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     Our friends Scott and Greg drove out from Seattle to ski a couple days
with us in Montana.  Although we were hoping to get one day in at Lost Trail
Powder Mountain, it seems as though Lost Trail is very picky about opening
(or perhaps they just weren't ready yet).  They were reporting healthy
36-inch base at the bottom of the mountain and 42 inches up top.  Instead,
we decided to head up to the Montana Snowbowl near Missoula (One of Leigh
Daboll's favorites) for some turns.  Snowbowl wasn't reporting nearly the
base depth of Lost Trail, something like 12-18 inches at the bottom, and 30
inches up top, but they were at least open.
     I skipped out of work early on Friday and joined Scott and Greg for the
afternoon at Snowbowl.  None of us had been there, but we managed to find it
OK. It's just north of town (Missoula) along an access road.  We could see
from the parking lot that, while everything was covered, the steep lower
ungroomed trails showed some rocks and stumps poking through.  You could
tell that it wouldn't be fun on your bases if you hit those.  The lower
groomed areas looked OK, with just a few pebbles and stuff mixed in with the
snow.
     We got our tickets, which were an early season $20, and headed up the
main lift.  It actually took two lifts to get to the top (about 2600'
vertical total) and the first one brought us much of the way there.  As we
were riding the first lift, we saw a great trail over to our right, which
had about 6-8 tracks in it and looked like it would be a lot of fun.  There
were still small evergreens poking through here and there around the trail,
but they didn't look like they would be a big problem.  We could see that in
order to ski the trail, one would have to go all the way back down to the
base area, and figured that must be why people weren't too interested in
skiing it.  There were still lots of fresh lines left over there, and we
WERE willing.
     When we got to the upper reaches of the mountain, we could see that the
snowpack was much better.  The terrain off the upper lift was in good shape,
but it was either groomed (which skied nicely) or all tracked up and getting
bumpy at this point (still fun of course).  We were looking for some fresh.
Since none of us had ever been here before, we knew it would be a challenge
to find our way over to the trail we had seen.  Technically, the signs said
that all woods were closed, so that probably wasn't how people had gotten
over to the trail.  The Snowbowl is essentially one big bowl (which
interestingly faces south) that provides the skiing.  I say big, because
it's in the range of a mile across with 2600 vertical feet.  There are of
course lots of contours and streambeds in there, and it's all full of trees
(not an open bowl).
     We followed some tracks across a small strip of trees over to the next
trail and down a rocky embankment.  The tracks we had followed continued
along the traverse to the right, but we had to cut left off the trail to
head in the direction of what we had seen.  We headed into an open area, and
soon found ourselves on top of a huge ridge that went down the middle of the
Snowbowl.  There were areas of thick and thin trees all around, but a huge
open slot that went right down the ridge… and it was totally untracked.
This seemed way too good to be true.  We knew we would have to go all the
way back down to the base, but how could people pass this stash up?  Well,
we dove in, and were rewarded with turn after turn in 2 feet of untracked
Montana pow.  Scott and I had midfats, and with our weight we didn’t touch
down at all, but Greg was on traditional skis and managed to find a few
lumps buried beneath.  After dozens of heavenly turns, the trees started to
close in and we had to head off to the left to reach the trail we had
initially set out to hit.  As we went lower, the snowpack got more and more
sketchy, so we sent Greg in first as tester.  He was on his rock skis, and
was anxious to put them to work.  We had some more great turns, although
none quite as good as the first open pitch, and then we had to traverse hard
left to make it over to our chosen trail.
     After about 10 minutes or so of traversing, we hit the area above the
trail we had seen, and ran into everyone else’s tracks.  There were about a
dozen or so tracks, and they had come from a totally different area than us,
far skier’s left of the mountain.  We followed the tracks across the flat
part of the trail and then dove in to the steeps.  The snow was great, and
although there were small evergreens poking through in spots, the underbrush
was generally cut and hitting things wasn’t a problem (well maybe for Greg
;).  I was ripping up the snow on the left side of the trail, which seemed
to have the best coverage, when I heard a voice from below.  I looked down
and to my right, and saw two ski patrollers looking up at us.  They seemed
to be indicating that we were not supposed to be there.  Nuts!... instant
buzzkill :(.
     I immediately skied down to the patrollers to talk to them.  They asked
how we’d gotten on this trail, and we told them how we’d followed the
tracks, and hadn’t cross any ropes etc.  They said that technically, this
was a closed trail, and that they were supposed to take our passes no
questions asked, but I think they took kindly to our cooperative attitude
(and our predicament) and let us go with a warning.  After we made an effort
to explain the way we had gone, one of the patrollers radioed to another to
clear up any confusion in the area where we had started.  The patrollers
then explained to us that they were actually going to open this trail later
in the day, and they were putting up a bit of fencing to close off a
particularly brushy area.  Greg inquired as to why there were so many tracks
on the trail, and the patrollers said that they were theirs (we thought that
a dozen or so was quite a few, but who knows what they had to do for prep
work).  The patrollers told us to be cautious as we finished the trail
(there was just a flat ravine area left) and sent us on our way.
     We were thankful that the patrollers were in a good mood, and as we
talked about the encounter, we of course knew that we had perhaps let our
ignorance lead us the way we went.  We though it suspicious that the first
great stash of powder we had hit was untracked, but without crossing any
ropes or passing signs, it would have been tough to turn back on the
opportunity.  Although it unfortunately turned out that our first run at the
Snowbowl was an “illegal” one, I doubt any of the three of us will ever
forget it.
     We skied another run on one of the open trails, anxiously awaiting the
opening of the trail for real.  We took a blue cruiser that went all the way
to the base, and the last 1000 vertical started to have coverage problems.
Finally, on our last run of the day, they opened up the area that would
access the trail.  They opened up an area known as Far East, which is a
steep gladed area, with skiable trees on each side.  The snow was fantastic,
stuff that had been sitting there untouched by humans all fall; almost as
good as those first turns we had hit on the ridge earlier in the day.  After
about 700 verts or so, Far East ended and dropped us into the flatter area
above the trail we had met the patrollers on earlier in the day.  We headed
down on that trail again (it’s called Angel Face) and found it with a few
more tracks than when we had been there (actually we could see when we were
riding the lift that people were starting to poach it).  Near the bottom we
had to watch out again for underlying obstacles, but there was still plenty
of fresh snow left, even at the end of the day.  We had certainly made the
most of our afternoon.

Saturday

     The plan for Saturday was to hit Lost Trail if they opened, but sadly,
they didn’t.  Plan B was to head back to the Snowbowl and head immediately
to Far East/Angel Face and hit the remaining untracked before the masses got
there.  Then we thought we could head to Lost Trail for some earned turns in
the afternoon, giving Scott and Greg a chance to see both areas.  E joined
the group this time, and we got her all pumped up with our stories from
yesterday, she was psyched to hit some fresh powder.
     On our very first run, we wasted no time heading over to Far East.
Although the main glade itself was pretty tracked out, the woods to the
skier’s right were untouched.  We all had a blast in the fresh powder, and
couldn’t believe that NOBODY else was in there!  Even when we worked our way
down to Angel Face, we had the trail to ourselves.  It was a bit hard to
believe, and I almost had the spooky feeling that this was too good to be
true (a la yesterday’s adventure) but it was the real deal.  The scenario
repeated itself for the second run, and it wasn’t until the third that we
started to notice a presence of other skiers.  Even then, we were only
finding our own tracks in the woods to the right of Far East, and we were
plenty pleased.
     We stopped for a quick lunch and Greg treated us to burgers and fries
in the lodge and then we headed back out again.  We dismissed our plan of
heading down to Lost Trail, which was going to take place when the fresh
tracks ran out.  We talked to a patroller later in the afternoon, and he
pointed out that, although the woods were technically closed, he wasn’t
going to keep us out of there.  I think this was since the line between the
glade and the woods was of course hazy.  He did point out that East Bowl
(the next area to the skier’s right of Far East) WAS closed, and that we
should stay on our side of the drainage between them.  This wasn’t really a
problem, since you would have to traverse really hard to get there anyway.
Later in the day, the areas were getting pretty tracked out, but they had
opened some new areas.  We skied some stuff directly below the main lift,
but it was at this time that we found one of the Snowbowl’s drawbacks...
much of it is south facing.  As we got lower, we ran into snow that the sun
had just baked.  It stuck to our skis and made the skiing REALLY hard.  This
on top of the low coverage in this south facing areas didn’t even make the
first 500 or 1000 verts of moderate powder worth it.  After one run in some
of the south facing stuff, we decided that we’d had our fill and called it a
day.  Greg even managed to blow out an edge on his ski in that stuff.  Of
course, he admitted that he was trying to so he could finish off these skis
for good, but it was still scary to look at.  All in all, we had a great
time at the Snowbowl, and I’m sure we’ll be back.  Most likely, it will be
when they manage to pull more snow out of a storm than Lost Trail, which,
although I hear it’s infrequent, can happen.

I’ve got some pictures (9 images) from the video we took on Saturday, they
can be seen at the address below.

http://www.uvm.edu/~jsilveir/07DEC01.html

J.Spin




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