The drive to the YurtSki trailhead is a mere hour from Missoula, Montana. However, once you arrive at the trailhead consider yourself divorced from the realities of work and home and focus on the fact that you’re about to have access to thousands of acres of untracked powder.
The yurts lie in the Swan Range near the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and Mission Mountains. There are two general areas to ride once you reach the yurts (the lower Lupine yurts sits at 6,600 feet and the upper Alpine yurt lies at 6,800 feet). First, there are the backbowls made up of wide-open runs that arrive on a bench and then filter either through some fairly tight trees, dropping riders near the Alpine yurt, or down the hill below the lower yurt. Rumor has it that there is a secret “whiskey box” hidden amongst those trees, but hours of investigation have left the box unfound as of late. That said, plenty of good intermediate-level runs are to be had as you gander from one pine tree to another seeking a shot of aqua vitae while taking powder shots to the face. The other area of is made up of a massive horseshoe-shaped drainage, with two distinct sections, and perhaps a third depending on conditions.
But first we need to talk about the skin up the ridge. While not the most daunting hike in the world, it can get especially painful near the Morrel Mountain lookout tower as the switchbacks steepen and increase in number exponentially. Once on top of the ridge, though, things mellow (except for the wind now and again) and you get a majestic view of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and the Mission Mountains, plus a view of the Seeley Lake if the inversion hasn’t kicked on. That alone is worth the trip up, but now we get to ski down. If you’re into doing short laps with less vertical drop rather than long skins and more vert, then trek over to the lookout tower head down the hill through some rolling glades mixed with fairly mellow trees and flat benches. Definitely keep your speed if you’re on a snowboard or you’ll be walking in three feet of Rocky Mountain powder. The fall line pushes you toward the yurts and worse case you end up on a road, best case you’ll find yourself back on your skin track ready to head back up for another run.
Just northeast of the lookout tower is another bowl made up of burnt trees and open glades. This, too, can kick riders back toward the skin track. This area is sublime intermediate-level riding with massive build-ups of powder within the trees. For those looking to stretch those legs and get some big hikes and bigger runs, keep heading easterly to on top of the ridge. You’ll see many opportunities for good times.
All this comes with a caveat, if avalanche conditions are borderline, stick to the the trees and out of the big bowl until next month or next season.