Wisherd Ridge 


If it weren’t already so well know, it’d be hard to want to share the details about this gem of a backcountry spot. As close (if not closer) than Snowbowl Ski Area, you can be unloading your snowmobile (yep, you need a sled here) within 20 to 40 minutes of leaving your Missoula doorstep.* Hop in your trusty Subaru (sure, you can tow a sled with a Subie) and head out of town on I-90 East. Take the Bonner/Milltown exit and connect up with Highway 200 for just under 10 miles. You’ll see a parking/pull-out area on your right, on the river-side of the highway. If you see signs for “Gold Creek,” you’ve gone too far by a mile or so. This parking spot is on the highway above a spot known to many as “Rainbow Bend” and you’re likely to see another sled trailer or two parked here. The general understanding is that this is now the best place to park as long as you don’t block the area for school buses or snow plows that need to turn around. Plan accordingly.

Once geared up, you’ll ride your sled across the highway and catch the trail into the trees on the other side. Be sure and have a spotter and you may even need some assistance getting your sled across the paved highway, depending on how icy things are. It's about five miles up the main road (just follow the tracks) until you reach a steeper face heading up the ridge.

At this point you’ll probably want to just park the sled and bust out your skins. You can head up this face to cut off a big switchback in the main road (this section alone offers great turns with minimal fuss) or follow the road on foot up to the base of Bowl 1. From here you’ll want to choose your route up to the top of the (Wisherd) ridge that connects five different north/northeast-facing bowls. The first (Bowl 1) definitely sees the bulk of the ski traffic, more so than Bowls 2 through 4, with their more challenging entrance and exit routes. Bowl 5 sees significantly more wind and has a geography that makes it possible get newer sleds in and then back out to the ridge. This slope can be extremely slippery and was the scene of a massive avalanche in 2002 that took the lives of four local snowmobilers. Be careful.

If you go, be sure to bring your avalanche safety gear, a good map and everything you’d normally need for a big day trip out with a sled. Wisherd Ridge offers a nearly endless supply of deep, loosely-treed and wide open slopes. If you do your homework, there are also cliffs, rocks and some big chutes tucked into these five interconnected bowls. Keep your guard up when you’re out here as it is easy to think that the close proximity to Missoula makes this a docile backcountry option. It isn’t.

*This estimate is largely dependent on where you live in town and whether your gear is already organized/dry/etc. It’d be easy to add an hour or two to this if you need to pick anyone up and/or stop for batteries/gas/sandwiches/snacks/beer/etc….or turn back for forgotten goggles/keys/etc.

Ross Peterson

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This is a public observation from missoulaavalanche.org for Sunday, February 10th, including Bowl 1, Bowl 3, and the north aspect terrain off the ridge between Bowl 3 and Bowl 4. Weather was sunny and warm in the morning, cooling down and becoming cloudy with mild flurries in the afternoon. Minimal wind. 0-3 inches of new snow.

"No transport occurring while we were there, but signs of strong winds were everywhere. Kind of par-for-the-course at Wisherd ridge, with wind scouring on the ridge tops and wind loading in the bowls. Lots of wind crust in exposed locations. Big cornices, especially above Bowl 4.

"We dug near the top of Bowl 3, on an east aspect around 7000′. The snow was quite well consolidated, and looked to be wind slab atop wind slab as far down as we dug. We had failures at CT12Q3 on a new snow interface at 15cm, CT15Q2 at around 35cm on an interface between wind slabs, and CT(mid-twenties)Q(1-2)at 85cm on the now deeply buried facet layer that has been discussed in recent advisories. The top two layers failed in extended column at ECT15Q3N and ECT19Q2N, respectively. The facet layer at 85cm did not fail in the ECT, but happily propogated column-wide when shovel shear was applied. In softer snow on a north aspect, a member of our party ski-cut a sluff about 10cm deep on a mid-thirties slope that would have been large enough to entrain a skier, if that skier were in the wrong place."

Thanks, Doug Brinkerhoff!

Posted by Jessica Murri on 02/17/2013 at 8:02 AM
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