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Mountain High



The Defenders of Wildlife paid out nearly $140,000 to ranchers, nationwide, whose cattle and sheep were killed by wolves in 2004, a doubling of the $68,000 paid out in 2003.

If you’re alarmed to hear that wolves killed 210 sheep last year, note that more than 17,000 were offed by coyotes during the same period. Defenders reimburses ranchers the full market value of wolf-killed livestock.

Speaking of wolves, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service divested control over canis lupus last week and will provide “maximum management” control of gray wolves to the states of Idaho and Montana. Unlike Wyoming, these states have developed wolf-management plans deemed “acceptable” to the agency. Once Wyoming’s plans are approved, the wolf will likely lose protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Last week, the National Weather Service issued a warning indicating that a series of three storms would hit the U.S. from three sides and merge into one powerful—perhaps record-setting—storm. The service also predicted human deaths would result. The prediction came true. Multiple Californians died this week as record-setting moisture pummeled the southern part of their state. Closer to home, a freak blizzard dumped 70-plus inches in the mountains near Bozeman last week, catching a group of skiers in the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge by surprise. Details are still sketchy, but an avalanche temporarily buried multiple victims and killed 24-year-old outdoor writer Blake Morstad, whose death was the third reported avalanche-related death in Montana this year. Swimmers and splashers, take note: Missoula Parks and Recreation has finished designing the splash decks slated for installation in multiple Missoula parks next summer, and they’re ready to show off their designs. Show up Jan. 13 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the McCormick Recreation Building and check out the barrier- and drowning-free designs.

The Rocky Mountaineers are teaming up with the New Rocky Mountaineers for a trip to the cold icicles of Waterton National Park for a beginner- and intermediate-friendly ice climbing trip Jan. 13–17. The sights are set on climbs in the WI 3 and WI 4 range, and participants need seconding gear at least. Call the iceman Jim Cossitt (756-6818) to chat gear, accommodations and beta a.s.a.p.

Meanwhile, Gerald Olbu is leading a ski/snowshoe overnight in the North Jocko Area between the Rattlesnake and Mission Mountain wildernesses Jan. 15–17. Although currently meager snow depths are scheduled to improve, slide danger on this trip should remain slim. The itinerary might still be flexible, so wax the boards, bake the goodies and call Olbu at 549-5769 to get in the game.

What? Still paying others to wax your boards? Then head over to REI for a free educational clinic, “Nordic Ski Waxing for beginners” Jan. 20 from 7 to 7:45 p.m. If you’ve already got skis, take them in for ski-specific tips from the experts. Call Bret Pence at 829-0432 for more info.

Big Sky, the biggest and most diverse lift-serviced mountain in the state, wants you on its slopes, and they’ve knocked $14 off their ticket prices to help get you there. Clip the coupon in this (or next) week’s Independent (copies acceptable) and take your Montana driver’s license to the ticket window for $47 tix and pray for a tram opening.

If you go this weekend, you can also hit Bridger Bowl’s 50th birthday bash Jan. 14. Tickets are only $10, and if you bring in your ticket from said birthday next Friday (Jan. 21) you’ll again ski or ride for only 10 bones. Call (800) 223-9609 for the scoop.

Snowbowl skiers have been happy lately, as consistent ankle-deep snows have kept Missoula’s ski hill covered in white. Monday’s five inches of fresh brought the summit total to 50, enough to open the entire mountain for the first time this year.

Region-wide, snowpack levels have been dismal, ranging from about 60 to 70 percent of normal. Even powder-magnet Lost Trail has been having a thin snow year, leaving their showcase Chair 4 high and dry during their Thursday–Sunday operating schedule. Discovery Basin is 75 percent open on a 30-inch base; Big Mountain reports a 62-inch base with much of the mountain open; Blacktail Mountain has (finally!) started running their chairs and 100 percent of their mountain is open; Silver Mountain is reporting a 40-inch base and is offering $10 tickets for skiers from 4 to 10 p.m. and Lookout Pass is open Thursday–Sunday on a 75-inch base.

Lastly, Toyota-owning powderhounds in need of a road trip should consider heading to Sandpoint, Idaho, Jan. 21 when anyone driving a Toyota can score a free day of skiing on Schweitzer Mountain.

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