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Mountain High

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Yes, lovers of snow sports, it’s finally here. As I write, tiny flakes slowly work toward filling the window well, and the forecast is for more of the same for upwards of a week or so. All the praying and plastic-lettered pleas before gas stations and grocery stores seem to have worked: We’ve got our snow. Now let’s use it.

To begin the rundown, I glance just slightly to the northwest, where the white cleavage of Montana Snowbowl provides a pleasing rest for the eye. Judging from my hawk-like Calendar vision, as well as a bit of Internet research, I’m pleased to report the presence of a 36-inch base of packed powder at the summit, with an average of one out of every three runs open for your pleasure. The shuttle bus grinds into full swing starting Fri., Dec. 26, with pickup at the Grant Creek Conoco at 8:45 AM and a return trip at 4:15 PM. $2/$3 round trip. Call 549-9777 or visit montanasnowbowl.com.

I extend my vision upwards into the sky, bending it over northern mountain ranges and arcing through clouds until Blacktail Mountain, that lovely little resort near Lakeside on the western shore of Flathead Lake, comes sharply into view. I see lift operators aglow with the enthusiasm that attended their Wed., Dec. 24, opening, and the mid-mountain snow depth of 30 inches has no doubt increased by the time you read this. All lifts are running and the lodge has vast cauldrons of hot cocoa on hand, so get up there. Call 844-0999 or visit blacktailmountain.com.

A new name slapped on a revered institution can be a painful prospect for those around during the transition, so if you’re new to the area, consider yourself lucky you never knew Big Mountain, which lies buried beneath Whitefish Mountain Resort (WMR). With the help of mirrors, telescopes and my Firefox browser, I’ve discovered the hill’s currently boasting a healthy 34-inch base at its summit, which has allowed 50 of their runs to open to guests. While night skiing is a little ways off, there’s still plenty for which to be thankful. Call 862-2900 or visit skiwhitefish.com.   

Actually, before we look elsewhere, my fore-looking mind sees an opportunity for your wee beasties at WMR: Beginning on Sat., Dec. 27, five days of Competitive Teams Holiday Camps offer intensive training in their chosen sport or sports. If the young contender’s signed up for one of WMR’s teams, the holiday camp is free. If not, it’s $80 per day. Call Katie at 862-2909 or e-mail skiboard@skiwhitefish.com.

Engaging in a bit of interstate snow peeping, I cast a glance toward Idaho, where Lookout Pass is looking positively inundated in fun granules. The nearby and inexpensive option already has a ski-loving 54-inch base at the summit, with three of fours lifts open and 28 trails ready to accept the board. It’s only going to get better, so head for those hills once you call (208) 744-1301 or visit skilookout.com.

Rotating my massive database of a brain toward the east, mine eyes perceive a pleasing lump in the distance, with happy little skiers schussing down its face. Yes, Discovery Ski Area has also officially opened itself to your kind, where the variable 18–27-inch base has allowed them to operate three lifts and open roughly half their runs. Call 563-2184 or visit skidiscovery.com.  

If you’re going to start driving east, you might as well commit some time and some cheap gas, because Bridger Bowl is not really that much farther. The Bozeman-situated resort has 43 inches of powder up top, all lifts are running and you can choose from any of their 71 available runs. In addition, their Youth Ridge Terrain Camps begin at 9 AM on Sat., Dec. 27, and offer advanced skiers and snowboarders between the ages of 12–18 the chance to practice using their transceivers (B.Y.O.T., please) and peek around at the Slushman terrain. Day one is for skiers only, while day two is for everyone. $20 doesn’t include lift ticket. RSVP 556-5662. 

Speaking of snow-based education, the good folks at Snowbowl aim to keep the learning local as they kick off their three-day Ski School Holiday session on Mon., Dec. 29. Kids of all ages and abilities are invited to sign up and learn a thing or two about shooting down steep terrain. Call 549-9777.

The final trek of the year for the Montana Dirt Girls takes place on Tue., Dec. 30, when the unstoppable ladies of the trail meet at the corner of Maurice and South avenues to take on the icy slopes of Mount Sentinel. Yak Trax or homemade traction devices are highly recommended. Visit montanadirtgirls.com.

And what better way to welcome the new year than with a touch of hypothermia? The 2009 Polar Bear Plunge, which takes place near The Raven Restaurant in Woods Bay on Flathead Lake, begins with registration at 10:30 AM on Thu., Jan. 1. A 1:45 PM parade leads the doomed down to the water’s edge for the 2 PM dunking, after which there will be much screaming, toweling and drinking into the night. To look at last year’s pictures, you’d wonder if anyone survived. Register at 837-5472, or 837-2836 on New Year’s Day. It’s free, though a souvenir shirt will run you $12.

Or just go snowshoeing.

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