Sunday, December 04, 2005

O'Brien Creek and city parks skiing

Good snow early on, before Showdown opens

We could have used some better base

Carefully negotiating O'Brien
I’ll cut right to the chase; the snow is beyond terrific, we’ve already skied O’Brien Creek twice, and many parks around Great Falls have good ski tracks.
Yes, for the first time in years you don’t have to leave town to have good cross country skiing.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
On Friday I went with Sally Lydon and Nancy Dow down the then-unbroken 8-mile O’Brien Creek trail that begins at Kings Hill Pass in the Little Belt Mountains.
It had snowed more than four feet over the past week at the past, putting down the best early snow I’ve seen in my 30+ years in the Great Falls area.
That created a good news-bad news scenario. The good news is the snow, of course. The bad news was that it was untracked and we had to break it.
Because it was powder we sank down more than two feet immediately and at points were plowing in the cold, white stuff up to our hips.
O’Brien Creek can be done comfortably in three hours when there is a track.
It took us an exhausting six-and-a-half hours to get down this run. We had only a couple of short breaks.
While it was minus 9 in Great Falls it was in the teens above zero when we started and remained that way throughout the afternoon. Beautiful blue sky even broke through in the late afternoon.
While we knew we were facing tough trail-breaking, we were delighted by the heavy snow.
It has been a number of years since the snow has been this deep, even at the height of the ski season.
It was so heavy that it was impossible to get good telemark turns on any of the steep slopes.
The snow turned the run into a quiet, magical fairyland of snow ghosts.
One of the chief concerns this early in the season is whether they snow bridges over the creek are set up yet.
We found them to be set up beautifully when we found them.
Only one time did I run into trouble. That was one I came to one of the lodgepole bridges that was covered with snow and I started across, only to fall through the gap in the lodgepoles, dangling one of my skis just above the water. Normally the top of the bridge would have been frozen solidly by having been packed down by skiers and snowmobilers. Since we were the first across the ice hadn’t built up yet to secure this bridge. We were able to find a good snow bridge across the creek a little downstream.
In most years we’ve encountered snowmobile tracks far up the trail, but there hadn’t been any snowmobile activity yet. We realize this will quickly change.
Because we three were plowing the trail, we didn’t get the pleasure of kicking and gliding.
So, on Saturday I returned with Mark Hertenstein, and we covered this broken trail in less than three hours. Now the track should be nicely set for others.
We did several telly runs off the top of Showdown before heading down O’Brien, finding the powder about 4-5 feet deep, just perfect for our turns.
Once out we stopped to cut a Christmas tree before returning to Great Falls.
For those of you staying in town, the skiing is perfect. I’ve skied tracks on the Eagle Falls golf course (formerly the Speck course), North Kiwanis, Graybill, and the large park in the Charlie Russell Addition.

1 comment:

jeff said...

I enjoyed reading about your ski outing on the O'Brien Creek run as it brought back a lot of memories. 17 years ago, I lived in Great Falls and I used to bomb the OC run on the weekends. One time, a friend and I had to break trail the entire run. The snow was very deep and we were out on the trail for a good long time. We had visions of the Donner party running through our minds. Another day, the conditions were so prime that I did 2 runs in an afternoon. For the past 17 years, I've been living in the flatlands and it rarely snows enough to ski. Last Saturday was different as we just received a foot of powder snow. Wasting no time, I went out skiing early in the morning and rush of being back on my skis pushed me to cover a great distance. The combination of a winter wonderland with the unbroken solitude reminded me of how much I missed this. Ski the OC run a few times for me this season and post a few more pictures if you would. Thanks for the stories!