A very different world revealed when peered out the window this morning – snowing, blowing snow and plenty of wind – looks like the NWS got 3 for 3. Away a bit after 7.30 having had to chisel a very solid layer of ice off the windscreen, then did a brief stop at Liquid Planet for coffee to go.
There was a winter weather advisory out for Missoula this morning. I normally try to avoid major travel days during advisories or warnings but was meant to expire at 11am and figured it was worth a try. Started off OK when I got onto I-90 – snowy but OK in the right lane and plows were working the freeway. Even managed a couple of tentative overtaking moves though the left lane was often quite a bit more snowed in. About 20 minutes out of Missoula things started going downhill. Each time a car passed, visibility reduced to less than zero with plumes of blowing snow going everywhere. Got stuck behind a car going even slower than me – pulled out very slowly and found myself in quite deep drifts in the left lane and couldn’t bring myself to actually get past. So back into the right lane going slower and slower and dreading the outcome each time a more confident driver did overtake. If I could have stopped anywhere safely I would have.
Seemed to take forever but finally got to turnoff onto MT-1 and things improved dramatically. Still challenging but back to pretty much normal winter driving conditions. Drove up to and past the north facing runs on the backside of Discovery and left the valley and drove up a lovely little canyon till finally turned off and headed back toward the front side. Virtually no plowing here but still way preferable to the interstate. Finally over 2 hours after leaving pulled into the carpark – and after a minute or so could actually ply my hands off the steering wheel and start gearing up.
This place has been on my must do list for years, but has never had good cover when I’ve had the chance to check it out on previous trips. Having bought a ticket pulled out the trail map to orient myself and immediately some guy is describing the whole mountain to me and showing me where to go. Could have easily started with elevenses, but figured I should have one run before taking a break, so up the Anaconda triple and did a nice long cruiser back to base – perfect groomer with a few spots where you could get some freshies. Looked promising. As I’m getting stuck into a hot dog and hot chocolate, once again pull out a trail map and instantly another guy is introducing himself to me and explaining how he’s going to give me a guided tour of the hill as soon as I’ve finished eating.
So it was back up Anaconda and then we headed for the backside. I’ve had SO many recommendations to come here and ski the backside on chair rides over the last 2 weeks. Most of it is black or double black but thankfully a couple of intermediate trails as well, which is where my guide steered me toward. Some really nice skiing – great wide groomers with an ungroomed strip in many spots that let you get a bit of the fresh. Back up the Granite triple then did Medicine Ridge that winds it’s way around the top of a large bowl where every run that drops off the ridge is a double black. Once again, lovely run with some very nice snow. From he bottom of the bowl looking up, the bottom half looked tempting, but I’m not sure I liked any of the options I’d have to take to get there.
Up the old Limelight double and then my last guided run back to base on Red Lion – an easy run but perfect snow and lots of fun. On my own now I did a similar circuit with a few modifications. Rather than following Winning Ridge all the way to the base of Granite headed down the ungroomed Black Moon – which of course devolved into a VERY bumpy steep series of lurches between small trees. Oh well, the snow was soft and it was still sort of fun. Headed down Medicine Ridge but this time cut back to Granite on Boilermaker – nice but quite a bit steeper than the other intermediates. Finished up with a full run down into Limelight and a repeat return run on Red Lion.
Really enjoyed it – only downside is I can’t see many easy options for open glade skiing at anything other than very steep terrain, and I definitely wouldn’t want to be here on hard pack. But look forward to getting to know the place better in the future. Washed down a burger with a quite acceptable draft heffe then headed for the car. Had snowed lightly on and off and still a few flakes wafting down. MUCH more pleasant drive back – still had to approach any overtaking with caution but wind had dropped right off. Back in Missoula about 5pm and discovered the advisory was still in effect.
Have now mapped out a plan for the last few days of the trip and have booked an extra night here.