Friday, January 31, 2014

Montana Ski and Ride: Notes from the Field

Spring Break has arrived! After a strenuous sprint to the finish, the middle portion of our school semester was complete and the masses were released to do as they chose. Many opted for southern latitudes containing warmer weather, sun drenched beaches, swimming suits and tiki bars. This group however, opted for a different direction. Montana. Where the mountains had retained their heavy winter blanket, stashing powder in it’s open glades and high class adventure in it’s alpine.

But first we had to get there.

Who knew airplane food was so good?
After a nights stay in Bozeman, we were off to the Absarokas where we were acclimatized to the elevation and gained our first perception of the landscape. The scale and vastness of the area presented us with the realization of an endless week of possibilities and an un-ending variety of backcountry ski and mountaineering opportunity.

After a year of preparation, late night emails and early morning phone calls, we had finally landed in our destination. The outstanding beauty of Montana eased our minds and fueled our feet as we climbed our first ski decent of the week.

The North entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The stone at the top of Roosevelt Arch reads:
“For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”

An idea that was certainly not lost on this group. As we passed through this gateway, making our way towards Cook City, we were instantly greeted by Mule deer, heards of Buffalo and various bird species. It sparked the debate in our minds as to whom this land was really for, and how our presence in such a place filled with recreational delight, may in its own way defeat the preserving nature of the park system. Something we could all agree on however, was by leaving the oil fueled cages of the traditional lift lines and using human power to access our destinations, we were in a way, enjoying our sport in a more ecologically aware means.

Cook City. Typically known as as a snowmobilers paradise, this little town contained more snowmobiles than it did cars. The roads were in fact, as it seemed to us, left un-cleared of snow so as to maintain the ease of snowmobile travel through town. We met a variety of interesting people from a broad range of backgrounds, but all of whom fostered a deep appreciation for the park and it’s available resources. After a short, but intensive packing meeting the night before, we were off into the mountains, as seen in the background of this photo, and into our destination of Woody Creek, which was nestled in the Beartooth Mountain Range.

Access to the cabin was slightly  challenging however, as all of our gear needed to be accumulated in ski pulks, or sleds pulled with harnesses and rigid poles. The effort we found, was worth it in the long run, as we were rewarded with large meals and comfortable sleeping situations later.

Woody Creek Cabin, our new home and basecamp for the following three days. We were met by the owner Ben Zavora, who joined us for our initial skin into the hut and helped us to get situated. This is the Cabin’s first year of use.

And the living was easy!

It wasn’t long however, before we were out of the cabin and on our first decent. Here, TJ Londregan shows us how it’s done on our way down Hayden’s Highway, which topped out at around 10,000’ in elevation.

We were greeted by a large variety of terrain and assessment options. The skiing was amazing but required thoughtful planning and a safe travel route. Below, Erika Olson navigates a difficult terrain trap…and does it in style.

Taylor Luneau riding the White Wave in Montana.

“In the Pit”
With Steve Charest

Snow assessment was our theme for the week. Having practiced with the Saint Michaels College Wilderness Program all year as well as gaining invaluable training and leadership from head guide and owner of Petra Cliffs Climbing Center and Mountaineering school, Steve Charest, we placed a large emphasis on assessing snow pack stability in order to determine safe aspects to ski. Here we are making field observations, through the use of a snow pit that we had dug, in order to identify the existing layers in the snow and characterize the stability of our intended travel route.

Our investigations suggested a worthy and safe ski route. Here, Camden Latimer, fresh from the whiteroom, reaps the benefits of intelligent mountain travel techniques.

Departing Yellowstone is never easy, but the sight of three wild wolves made it a little more enjoyable.

Traffic in Yellowstone National Park.

Hair Styled by Montana backcountry:
With Camden Latimer.

To which he replied, “When your Hair stands up on it’s own, you know your on a great hut ski trip.”

After having refueled our gear, we began the long skin into the Bell Lake Yurt, placed high among the Tobacco Root Range, southeast of Bozeman.

Relieved from a long and strenuous skin into the Tobacco Root Range, we discovered our yurt, devoured our dinners, stoked the fire and fell into our cots for a deep nights rest.

In the morning the mountains greeted us, revealing their massive size and impeccable ski lines. A sight that Andrew Blessing relished, a sight that we had all dreamed about the night before.

Snow Analysis in the Tobacco Root Range

(L) TJ Londregan  (R) Taylor Luneau

Steve Charest, Loving Life.

Upon our return to the Yurt, we lounged in the days last few hours of sun and shared stories of the week that had come and gone so quickly.

It was a successful week, filled with great friends, amazing ski descents and memories that will stay with us for a lifetime.

But the time had come to leave the amazing mountains and people of Montana and return home to Vermont. Thank you to Steve Charest, Andrew Blessing and the Saint Michael’s College Wilderness Program for all of your help and for providing us this remarkable opportunity.

Did you think last years trip sounds cool and are you interested in pursuing a backcountry skiing adventure this spring break? Then come and join the Saint Michaels Wilderness Program on a trip to Parc National de la GaspĂ©sie from March 15-23. The Parc is a veritable sea of mountains located on the GaspĂ© Peninsula in eastern Quebec. The Chic Choc mountain range is the heart of the Parc, and offers huge annual snow fall and significant vertical relief with 25 peaks over 1000m. These factors make for a truly phenomenal backcountry skiing destination.  Conditions permitting, we will spend our days skinning up, and then cranking turns down bowls, glades and couloirs, before returning to our heated cabin to cook hot meals and rest our tired legs.  Please review the full program description and return an application to Taylor Luneau at no later than Monday, Feburary 3. Trip cost is $750, an absolute steal of a price!!!!!