For every yin, there’s a yang. For every governor, there’s a conservationist (or two). And for every made-in-Montana forest fire, there’s an adrenaline-pumping line of corned-out summer snow to ski, board or glissade in Montana’s still-icy high country.
Three years ago, forest fires filled our valleys with a nearly unbreathable smoke, sending outdoorsy types flocking out of the lowlands to escape the haze. But anyone seeking relief in our mountains or rivers was sent home by state and federal authorities fearing that an errant butt or still-smoldering bud might ignite the ready-to-go forest duff into the next firestorm. Public land throughout Idaho and Montana was declared off-limits, and anyone craving a gulp of non-particulated air had to drive for hours just to breathe easy.
Despite recent rains indicating otherwise, those days may soon again be upon us, as the scope of this year’s fire season will be determined in the next two months. While some may waste their days fretting over the combustibility of our tinderbox state, live-for-today types have waxed their boards for summer temps, lathered on the suntan lotion and pushed high into the hills to milk the remainder of the snow season.
Most schussers hang up their boards in April, but if you’re willing to put your high-speed quad(ricep)s to work by scaling high peaks, you’ll find consistent corn throughout the state’s 9,000’+ ranges for the next few weeks. Most of our snow has been melted by an intensifying sun, but some remains tucked into steep and shady north-facing gullies and bowls. Combine this with bushwack-intensive approaches and all but the most serious ski junkies will fail to notice the 1,000 vertical foot ribbons of dirty downhill perfection hiding on the northern aspects. This leaves many lines uncut as they slowly feed mountain streams and evolve into flower-filled gullies.
Safety being the highest priority, be aware of precariously undercut cornices, wet-slab avalanches and any of a zillion hazards like rocks, bears, trees, moats, cliffs, dumb comrades, sunburn, dehydration, insects, Highway 93 and ignorance in all its devious manifestations. But with that said, here are some options to get your summer sliding.
In the Bitterroots, consider the steep bowl in the upper Baker Creek basin, the east face of St. Mary’s Peak or the moderate bowl east of the Heavenly Twins. St. Joseph’s Peak is still loaded, and turns can still be found high on the south side of many drainages, including Canyon Creek.
Some of the most moderate and accessible (read, “crowded”) summertime turns can be scored right above Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. But walk just a few miles and you’ll double your vert with 2,000’ runs in the shadows of Mount Pollack, Mount Jackson, Mount Siyeh—or pretty much anywhere in the Park that’s above 8,000 feet and facing north or east.
Another popular stash is the recently opened Beartooth Pass near Yellowstone National Park, where hitchhiking skiers and snowboarders have long made the most glorious of summer turns. The All Stars Ski Camp is currently in sesh, with big-air superstars like Tanner Hall and Glenn Plake getting sun-baked as they rip deeply packed bowls high on the Beartooth Plateau.
The snow lingers at some of Montana’s closed ski areas too, although most discourage non-paying skiers from trespassing on “their” mountain. For example, while working as a “ski host” at Big Sky Ski and Summer Resort a few years back, my boss instructed us to detain rope-cutters until authorities could charge the bums with “criminal trespass” and “theft of services.” Despite working the lifts all year (and a $100 bounty) I never nabbed even a single Montana lowbagger looking to avoid paying FIFTY-SIX DOLLARS FOR A LIFT TICKET. Still, a company spokewoman told me earlier this week that “some kids from Bozeman have already been arrested this year” after being monitored by cops waiting at the base with binoculars. Regardless, there’s corn in them thar hills, and threats from corporate Ski and Summer Resorts just serve to amplify the coup counted by junkies who’ve poached from far greater beasts.
Calling all grrrrrrrrls! GUTS! (Girls Using Their Strengths) will hold three week-long outdoor adventure camps chock full of rock climbing, rafting and backpacking from June 28 to Aug. 7. Young women age 11–17 will explore personal goals and how to effect change in communities both global and local. Scholarships are available, and the application deadline is June 13, so call Jen Euell (543-3747) to sign up your young lioness.
On June 14-15 you can join the Sierra Club (Bob Clark, 549-1142) and wildlife biologist/photographer Ryan Killackey on a six-mile hike to the wildflower-dense Lemhi Pass. After walking in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, you’ll crash at Sacajawea Campground and prepare for Sunday’s outing.
Or head out with the Rocky Mountaineers on June 14 and scale 3,000 feet in 6 miles to stand atop Pike’s Peak in the oft-overlooked Flint Creek Range (Steve Schombel, 721-4685).
The Glacier Mountaineering Society and the New Rocky Mountaineers (Jim Cossitt, 756-6818) will lead a trip toward the summit of Holland Peak. At 9,356 feet, this massive hunk commands the highest perspective in the Swans. Participants are required to have a lust for exposure, an appreciation of alpine wildflowers and the ability to safely self-arrest with an ice axe.
Send your summertime, summertime, sum- sum- summertime schedule to: firstname.lastname@example.org