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Yes, this is a backcountry skiing website.
Yes, I’ve been known to venture in-bounds occasionally. By some accounts too much.
What can I say. Some years the cards don’t fall perfectly into your hands to get out and ski as much as you’d like, or even where you’d like. This winter I feel like I’ve been MIA on the best days for BC, and skiing hard bumps when the powder zones I was after were not safe.
Two weekends ago was a similar scenario, in-bounds with less than desirable backcountry conditions. However, there were a couple very important differences. First, I was skiing a new state with my wife, Jessica, around Bozeman, Montana. Second, they have some truly wild snow up there well within the bounds of the ski areas!
What started out as plans for a week long trip through Montana and Northern Idaho was reduced to a full three day weekend around Bozeman. I’m going to say that vacation time in this country is a joke, and leave it at that.
So, a flight up north on Thursday night to be picked up by our host/guide Patrick, from Mystery Ranch backpacks. Some pizza and unpacking skis, load up a loaner Saddle Peak pack, and hit the sack. Tomorrow will begin a tour of 3 resorts in 3 days. Moonlight Basin, Big Sky, and the ever classic, Bridger Bowl. After a thorough beating of our ski legs we would fly out again Monday morning to be at work by 11AM.
A few days around Bozeman felt like cheating. Steep, beautiful lines that you have to hike to access…you just get to use a lift to skip the first couple thousand feet of approach.
Day 1, Moonlight Basin
An inch or 2 of new snow after weeks on nothing can be a frightening forecast for the day. However $55 lift tickets and access to the Headwaters area kept us stoked to check the area out. I’m pretty sure the now bankrupt owners of Moonlight Basin want this place to be a ritzy resort. Currently it’s not. Parking 50 yards from the runs, no high rise condos blocking your view, and lots of jeans. The most obvious goods here are located off the Headwaters Lift which requires a short (50 yard) hike to access. A great way to keep non-experts away.
The Headwaters is a series of chutes accessible via a slow double chair and ridgeline hike. Think Highlands bowl with less vert, but more aesthetic lines. In this area, much like Bridger Bowl, the user is expected to know what they are getting into. On our particular run, we were not warned that the normally 20+ foot wide shot was about the width of an anorexic supermodel’s waist. The short hike in had been blown in with ice and snow, required some kick-step traversing.
At the entrance, a nice layer of wind-blown snow led down to 40-45 degree slopes through classy rock formations. Our fun ski started to get interesting as we arrived at the crux to see it roll-over and pinch down to five feet wide for ten solid jump turns. This was the most technical bit of skiing I have done anywhere. Wild. One of the best runs of my life. Oh, and did I mention our 1PM decent laid the first tracks of the day on this line?
Day 2, Bridger Bowl
Bridger’s Ridge Terrain is must-do for any skier. Beacon required just for the lift. Steep terrain that I’ve yet to find anywhere else. A short hike from the top of a lift and a traverse to your line of choice yields world class quality. There are mellower bowls if you want. Or scary steeps through sphincter wide openings. Simply amazing. Once you have explored the in-bounds terrain, the ridge continues for miles with full BC access. Next time. For today, I am happy to ski cold crud on 45+ degree pitches during, and I quote our “guide” Patrick, “the second worst snow conditions of the year”.
Day 3, Big Sky: This was our wind-down day at a pretty standard resort. Great steeps, trees and high alpine. But was was most exciting was the view north into the Spanish Peaks area and the backcountry access there. Long, ascending ridgelines into higher technical terrain. The options look endless. I believe there were at least five mountain ranges visible from the top of Lone Mountain.
The whole greater-Bozeman area is filled with mountain range after mountain range. Every ridge attained revealed two more ranges in the distance. And most of them are undeveloped. Huge backcountry potential. And plenty more mountains than people. I don’t think parking is an issue yet 🙂
Dave “Snowman” Downing lives in Whitefish, Montana where Dave is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab Dave’s ski career began due to a lack of quality skiing video games for NES.