Sunday, January 14, 2007

A fair view, a great ski

Skiing up through great powder toward Fairview peak

Here I am pulling some turns

Large limestone boulders off Fairview face
An hour or two in the backcountry is worth several trips to a downhill area.
An exploratory backcountry ski trip Saturday reconfirmed that for me.
We found solitude, freedom, and wondrous powder in the Rocky Mountain Front below Fairview Mountain (elevation 8,246 feet) west of Augusta.
It was appropriate that we skied the Front since the day marked a celebration of a new law signed by President Bush banning oil and gas development in this remarkable wild country.
Montana wilderness advocates gathered in Great Falls Saturday night with U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who pushed the legislation through the last Congress in its waning days.
Just take a look at Fairview Mountain sometime and just below the timber line you’ll see the telemark possibilities.
It has taken some time, but it has finally occurred to me that telemark skiers and elk need the same kind of habitat --- steep, open slopes with timber nearby.
It makes sense that this part of the Front would have good telemark slopes because it is fantastic elk country.
We found plenty evidence that elk were around as we linked our turns.
Fairview Mountain is one of the distinct peaks visible from various points in Great Falls --- which makes skiing its flanks even more sweet. I can see how this mountain was named. It is a fair view from wherever you view it or from wherever you look when standing on top of it.
We found the best powder on the timbered east facing flank of the mountain. The snow was good all the way down to the road.
To reach this area go to Augusta and take the Benchmark Road to its junction with the Willow-Beaver Road to Gibson Dam on the Sun River. Turn on the road and pass by Camp Scoutana. From the Benchmark junction it is about 5 miles to the Beaver-Willow Divide. Park here and work your way up the slopes.
The higher you go the better the scenery. Old mountain friends like Steamboat, Haystack, Twin Peaks, Bear Den and Monitor came into view to the south. To the north the high peaks of the Sun River country and beyond come into view. Immediately east is the Lime Ridge country.
There’s nothing quite like the Front scenery for backcountry skiing.
For those who would rather tour than climb, the flats just north of the divide offer some opportunities.
We began our trip there, traveling through the willows of a beaver-dam area, eventually gaining a ridgeline above one of the forks of the West Fork of Beaver Creek. We skied to the timberline for views, hit a beautiful elk meadow for turns and traversed to the ridge on the opposite side of the stream, gaining the ridge that led us back down to the Beaver-Willow Divide.
From there it was down through the trees, past a boulder field of immense limestone debris that had been dislodged from the ridge above. Then there were more sharp turns through the trees as we descended rapidly, down and out to the car.
This trip reminded me of the importance of exploration and the necessity to use imagination. We live in an area surrounded by an immense amount of public land. However, most folks congregate in developed areas and fight over those areas.
With all this empty-available land there is no need for squabbling. Pull out a map, study the hills, explore and enjoy.
No one will crowd you.

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