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Mountain High



It seems you can’t turn on the plasma TV anymore without getting an eyeful about our planet’s feverish future. Indeed, average annual temperatures have been rising around the globe, with fingers pointed either toward or away from global warming’s connection to the phenomenon’s attendant natural disasters.

Disasters come in myriad shapes and sizes, from sucking tsunamis down to the lonesome death of a plant suddenly growing in the wrong climate zone.

While the Arbor Day Foundation may not have the ability or the funding to reverse the mercury’s current trajectory, they can help you help struggling photosynthesizers in your neck of the woods. The foundation has updated the USDA’s 1990 hardiness zone map—with 10 zones based on average annual low temperatures—to reflect data collected from more than 5,000 National Climatic Data Center stations.

The new Arbor Day map—which can be viewed at—shows much of Western Montana reclassified from Zone 5 (-10? to -20?F) to Zone 6, which is on average a full 10 degrees warmer. The group’s top-10 recommended trees for these two zones are the same, so there’s no need to go ripping the old blue spruce out of the yard quite yet.

Let’s just say the day might not be too far off when you’ll want to start pricing avocado starts.

With warm thoughts and a lingering memory of creamy avocado, let’s turn now to some activities that are still zone-appropriate.

For the cross-country skier, the good folks at the Powell ranger station report at press time that the Lolo Pass ski area has measured 34 inches of snow to date, and that the trails are currently being groomed for your sliding pleasure. Parking passes are definitely a must at this point, so be aware that the Visitor Center will be closed Sun., Dec. 24, and Mon., Dec. 25.

Unlike Lolo Pass employees, who apparently have better things to do with their Yule than cater to fun-seekers, workers at the downhill ski resorts will show a little gumption and appear for their shifts, eggnog breath or not.

At Blacktail, where all runs and lifts were reported open at press time, there’s a 43-inch base at mid-mountain and plenty of hot cocoa in the cafeteria.

Snowbowl was reporting a base depth of 44 inches at the summit, which has allowed them to open 90 percent of their runs daily, except for Christmas Day, when the ’Bowl is closed. One event especially worthy of your notice is the Snowbowl Ski School Holiday session. From Wed., Dec. 27, through Fri., Dec. 29, kids of all ages and abilities can bone up on their snowplowing and stem christies. Call 549-9777 to register.

Now, as we all know, Santa has a taste for the best, be the category wine, women or skiing. When he heard that Lookout Pass is reporting the best holiday conditions they’ve seen in years, with more than 85 inches of snow at the summit, he decided to make an appearance. On Sun., Dec. 24, Skier Claus will arrive at noon to show off his hot-red ski suit. Lookout will be open daily through Mon., Jan. 3.

But wait, Kris Kringle ain’t done with Montana’s powder just yet. After spending the day at Lookout, the whole sleigh is headed to Big Mountain in Whitefish, where the jolly old soul will try not to overshadow Big Mountain’s Snow Sports School’s annual torchlight parade. The parade begins at dusk, and if you’d like Santa to present your youngster with a gift, you need to have it wrapped, labeled and dropped off at Guest Services or the General Store by 4 PM on Sun., Dec. 24. Call 862-2900.

Also at Big Mountain, which has opened 68 of its 93 marked runs, you’ll have a crack at night skiing beginning on Tue., Dec. 26, at 4 PM and continuing through year’s end.

Looking further east, Big Sky has the holiday covered on Sun., Dec. 24, with church services in the Yellowstone Conference Center at 5 PM for Catholics and 7 PM for all others. As has been the case throughout time, the spiritual fervor leads to flames in the form of the Big Sky Snowsports School’s own torchlight parade, which traverses the Ambush ski run at dusk. Finally, kids skiing Big Sky on Christmas Day can join in the Santa hunt: find the red-suited home invader on the slopes and take home a treat for your efforts.

For some, zipping down a slope is a bit too linear, too goal-oriented. These people may prefer to honor the cyclical nature of the universe with more circular activities. For them, A Carousel for Missoula provides free rides from 11 AM to 4 PM on Mon., Dec. 25.

And finally, let us consider the peregrine falcon. This smooth operator of the skies has been taken off the threatened and endangered species lists and is also a favored bird of falconers, wherein lies the dilemma. Some falconers are seeking permission to pluck young peregrines from the roughly 50 active nests in the state. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wants to hear your opinion by Mon., Jan. 15, so head to, get educated, and weigh in.

There you have it, my lovely readers—if it’s happening outside and I failed to mention it, feel free to send a virtual lump of coal along with your next outdoor event.

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