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Well it has finally happened.  Today there was nothing on the list except
the 3 automatic weather reports.  I like this feature and appreciate having
it there reliably every day all winter.  But, we've got to have some ski
stories.   Actually we need some snow too but that may take a little longer.

Doug wanted ski stories so here is an old one, from March 96 when my son
and I went to Montana & Wyoming.   It's long, but so is the summer.

Denis

_________Story follows_________________________
We arrived in Billings MT at noon on Sat. the 16th.  It's just a
little airport; we had our luggage in minutes.  The rental car was 50
feet outside the door.  Nobody checks your contract and we were out
of there 5 min. after the plane touched down.  I love little
airports; no hassle.  We got held up by the local St. Patrick's Day
parade.  It's a big holiday in Montana.  I had tried to fly into
Bozeman but couldn't get a good connection.  Once on I-90 we covered
the 100 mi. to Bozeman in about 70 min.  There is no open road speed
limit.  You pass by some impressive ranges, particularly the
Absarokas.  The slopes of Red Lodge look pretty good from the
interstate, yet nobody ever heard of Red Lodge.

At Bozeman we turned south on Rt. 119 for Big Sky.  It's a beautiful
60 miles or so.  You drive along the Gallatin River, one of America's
most famous trout streams.  There are some beautiful looking vacation
homes and fishing lodges but not many of them.  A few flakes began to
fall.  Believe it or not I've had that kind of luck with snow all my
life.  The town of Big Sky is just a crossroads.  We turned onto the
mountain access rd. and after 8 mi. and perhaps a 1000 ft. altitude
gain arrived at the mountain base and the Chet Huntley Lodge.  It
looked like a serious luxury hotel and it was also full.  I asked for
recommendations for a couple of guys who are just going to ski, eat,
and sleep.  The girl at the registration desk
sent us to Buck's T-4 down at the foot of the access rd.  Buck's is
(was?) the ranch which preceded the motel.  They had a deal of $149
for a room for 2 + 2 lift tickets.  The place had every convenience,
outdoor hot tub, a gourmet restaurant, a pizza & grille restaurant,
bar, pool hall & poker, and a shuttle bus to the mtn.  When we
finished dinner at 8:30 there were 2-3" of new snow on the ground.

We got up and caught the first shuttle to the mtn. at 7:15.  There
were about 8" of fresh powder at Buck's and maybe a foot at the mtn.
base.  Had a leisurely breakfast and got hydrated, then caught a
gondola when the lifts opened at 9.  The sign at the top said the
summit tram would open at 1:00 and you could hear the avalanche
bombs.  We started down a blue run and halfway down found the
"Challenger" chair.  It serves a subsidiary peak which is an old
volcanic cone.  It looked pretty steep to me but what the hell, we
had powder.  It was great skiing and we stayed there most of the day.
 (I think the tram opened quite late and not many people got up
there.)  We did try one run in a bowl just below the tram base.  The
powder was deeper and lighter there but the light was very flat and
we got a touch of vertigo.  So we went back to Challenger where there
are trees for reference.  We got cliffed out twice looking for routes
through the trees and had to backtrack a bit to get out of it.  In
mid-afternoon we found the "Little tree" chute which might as well be
a cliff.  The snow was beautiful and
it was not hard to ski.  I took a terrible rock shot that ripped
through to the core of one of my Volkls.  It didn't affect
their performance (I love Volkls) and I didn't see how bad it was
until the end of the day.  Not wanting to get water into the wood
core I put them away and telemarked for the rest of the trip.  The
snow began to intensify in the last hour of skiing.  Back at Buck's I
had a hot soak and a dinner of smoked Buffalo and Moose Drool Ale (a
Montana microbrew); John had Elk chops.  Then early to bed.

On Mon. AM we caught the 7:15 shuttle again.  There had been another
4-6" in the valley.  The mtn. obviously had a lot more and when we
got there it was brilliant sunshine and no wind.  Halfway through
breakfast Bill, our Whitetail clinic leader, walked in with 5 other
Whitetail instructors.  They had left their PSIA personalities at
home and were just as wild-eyed as all the other powder hounds.  They
had been at Bridger for a couple of days and gave it a great report.
They invited us to ski with them but they weren't finished breakfast
when the gondolas began to move so we abandoned them.  The "Tram
is Open" sign was already up.  The tram ride itself is quite a thrill;
there are just two suspension points one at the bottom, one at the
top.  It takes only 16 people per car and we caught the second car.
Up top the powder was essentially bottomless, at least 3 feet of
fresh.  We had our tele skis and it was heaven.  We took the first
run down Liberty Bowl and then went to the Thunder and Lightning face
which has a very exposed and scary looking entrance.  I'm glad John
was there to talk me into dropping in.  The run itself was very steep
although not up there with Little Tree.  The snow was so deep you
just planted if you fell.  When you stopped for a rest you could see
the scattered light from tiny snow crystals dancing in the air.  Down
in the liftline there was a crowd but up on these open faces you feel
almost alone.  They must be half a mile wide and the total drop is
about 2500 vertical feet flattening only a little as you go down.
Then it is a chair ride to get back to the tram base.  It was
probably the best ski day of my life; words cannot describe it.

Stupidly we left Big Sky to go to Jackson Hole which was planned and
expected to be the highlight of the trip.  We got to town well after
dark and checked into a motel recommended by a friend.  He had said
you could walk to everything, but as it turned out everything didn't
include the mountain.  We could see steep snow covered slopes in the
dark so the only question in our minds was; is it 2 blocks or 10
blocks to the mtn.  At 8 in the morning I stopped in the motel office
& asked if I could walk to the mtn.  The lady asked what mountain and
I said Jackson Hole.  She looked at me like I was crazy and said take
the shuttle across the street.  The slopes we had seen in the dark
were the town hill, Snow King.  The shuttle came in a few minutes and
THERE IS A FARE.  Not only that but you have to have exact change.
In every other ski town in the world the shuttle is free.  The driver
was nice enough to let us on and collect change for our $10 at the
next stop.  It is about 15 miles to the mtn. but there were about 15
stops; at most of them nobody was waiting.  We didn't get to the
famous clock tower until 8:45 and I was panicked about missing the
first tram at 9.  (I was still a little crazy with powder lust after
the day at Big Sky.)   Tram lift tickets cost extra.  I knew this in
advance but it was now contributing to a growing attitude about
Jackson Hole.  We did get into the first tram, among the last few who
did.  There is a resort employee who literally shoves the last 10 or
so people into the car so they can get their 63 head count.  For this
you pay extra.  If I wanted the New York City subway I would have
gone there.  We had a light breakfast up top and waited for the crowd
to go down.  They had not gotten the weather system that dumped on
Big Sky.  Rendezvous Bowl was refrozen corn.  We still didn't get the
message.  We headed for the Hobacks (after all this was Jackson and
we had heard about the Hobacks for years).  The traverse was groomed
and there were no tracks in the corduroy; we would get first tracks.
Well, the Hobacks had been cut up when they were soft and then
refrozen overnight.  We were looking at 3000 vertical feet of frozen
rubble, like the stuff the plow leaves at the end of your driveway.
Two other fools showed up a few minutes later.  John had alpine race
boots and cranking turns was killing his feet.  He had to stop and
take his boots off a couple times.  I did jump teles and survival
teles all the way down.  It took the better part of an hour and our
legs were trashed.  We had an early lunch and then skied blue
cruising runs for the rest of the day.  We rode 4 or 5 different
chairs and got a good look around.  What we saw did not impress us.
Jackson Hole is the most over-rated and disappointing ski area I have
ever been to.  It isn't the snow, it's the terrain.  We didn't ski
all that much of it but we have eyes and we have skied most of the
great steep mountains in North America.  The quality and quantity of
steep terrain at Jackson pales by comparison to Squaw or Mammoth.
Even "little" Sugar Bowl and "little" Bridger Bowl compare very
favorably with Jackson.  Of the steep places we have skied, Big Sky
and Taos are the best in the rockies, and I'd put Bridger above
Jackson.  The town was also a disappointment.  It claims to be a
genuine western town.  It is actually a collection of 200 - 300
overpriced yuppie boutiques connected by wooden sidewalks.  We did
not find the kind of friendly people we found in Montana.

Wed. we skied at Grand Targhee.  The snow was much better and the
season total a lot greater than Jackson.  It is a very pleasant and
beautiful place with some nice cruising.  There is nothing seriously
steep, at least not with any sustained length.  We dropped into the
Activities office to check on our snowcat reservation for the next
day.  They told us there was no powder left, conditions would be
"highly variable" and the price was reduced, They did everthing they
could to talk us out of going.  When we showed up Thurs morning with
teles they got really alarmed, but it didn't deter the guide.  On the
contrary he went to get his teles so he could "have some fun too".
It was difficult skiing but we had a lot of fun; the snow was really
a lot better than the Hobacks had been.  High up it
was semifrozen with a light crust, then there was a zone of ~ 500
vertical ft. of good corn, then it got very heavy down low.  It was
fairly overcast so the sun didn't get to work on the snow very much
and the conditions stayed constant all day.  The best area was called
Mary's Nipple and we did 5 or 6 runs there.  There were two alpine
skiers with us, one on fat skis.  They generally had more trouble
than we did.  We had rented Yostmark "Mountain Noodles" from Claire
Yost in Driggs ID (on the access road).  They are a slightly fat tele
ski that handled this snow quite well.  At about 3:00 we all began to
augur in, more from fatique than from deteriorating conditions, so we
quit skiing, opened the wine and got 3 sheets to the wind at 10,000
ft.  Luckily nobody fell off the cat on the way back to the barn.

Thurs. evening we drove up to Bozeman.  We didn't like Jackson anyway
and there was a winter storm watch for late Fri. and Sat.  So we
decided to try Bridger on Fri. and if it began to snow hard we'd dash
for Billings so as not to miss our Sat. morning flight home on
account of snow.  This was a good plan.  Bridger doesn't look very
big from the parking lot but as you ride up on the (admittedly slow)
chairs it just keeps opening up.  There is a lot of terrain there and
a lot of good steeps.  It is comparable to Alta, but with far fewer
people.  A day ticket is $26 and a season pass is $360 !!!  It is
like half an ampitheater, a huge semicircle that faces east.  The
south wall faces north and it had good powder in the shaded areas
despite 4 days in a row of warm temp. & sun.  We rode mostly on the
Pierre's Knob lift and we found some great tree shots that start
right under the top of the lift.  We passed on hiking the ridge.
John could have done it but my legs were wasted.  With fresh legs &
fresh powder we would do it.  Oh well, next time.

It was a great trip.  My short conclusion is; ski Montana.  It really
is "the last best place".



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