
attention and stimulation during restaurant trips.  We had a really good 
time at dinner, and then headed over to the recreation center for some 
swimming.  The recreation center had a nice indoor pool (they do have an 
outdoor pool as well, but it was closed for the season), a hot tub, 
billiards, ping pong, and even an enclosed play area for infants and 
toddlers.  Compared to the housing units we’d visited on our tour, the 
recreational facilities did feel a bit outdated, by they’re supposedly 
getting a huge renovation this year.  When we got home and put Dylan to bed, 
Mom and Ty headed back out to the local hot tub for a little more soaking.  
In later discussion, E and I found that we had both really enjoyed the one 
on one hot tub sessions with Ty, as he talked with each of us quite a bit.  
Ty woke up in the middle of the night, and since I was up as well, I took 
him for a drive in the car to get him back to sleep.  We drove around the 
Meadow Lake complex, first in heavy sleet, and then in heavy snow as it 
changed over.  It was fun navigating our way through the maze of wintry 
roads and giving ourselves at tour of the area.

In the morning, the snow had turned to rain, with little accumulation at the 
Meadow Lake Inn (elevation 3,110’).  We headed home through Whitefish and 
got to stop in at Baker Street Bistro for bagels (it had been closed on a 
previous attempt).  The drive home was quick, and the weather gradually 
cleared as we headed south.  I found it interesting to compare the weather 
differences between the Hamilton and the Whitefish areas.  Although 
Whitefish (elevation 3,050’) is actually slightly lower in elevation than 
Hamilton (elevation 3,560’), it seems that Whitefish gets a lot more snow.  
I think that part of this is due to the locations of the major mountain 
ranges.  When the typical Pacific storms approach Hamilton from the west, 
the Bitterroot Mountains block much of the moisture, and little if any falls 
in the Bitterroot Valley.  In contrast, the big mountains (like those in 
Glacier National Park) in the Whitefish area are to the east of town, and 
Whitefish seems to get more abundant precipitation as the storms slam into 
the mountains.  The difference is really easy to see as you cross from the 
west side of Glacier National Park (lush vegetation like the Pacific 
Northwest) to the east side (relatively arid Front Range type of climate).  
From numerous trips around the state, the northwest corner of Montana has 
always been my favorite, mostly because of the wetter climate.  The 
Bitterroot Valley is actually pretty lush by Montana standards, and is a 
great location, but the Whitefish would probably be my choice of places to 
live in Montana if things were based purely on climate.

It’s also interesting to contrast the skiing at Big Mountain to that of Lost 
Trail, and I really noticed a difference on Sunday when the temperatures 
began to warm up.  The elevation differences between the two ski areas are 
huge.  The summit of Big Mountain (6,813') is below the elevation of Lost 
Trail's main base!  Because of this, Lost Trail’s snow is typically a lot 
drier, and from two trips to Big Mountain so far, the comparison holds.  The 
main face of Big Mountain also faces south, which can add to the 
deterioration of snow quality on that side.  Another obvious difference that 
surfaced was the lower elevation to which snow falls at Big Mountain 
compared to the Bitterroot Valley, speaking again to relative 
mountain/valley locations and down sloping affects.  There was substantial 
snow (settled snow depth of 53 inches in the village) all the way to the 
base area of Big Mountain at elevation 4,450’.  A ski area would never be 
able to survive on natural snow alone at that elevation in the Bitterroot.  
The proposed Bitterroot Resort below Lolo Peak, which bottoms out at around 
3,700’, will definitely need snowmaking (as planned) for the lower 
elevations.  The lower elevation trails that they’ve cut there have been 
white for most of the past winter since they face north, but I wonder how 
thin that covering of natural snow is, even in this year that has been 
pretty good for snow.

It was great to get up to Big Mountain, especially since it was the first 
time that E and Ty had a chance to ski there.  Ty made huge strides in his 
skiing, tackling blue terrain on his own with no problems, and it was really 
fun (and relaxing) for the three of us to ski around and let Ty go wherever 
he wanted.  The promotional special put out by Meadow Lake also made it 
especially economical.  To view the integrated report with text, links, 
pictures, and maps, head to:

http://www.JandEproductions.com/2006/25FEB06.html

J.Spin

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