News » Opinion

Mountain High



If the weather outside feels like it’s crushing your spirit for outdoor adventure, you’re not alone. I’m sure the holiday has something to do with it, but the fact remains that my folder of events is barren this week. Let’s make the best of it by remembering some of the best parts of my own outdoor adventures this year.

Discovering the Rattlesnake Creek swimming hole located in Greenough Park was definitely a high point. While immersed in it, I operated at my summertime speed, pretty close to zero miles per hour. There really aren’t many better ways to spend a 100-degree day than sitting in a makeshift river-rock recliner mostly submerged in a cold pool in the company of either good neighbor folk or Daniel Ellsberg’s memoirs.

There are a few, of course. One is in an inner tube. I did that too, cruising the Blackfoot and Clark Fork as well as Rattlesnake Creek from the lower bridge in Greenough into downtown Missoula; it’s a quality ride and the best part is that it’s one I can walk home from.

But Montana life is not just about rivers; there are also mountains to consider. I have to confess to mostly getting up that way in the winter this year, and mostly by way of ski lifts. And there have been a couple memorable days on that score. Lost Trail had a great closing weekend last year; that’s when two friends and I enjoyed some of the best conditions April had to offer. This year’s early season was pretty great too, including some November days that I’ll probably have to pay back with pieces of my soul. I sure hope there’s more like that to come.

And there will be. Though the weather outside is inciteful—as in making me want to rise up against the weather gods and strike a blasphemous blow or two dozen—at higher elevations the precipitation is snow. That means the ski mountains should mostly be loving the weather.

That said, I have to admit to some nerves about the conditions at the bottom of Snowbowl. Often, when it rains in town, it rains up there as well. The snow report says it was 31 degrees on Tuesday morning, which means the inch of snow that fell overnight might indeed be snow. That said, the 16 inches of base they’re reporting is the same amount they were reporting last week. I’m not saying that the snow report is padded but, well, my predecessor warned me that sorting truth from fiction is one of the challenges that comes with the Mountain High chair. As for the top of the mountain, I believe there’s been a small, steady accumulation over the last few days, so the claim of 45 inches of depth seems at least plausible. Firsthand reports are welcome; I love to get the info from the people who know.

Lookout is reporting that snow is falling there and more is on the way. With temperatures hovering right at the freezing point, the moisture levels are likely to be high. But still, it’s weather that’s pushing in the right direction, at least. The official word is 20 to 46 inches on the ground.

Lost Trail seems to be high and cold enough that they’re getting snow pretty much anytime anything wet falls from the sky. Since they’re notorious for underreporting their snowpack and had such a good autumn, 50 to 60 inches on the ground seems totally plausible. Lost Trail is running on an open-daily holiday schedule, and Tuesday morning reported 14 new inches in the last week.

Big Mountain is reporting 11 to 47 inches of base with 4 to 18 inches of fresh snow in the week leading up to Tuesday, Dec. 27. They have helpfully offered the information that off-piste conditions are “crust with powder.” Stay alert and limber; you don’t want to get caught off-guard when conditions go from powder to crust.

Big Sky has precipitation falling and high temps below freezing, so there’ll be powder on the ground; if you’ve got the time to head over there, you’ll be rewarded with good conditions. Since you’re in the neighborhood, you might as well cross over to the other side of Lone Peak and check out Moonlight Basin. I’ve been wondering about what they have to offer, and this week it looks like steady snowfall and temperatures low enough to keep everything snowy.

After surveying the reported conditions in the mountains, it seems like maybe the rain that Missoula has been experiencing is not so terrible. On a personal meteorological level, it’s depressing as hell, but the water’s getting stored up where it ought to be, so even though I can’t skate on Pineview Pond or cross-country ski in the Rattlesnake, winter is still going on. Am I the only one who just wishes it would come back to town?

Add a comment