Spring in Whitefish is like spring in any other mountain town – rain one day, high of 80 the next, then 3 inches of snow on the ground to cap off the week. You do what you can to get outside during mud season and find any last bit of “skiable” snow, and on those random 80 degree days, you dust off the bike to turn those skier legs into biking legs. Or if you are really ambitious, you put those skis on that bike and head up to Glacier National Park.
The day starts at 5am. Way too much gear doesn’t allow for easy carpooling: 7 people in 2 trucks, one Subaru and our Land Cruiser. The scene at the Avalanche Lake Trailhead looks like a weeklong expedition rather than a simple day trip.
We’re on our bikes by 6:30 and start pedaling up the Going to the Sun Road. Destination: The Loop, 8 miles up. Dave carries both our skis and boots on his Xtracycle, his bribe to get me up that early, and giving me a chance to keep up with this group of “non-racers.” (Note: every mountain town has a class of athlete who, while claiming “non-racing” status spend all their time not-training with super human athletes, and therefore travel naturally at a race level pace. Also see “sand baggers.”)
After spending the next hour almost falling off my bike because sunrise in Glacier has got to be the most beautiful thing ever and I’m not watching the road, we make it to The Loop, unload the bikes, and load up our packs. We put on our hiking shoes and set off for the 4.5 mile hike (and hopefully skin) to the Swiftcurrent Pass. About 2 miles in we finally hit the snow line and make our second gear transition of the day.
I’m currently training for my second triathlon. One area where triathletes save valuable time is in the transitions. Switching gear from swimming to biking to running with ease and efficiency takes talent – one I don’t have. When you add ski boots and skins to that mix, oh help me!
By now I’ve completely lost track of time for a couple reasons. First, the obvious, I don’t have a watch on. Second, I’m focusing so hard on keeping up that at each transition, I barely have time to switch gears before everyone is off and running (who needs breaks or water or food?).
We arrive at the Granite Park Chalet, still covered in snow, and break (finally!) for a snack; I think at this point its not quite 11. But like I said, no watch. I’m worked and my feet hurt, so I’m debating hanging out there while everyone else continues on to the Pass and then to Swiftcurrent Lookout. But as we’re looking around we see huge footprints: grizzly. Can’t tell how fresh they are because of the distance away, but its enough to not want to be hanging out by myself for a hour or two, even armed with bear spray.
Onward and upward to the pass we go. I’m not even going to pretend I can keep up, so Dave stays back with me (second set of brownie points for the day!) and we take our time enjoying the views and scoping our lines. At the pass we are rewarded with views over the Continental Divide and into the Many Glacier area. Looking west, I’m pretty sure I can see the Whitefish Range and some ski runs. With perfect weather, we could have hung out on the ridge above Swiftcurrent Pass all day, but it was nearing time to get off the steeper slopes, so off come the skins and back down to the Chalet we go.
Regroup, ski to dirt, hike to bikes, ride back to cars. About 10 hours from car to car. And that my friends, is a great day of mud season. Now off to work on my transitions.
(Guest blogger profile: Jessica Downing supports her husband, Dave, in Whitefish, MT. She is a super hero in her downtime, skis with boys and is a constant threat to Dave’s Nintendo Wii Ski record.)