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Mountain High

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Now that there’s a decent snowpack on the ground, it’s time to get out there and make use of it. There are the obvious recreational activities, which we’ll get to a little later, but first let’s look at an undersung option for outdoor dwelling: snow forts.

In 1978, a massive snowfall—for the East Coast, at least—left my front yard deep in snow and gave me the opportunity to dig out a party structure under an outside table. Complete with seats, shelving and a system of tunnels, my snow fort was undeniably the greatest outdoor living space I’d occupied in my few years of existence.

These days, urban snow-cave dwellers will want to build close enough to the house to make use of the wireless Internet connection for hot chocolate requests to the kitchen. Just make sure you’ve got a waterproof shelf for the laptop and ventilation to let out the steam.

In outdoor news of another sort, NASA has announced plans to begin building a permanent cold-weather fort of its own. On the moon. Construction is set to begin in the year 2020, and while no cost estimate has yet been provided, readers can rest assured that the expense will make their December heating bill pale in comparison.

Closer to home, it’s time to make use of all those ski resorts dotting the landscape. In no particular order, we begin:

At press time, Blacktail Mountain was reporting an inch of new snow in the past 24 hours, with a 32-inch base at mid-mountain. They’re holding firm to their pledge to open on Fri., Dec. 8. Montana Snowbowl had received 12 inches so far this week and reported a 39-inch base at the summit. They plan to reopen for weekend skiing on Fri., Dec 8, with 70 percent of their runs open. Lookout Pass is the big winner with all runs open, 5 inches of fresh snow at press time, and a 79-inch base at the summit. Their hill opens Thu., Dec. 7, when they begin normal Thu.-Mon. operation.

As of Tuesday, Big Mountain in Whitefish was reporting an inch of new snow and a 35-inch base depth at the summit. Thirty marked runs are open and their big news is the weather-permitting grand opening of the Fishbowl Terrain Park on Sat., Dec. 9 at 9 AM. Call 862-2900 before you gear up for that event. Discovery had more than 11 inches of new snow piled on a 21-inch summit base in the past week. They are currently opening 14 runs, about 50 percent of their total, for use on the weekends only. With five of 19 lifts operating and a 30-inch base at the summit, we can only expect bigger and better things from Big Sky. They’re really building the anticipation at Moonlight Basin, with a trace amount of early-week snow and a 12- to 20-inch base at mid-mountain, but no lifts open as of yet. Another contender for the last-in-the-pool award is Showdown, which plans to open Fri., Dec. 8, with a 34-inch summit base, but readily admits that plans may change, so call 771-1300 to check in with them.

Veering away from downhill skiing, here’s a reminder that the Nordic trails at Lolo Pass are being groomed and the Visitor Center is open Thu.-Sun. each week, though of course you can ski anytime you please. It costs $20 for a season pass and $5 for a day pass, and we’re all asked to kindly keep our mutts leashed or in the rig.

Skiing is great cross-training for running a marathon, which you can do right here next July. The Missoula Marathon is the name of the game, and there are already people getting ready. Top runners Rhea Fuller and Kiefer Hahn of Momentum Athletic Training present a seminar on Mon., Dec. 11, at 7 PM at the Good Food Store, about structuring a training timetable to ensure that you’ll make it across the finish line.

Your marathon training can begin immediately after that presentation if you race over to the Five Valleys Audubon meeting that same evening at 7:30 PM in room L14 of UM’s Gallagher Business Building. Denver Holt of the Owl Research Institute will present a slide show and lecture on his observations of the Snowy Owl, one of the largest owls and the second-largest raptor of the arctic tundra. Holt, a UM graduate, has been published in National Geographic and his owl footage has been aired on their “Explorer” television program as well, so if you’ve got a connection to the swivel-headed hunters, his presentation is for you.

In addition to the above-listed events, the early-winter woods offer a quiet, soft place to just contemplate the nature of our seasonal slowdown. And there’s been a bit of a slowdown in terms of outdoor event listings, so restore my faith and be in touch:

calendar@missoulanews.com

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