Monday, March 27, 2006

It's spring skiing time

On the Continental Divide Trail west of Stemple Pass

H. Wayne Phillips on the wind-sculpted slopes near Granite Butte
Spring skiing is upon us.
Thursday epitomized this.
Temperatures reached into the 50s, even on the Continental Divide Trail off Stemple Pass.
The dirt and gravel road to the pass was a mushy mess.
By the end of the day the snow was a mushy mess, too.
However, the bright sun, the lack of wind, the cloudless blue sky made for a perfect day outdoors, even if the skiing was suspect.
We chose our ski route by wherever we could find snow protected from sun, which early in the day meant hunting for north and east facing slopes.
From Stemple that meant heading southwest to Granite Lookout, some 1,000 feet above the pass.
The Continental Divide Trail rises immediately from the pass, sometimes steeply in spots.
Eventually it breaks out on the north facing slope where the wind has thinned the snow.
Here, we headed back into the trees and found sculpted, if hardpack snow on the ridgelines to just below the lookout, where we stopped for lunch and turned around.
Heading down we had hoped for some great tele turns, but had to be satisfied with the beauty of the snow that had been piled and shaped into fantastic piles by the wind.
By the time of our turnaround the snow, even in the trees, had softened up, slowing our skies and making turns difficult.
But we had been amply compensated by the tremendous vistas in the many open spots on the ridge where we could drink in peaks deep in the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall wilderness areas, blanketed in white by the snow and highlighted by deep blue sky. We could see that spring had worked the flanks of Joy and Crater peaks, baring rocks and grass.
By the time we reached our car at the parking area the road was clear of snow, which had melted into puddles.
We had enjoyed our ski, but realized that it wouldn’t be long before we’d be hanging the skis up for the season.

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