Monday, March 30, 2009

Powder perfect backcountry spring skiing

Mark Hertenstein stops for lunch break in Mike Horse Mine country

Approaching Continental Divide above Mike Horse Mine
I don't think I could have had a more perfect weekend of backcountry spring skiing.
On Friday I did Deadman run, telemarking off the highest bowls, cutting turns in 4-6 inches of new powder that sat atop an icy base. I dropped off the end of the route by going down a tributary of Deadman Creek, avoiding the long, out of the way road. I fought high winds and some drifting and slabbing, but was rewarded by an afternoon of sunshine on this 8 mile trip.
On Saturday I scratched an old itch by exploring the Continental Divide Trail country above the Mike Horse Mine, reached a few miles beyond Rogers Pass on the west side. Getting to this country is just as fast and easy as going to Showdown, except the country is far more spectacular. I was surprised the road was plowed to the mine, just under three miles from Highway 200, and the reclamation workers on the old tailing pond, were most accommodating and friendly, even suggesting a route and showing us where to park. This is the old Anaconda Company copper prospecting digs that has been shut down many years. After a environmental disaster where the pond burst in the early 1980s, the area has been undergoing a cleanup. There are old closed and overgrown roads running everywhere. They made for perfect backcountry trails. We found one that worked its way gently up toward the Continental Divide Trail. About 200 feet in elevation below the divide we angled off the road that cut back, and worked our way through the forest at a very steep angle. The trees are spaced perfectly for telemarking and we made note to return. At the top of the divide we got magnificent views in all directions of the divide country and all the way to the Rocky Mountain Front. We skied a piece of the trail that goes between Flesher and Rogers passes before dropping back down through the trees back to the mine and the car. The topography was so steep that linking even two turns was an accomplishment. The snow was beautiful and had flocked many trees.
Wayne Phillips leads down O'Brien Creek
On Sunday a major spring snowstorm moved in, hammering the mountains and icing the roads. We had plans to ski the north side of Porphyry Peak and drop down into head of O’Brien Creek and out in the Little Belts. We skied the O’Brien Creek trail for over an hour and had to face the reality that so much snow had fallen that we couldn’t have possibly broken the 7 miles of trail. So, we turned back and headed for the powder on the Showdown Ski Area hill. The 18 inches or more of new, forgiving powder there made us look like champion skiers as we sliced through moguls in our tele skis. However, we had to deal with such high winds that it seemed as though we were in the Arctic rather than Porphyry Peak when we got off the lifts.
Driving home was a white-knuckle affair because the roads had been so hammered.

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