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Hoarfrost in the valley. Yes, it’s pretty when early morning fog condenses on the trees and makes Missoula look like a sugar-frosted breakfast treat, especially during mid-afternoon when melting crystals refract the sun. But hoarfrost can’t disguise the trouble we’re facing this winter.

The bad news started in December when both local ski areas, Snowbowl Montana and Marshall Mountain, could muster only partial openings. The news got a lot worse on Jan. 6, when Marshall temporarily closed for lack of snow. As if last winter wasn’t hard enough on Marshall—what with the IRS seizure and auction, and owner Bruce Doering’s daring bid to retain ownership by liquidating his other businesses.

A quick survey of ski areas in western Montana tells the rest of the tale. Snowbowl is 80 percent open while Discovery, with 15 inches of snow at the bottom of the mountain, is only 60 percent open.

Meantime Lost Trail needs more snow before it can take advantage of its recent expansion. (Curiously, Blacktail Mountain reports “four of three” lifts open.)

We’re not talking about simple snow envy. Yes, most of the ski areas in Utah are 100 percent open. And it’s true that Lookout Pass in Idaho has 48 inches at the lodge and 75 inches at the top of the mountain. We’re not insecure about our status as a winter wonderland, although we are concerned about the missing tourist dollar.

The bigger problem is that insufficient snow for skiing means insufficient run-off during the spring and summer too. The same day Marshall closed temporarily, water supply specialists warned that snow surveys taken January 1 were the second lowest on record. If the pattern holds, experts predict spring stream flows will be about 50 percent of normal levels, hardly good news for ranchers, farmers, paddlers, anglers and foresters. Even if they’re not also skiers.


Researchers have finally confirmed what Europeans have known for decades: Americans are fat, lazy drunks.

Released to coincide with the excess of the holiday season, a new study by the Center for Disease Control in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that we’re eating and drinking to excess more than ever before. According the study, more than one in five American adults is considered obese, up 6 percent from 2000, and more than one in four Americans binge drink, up 35 percent from 1995.

The effects of too much MGD, too many chalupas and chronic inertia kill thousands every month. Alcohol abuse and obesity alone claim 400,000 Americans every year, and that number is rising fast.

Things here don’t look quite so bad when compared to the national picture. The obesity rate in Montana is about 5 percent less then the national average.

“We’re are a little below the national average, but if you look at the trend, we’re increasing at a rate very similar to the nation,” says a city/county health department representative. “I don’t have the numbers, but in Missoula we look a little better than the average.”

The health department doesn’t track binge drinking, but our friends at the Most of Us™ Campaign tell us that 4 out of 5 Montana students drink responsibly—paralleling the national average.

And in a development completely unrelated to Americans’ penchant for boozing, a study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the majority of the Americans believe it’s okey dokey for private companies to use finger or facial scans to identify people. Somebody’s got to watch our weight, and since we’re clearly not doing it ourselves, it seems that’s one more job we’re more than happy to hand over to Big Brother.

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