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Powder, peeps and PBR

How to survive when you’re in a world of yurts

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The wife and I arrive at the agreed-upon meeting spot approximately 11 miles from the yurts. It’s around 8 a.m. The rest of the group is already here, a few of them drinking beer and playing hacky sack next to piles of skis, boards and gear bags. The piles are immense, and those not focused on hackin’ tend to theirs: They fold and re-fold polypro, consider the need for spare vests or mittens, briefly toss aside a child’s bow-and-arrow set with suction-cup tips before deciding to strap the whole thing onto a hydration pack.

The bow and arrow are only the beginning. We also have at least 15 cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon, party pigs, an emergency bottle of Jameson, and 15 folks who had better be among our closest friends, because we’re about to share two comfortable but cozy yurts deep in the Swan Range for the weekend. And yurts are no place for jerks.

To some, a backcountry ski-and-snowboard trip spent on the slopes and inside a yurt might sound like a Spartan affair, with merely a thin canvas wall and a small woodstove separating man and woman from the elements. For our crew, it’s something completely different—we’re like a bunch of big-city yahoos headed to the infield of a NASCAR track. But no matter whether you’re a backcountry veteran gearing up for the party of the winter or a newbie enticed by pristine terrain and remote locales, yurt living requires an adjustment. Here’s an expert’s advice on how to make it.

Yurt alert:
Understand what you’re getting yourself into

Yurtski is a backcountry business that provides basic yurt lodging next to pristine backcountry terrain. It is not your average Montana winter vacation experience. There is no chairlift, no lodge or cabin, and no dining room. The owners will happily tow you and your gear 11 miles into the backcountry for a fee, and drop you near two one-room yurts surrounded by untouched terrain. If being alone in the backcountry doesn't sound appealing, Yurtski offers guides for hire. Otherwise, you’re mostly left to your own devices.

Native to the steppes of Central Asia, the traditional yurt is a circular portable dwelling covered in felt made from sheep’s wool. The modern accommodations at Yurtski—beds, woodstove, camp stove, cooking utensils, coffee percolator, coat hangers and a single lantern—are sheltered by a heavy-duty tarpaulin and rest on a raised wooden platform, rather than on the ground. There is a cool plastic peephole in the center of the conical ceiling that allows for good stargazing before a yurt full of yell-talking revelers fog it up.

Yurt alert:
Speak yurt

Like the “F” word and other epithets, the word “yurt” fulfills a variety of grammatical functions whilst yurting. For example, “yurty jokes” are popular. One can "yurt," as in, “Don't tell me how to ‘yurt.’” Also, one can down a beer “yurt quick.”

Yurt alert:
Be especially accommodating, especially inside the accommodations

Our two yurts are about three-quarters of a mile apart. The “Alpine” yurt, known as the better and more refined dwelling to our crew because it sits higher up the ridge, is where regulars with the longest Yurtski experience stay. The lower yurt, “Lupine,” is where the rookies and others in our group set up.

Up to eight people can sleep in each yurt, but that means eight of you are sharing 315 square feet. Don’t forget to subtract the square footage taken up by two bunk beds, two cots, a picnic table, a cooking table, a woodstove and woodpile, a clothes-drying rack, and the icy and/or wet spot just inside the door. In other words, don’t leave your personal five square feet of space unless you’re going outside to get more wood or snow to melt.

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