Sunday, April 05, 2009

Stemple Pass and Showdown finale

Jim Heckel on top Mount Joy with Crater Mountain in background
We had some complex decisions to make after several feet of snow fell in the Little Belts this past week. A pile fell along the Front, too.
We were concerned that it might be too hard to break trail after such a snowfall, but we didn’t want to waste a day taking the lifts at one of the local ski hills.
So, we headed for Stemple Pass cross country ski area on the Continental Divide Trail on Saturday, figuring it had received less snow and that we might get lucky with some telemark slopes.
Skiers had beaten us to the area the day before and cut a nice path. However, we quickly noticed a crust on the top of the snow on most west and south facing slopes.
Our goal was to climb Mounts Joy and Crater and do some turns off the top of each.
However, the crust proved too much of a barrier and caused our skis to dive and stall.
We got a couple of good turns on the telemark slopes at the Mount Joy saddle. But, when we hit the west slopes on the way to Crater Mountain, we immediately got into trouble and had to proceed very carefully.
The slopes were beautiful with snow, and it was heart-breaking not being able to use them as we had hoped.
We got lucky as we turned toward the Crater bottom, finding a great, steep gully that allowed us some turns in the trees.
We decided against climbing to the top of Crater and headed back to the car on a monotonous and long cross country track, making us wish we had brought our classic skis.
On Sunday, my wife and I headed for Showdown Ski Area for the final day of the season and enjoyed bright blue skies and calm winds. The snow had been completely skied out so we did our best on the packed powder.
Now the hill will be mine alone again, and quiet without the running lifts that are shut down until next December.
I’m betting we’ll get several more shots at Porphyry Peak at the top of the ski hill before we put away our skis and grab our hiking packs.

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