Friday, December 28, 2007

Southwest Montana skiing

Bighorns near Sula, create traffic jam

Katie, on Chief Joseph ski trail 

At Mount Haggin
Work and Christmas kept me pretty tied up and out of the backcountry for most of December. So, it figures that it would all bust loose.
My wife and I took a three-day ski spin around southwest Montana immediately after Christmas.
I’m here to report that the powder is plentiful south of Butte and west to the Idaho border and across the Big Hole country.
We cross country skied at Chief Joseph Pass near the Idaho border in the far reaches of the Bitterroot and at Mount Haggin Nordic Ski Trails near Anaconda, and then we got in some tele skiing at Lost Trail Ski Area not far from Chief Joseph Pass.
We also stayed at the Lost Trail Hot Springs Resort, which has new, young owners from Wisconsin. They are Italian and make their own pasta. We had a wonderful meal of ravolis and stuffed shells. In Butte we ate at the Uptown Café for the first time and were pleased with the excellent service and creative menu.
Here’s how we worked all that off.
I had noticed the Chief Joseph cross country trails a number of times enroute to the Big Hole or Salmon River country, but until this week had never stopped. The 25 kilometers of trails straddle the Continental Divide and they are groomed by the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club. The powder there was about two feet deep and the snow continued to come down. The scenery is classic Montana forested Continental Divide country. I’ve never seen trails that are better marked. If you get lost here there’s a real problem and it’s not the ski club’s fault.
Mount Haggin is run by the Mile Hile Nordic Ski Club in cooperation with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. There are some 20 kilometers of trails. They wind through historic Anaconda Co. logging camps that supplied timber to the smelter. I was most impressed with the variety of scenery. There are lakes and willow bottoms and distant high peaks with tele opportunities as well as nice woodland stretches. The loops are well marked.
Lost Trail Powder Mountain exceeded my expectations. The mountain was much larger and the powder much better than what I had anticipated. Unfortunately, the mountain was also crawling with people. But, with 5 double chairs, 3 rope tows, 45 runs, and a vertical drop of 1,800 feet, they spread out quickly. Unlike Showdown, which leaves a little patch of snow on each groomed run, that makes skiing attractive to telemarkers, Lost Trail grooms the entire width of most of its trails. It did leave a few ungroomed trails, but I wasted time finding them.
This whirlwind trip made me appreciate our backcountry skiing in the Great Falls area more than ever.
While the groomed and developed areas are all right, I prefer breaking my own trail and setting off in a more wilderness environment.
I look forward to doing that in the weekend ahead!

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