Monday, April 03, 2006

New way to Old Baldy; Showdown closes

Mark Hertenstein on Chamberlain ridge with Long Peak in background

Jefferson Creek
Early spring storms have been raking the mountains around Great Falls setting things up nicely for backcountry skiing.
It also provided heavenly snow for the final weekend at Showdown ski area.
I’ve been curious about the Jefferson Creek drainage for some time and used one of those storms to check it out as well as Chamberlain Creek, a Jefferson drainage.
In the process I think I’ve discovered a quick way up to the top of the highest peak in the Little Belts --- Big Baldy (elevation: 9,177 feet).
Jefferson Creek is off-limits to snowmobiles, so it is a perfect place to cross country ski.
There’s a great turnout for parking and it is located just a short distance from Memorial Falls.
I’ve used the area as a staging point to climb Neihart Baldy and Long peaks in the past.
The Jefferson ski is a road ski, but quite scenic, passing through open meadows and through limestone canyons, much like the canyons on Sluice Boxes State Park.
For telemark skiers there’s bowls of snow about four miles up this road.
Naturally, I was looking to gain some elevation sooner than that and found a good ridgeline just east of Chamberlain Creek, about a mile from the parking area.
We skied a short distance up the Chamberlain Creek bottom and gained the ridge, which began to rise steadily through stick-timber lodgepole. However, the lodgepole were so close that we couldn’t ski between the trees ascending and descending.
Overall, we gain about 2,000 feet over about a four-mile ski to a large clearcut.
But before we reached the clearcut we were able to ski to ridgeline and look over into Chamberlain Creek, a large drainage below Long peak and Old Baldy.
On the day we skied the area the snow was a tad icy, but not so icy that we had to put on our climbing skins.
Although we turned around at the clearcut I knew we were only about 1,200 feet below the summit of Old Baldy.
I figured a ski or hike to the top is only about six miles from the Jefferson Creek parking area. It seems a much shorter way to reach it than banging up your car by way of the road from Kings Hill-Dry Wolf Creek, the route I’ve used in the past. I’ve also skied Old Baldy in the winter using the Snow Creek route up Dry Wolf.
This is one I’ll return to this summer.

Now, it’s so long to Showdown for the season.
I very much enjoyed the tele skiing on the slopes there this season.
Kudos to George Willett for leave a strip of ungroomed tele snow on most runs.
I saw many tele skiers on the slopes there this year, including Willett, who on the final Thursday was walking around the lodge in his Scarpas after a tele run.
It’s encouraging when a ski hill operator is an active tele skier.

One pleasant encounter was with two veteran tele skiers from Essex who showed up Thursday with the Brady school group.
Bill and Ginger Faust were on long, old-fashioned tele skis with leather boots --- straight out of the 70s, and they were turning with the best of the tele skiers in their short, shaped skis with their stiff plastic boots.
I was in awe of their skill on such old equipment.

There was about six inches of new powder on the final day at Showdown that made for fantastic skiing.
We’ll be back on the hill yet this year after any new spring dumps, probably going through mid-May.

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