Montana Headwall

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WINTER 2013

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On Belay

6

Contributors

8

Wild Things 42 Frost bites

Grub 44 Head Lines 10

Head Out 52 Warming up for winter

BREAKING TRAIL Responsibility shifts between a father and son

WHITE NOISE One way to survive an avalanche

Head Gear 54 Head Light 22

Rolling fatties on snow

Cover photo by Chad Harder

Winterizing your gear

The Crux 62 Head Shots 24

Thumbing your way

Our readers’ best

Head Trip 36 Blown away at Two Medicine

EXECUTIVE EDITOR GENERAL MANAGER ASSOCIATE EDITOR PHOTO EDITOR ADVERTISING DIRECTOR PRODUCTION DIRECTOR CIRCULATION MANAGER DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL PROJECTS CONTRIBUTORS

COPY EDITOR ART DIRECTOR PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS ADVERTISING REPRESENTATIVES FRONT DESK EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

STAFF

Skylar Browning Lynne Foland Brad Tyer Cathrine L. Walters Randy Rickman Joe Weston Adrian Vatoussis Christie Anderson

Alex Sakariassen, Lisa Densmore, Aaron Teasdale, Robin Carleton, Ari LeVaux, Dave Reuss, Justin Steck, Nate Schweber, Simon Peterson Brad Tyer Kou Moua Jenn Stewart, Jonathan Marquis Tami Allen, Steven Kirst, Alecia Goff, Sasha Perrin Lorie Rustvold Matt Gibson

317 S. Orange St. • Missoula, MT 59801 406-543-6609 • Fax 406-543-4367 www.montanaheadwall.com

Please recycle this magazine

Montana Headwall (ISSN 2151-1799) is a registered trademark of Independent Publishing, Inc. Copyright 2013 by Independent Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinting in whole or in part is forbidden except by permission of Independent Publishing, Inc. Views expressed herein are those of the author exclusively. And yeah, we’re having fun.

Cathrine L. Walters

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Big Sky buys Moonlight Casey Anderson survives the “Wild” Set for Sochi Skiing the Last Best Place

Broth of fresh air

Contemplating in Cooke City

CONTENTS

INSIDE

16 30 46

GO IT ALONE


ON BELAY mtheadwall.com

I

visited Whitefish Mountain on a perfect spring day last March. Blue sky cradled the sun like a yolk in a robin’s egg, warming the snow to viscous perfection by midday. I’d never managed to catch the ’Fish with clear skies before. Gazing across the Flathead River and seeing the edge-to-edge horizon of Glacier National Park left me awed. Every time the Big Mountain Express carried me back up to the summit, I wanted to linger and drink it all in, as if I might be able to retain some of the grace, majesty and serene composure of the scene by looking at it just a little longer. Moments like those form the basis of my love for Montana’s outdoors. I created Montana Headwall to share some of it with the wider world. The challenge, of course, is to translate all the little prosaic details of an outdoor experience into compelling morsels for the reader, connecting the landscape to action and action to soul, trying to make it all matter. It ain’t easy, mostly because we spend the bulk of our time outside preoccupied with being tired, hungry, lost, cold or otherwise unable to break the grip of the quotidian. That’s why I’m so pleased with this issue’s contributions from Drew Pogge and Aaron Teasdale. In “Breaking trail,” Pogge connects with his father during a backcountry outing to Bell Lake Yurt,

and discovers that his days as a dependent have ended. From now on, the old man will be relying more and more on the younger. Teasdale’s trip, “Go it alone,” takes us to Cooke City for a moody excursion into the Beartooth backcountry. He struggles with some primal doubts along the way—the big questions, like “why”—then sticks the landing with a wellgrounded appreciation of the moment. Profound without overreaching, Teasdale pulls off a daring feat. Elsewhere in this issue, Justin Steck recounts his terrifying tumble down Elk Mountain in an avalanche that severely injured him and could have easily killed him, changing his perspective on backcountry hazards. Meanwhile, Robin Carleton discovers the rewards of conservative decision-making while touring safely across frozen Two Medicine Lake, instead of testing the high country’s unstable snowpack. Of course, at the end of all things, an inevitable moment that’s contemplated to a certain degree by all of our feature writers in this issue, we know there’s really no safe nor sorry. But there’s still a choice we can make: to live this winter season, and all the seasons to come, as fully as life allows. When you’re done reading Headwall, get out and play in the snow. Matt Gibson Editor-in-chief

Chad Harder


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CONTRIBUTORS

Drew Pogge Drew lives in Bozeman where he crafts stories, teaches college writing and plays outside. He is former editor-in-chief of Backcountry Magazine, partner/editor at Stokelab Magazine and editor-at-large at Outside Bozeman Magazine. His work has won numerous awards and appears regularly in titles like Outside, Mountain, Skiing, National Parks Magazine and Backpacker. Skiing has taken him to Alaska, Yukon, Ecuador, Iceland and Labrador. This is his first story for Headwall.

Lisa Densmore An award-winning writer and photographer and the author of seven books, Lisa contributes to more than 30 regional and national magazines. From her base camp in Red Lodge, she frequently ventures into the backcountry to cover myriad outdoor adventure and conservation topics. During the winter, she would much rather be skiing than milking rattlesnakes.

Nate Schweber Nate is a freelance writer from Missoula now living in Brooklyn, N.Y. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, the Village Voice and Budget Travel Magazine. He is the author of Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park: An Insider’s Guide to the 50 Best Places. He also sings for a band called the New Heathens.

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Aaron Teasdale Whether on skinny skis, three-pins or powder planks, Aaron is in his happy place whenever he’s in the backcountry gliding across snow. The award-winning Missoulabased writer and photographer recently received the silver medal for best environmental story of 2013 in the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition from The Society of American Travel Writers. Thanks to an epiphany in Cooke City, he’s currently traveling for the year through Central America with his wife and two sons.


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BIG SKY BUYS MOONLIGHT

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Bigger skiing, prices to match The fate of Moonlight Basin has been a worrisome puzzle for skiers—and for nearby Big Sky Resort—for years. Wracked with financial woes, Moonlight filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. Since then the question has remained unresolved: Who will end up with the resort, its amenities and its roughly 1,900 skiable acres southwest of Bozeman? The answer, made official in October 2013, is Big Sky Resort. Boyne Resorts, the owner of Moonlight’s expansive neighbor, teamed up this year with CrossHarbor Capital Partners LLC, owner of the adjacent high-end Yellowstone Club, to purchase Moonlight and cement its role in what Boyne bills as the biggest skiing in America. “It was inevitable,” says Sheila Chapman, public relations manager for Big Sky. “People saw that kind of future.

The Moonlight acquisition had been rumored for months, sparking concerns about escalating ticket prices at an area that last season charged as little as $66 for a day pass and $549 for an adult season pass. Chapman assures skiers that passes already purchased for the coming season remain valid. Those Moonlight passes, however, will not cover the connected Big Sky terrain—joint access first marketed by

make a final ruling on that plan. This year’s rates for the full-access Biggest Skiing in America pass range from $1,298 to $1,798. Chapman adds that the majority of employees currently working at Moonlight will be retained. While day pass skiers are losing the ability to ski on the cheap at Moonlight alone, Chapman says the situation could have been much worse. An outside party like Vail

Big Sky and Moonlight Basin now boast a total of 23 chairlifts and 10 surface lifts— trumping Vail and contributing to a lift capacity of 29,000 skiers per hour. the two resorts in 2005—unless skiers pay an additional $549 to $679 by Dec. 31 for an upgraded “Biggest Skiing in America” season pass. According to the resort’s October announcement, single-day passes this season will cover the entire Big Sky/ Moonlight/Spanish Peaks complex for $99.

Resorts could have purchased the mountain and put up “an iron curtain,” for instance. Chapman points out that Moonlight isn’t the only local resort recently plagued by financial hardship. “In a community where there were five major players—Lone Mountain

Glenniss Indreland

They knew somebody was going to have to—whether it be Boyne or CrossHarbor or somebody else—someone was going to have to come in and make Moonlight a viable business.” Boyne and CrossHarbor partnered to execute a similar purchase of the lift-connected private resort community Spanish Peaks for $26.1 million earlier this year. Combined, with an estimated 5,700 skiable acres, Big Sky is now the largest ski resort in the United States, second in North America only to British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb complex.

Day pass and Biggest Skiing in America pass holders will have the option to ski anywhere on the complex, including the North Summit Snowfield. Those with Moonlight- or Big Sky-specific passes must continue to honor existing area boundaries. Chapman says Boyne and CrossHarbor are talking now about how much passes will cost next year. “They’re trying to work on making it very affordable,” she says. According to marketing director Lyndsey Owens, Big Sky hopes to maintain a separate season pass for just the Moonlight area after this winter, but the resort has yet to

Montana Headwall Page 10 Winter 2013

[Ranch], Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks, Moonlight and Big Sky Resort—four out of the five have filed for bankruptcy,” she says. “Big Sky is the only place that has not.” (Lone Mountain Ranch operated as a privately owned guest ranch near Big Sky until 2007, when it was acquired by the luxury vacation club Everlands for $16.5 million. The recession hit Everlands hard a year later, and Lehman Brothers—a major financier of the club—eventually acquired it as well. A California corporation was reportedly scheduled to close on purchase of Lone Mountain in October 2013).


When it comes to the Big SkyMoonlight merger, Chapman says, Big Sky doesn’t discount the local skiers who have helped build Moonlight’s reputation, but the resort’s upbeat assertions haven’t calmed all tempers. After news of the acquisition broke, skiers took to Moonlight’s Facebook page to lament skyrocketing pass prices and the potential loss of their mountain’s identity. One shared a mock logo reading “R.I.P. MLB.” Another claimed Boyne is “killing Moonlight Basin.”

“There’s definitely a lot of people that are put off,” says Eric Newman, founder of Bozeman-based ski manufacturer Seneca Boards. Newman has come around to the view that the merger is a “beneficial thing,” but he has spoken to other locals who are concerned about losing “their private little slice of heaven.” Those frustrations haven’t boiled over in a big way yet, Newman adds. In the event that they do, the resort is trying to keep its options open beyond the coming season. Alex Sakariassen

Lonnie Ball

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GRIZZLY GUY

When you claim your best friend is an 800-pound grizzly bear named Brutus, people might question your survival prospects, not to mention your sanity. But Casey Anderson, a fifth-generation Montanan who grew up in Helena, takes the skepticism in stride. He has used his long-standing companionship with the aforementioned male grizzly and his passion for the outdoors to launch a freewheeling television show titled “America The Wild.” The show, which airs on Nat Geo Wild, is a documentarian’s take on the complexities, the habits and the beauty of America’s wildlife, with a major focus on the Montana landscape. Brutus makes regular cameos. Now in its fourth season, “America the Wild” has brought Anderson face-toface with cougars, bears, bats, moose and

of his life, and he inspired me to start my own sanctuary. My No. 1 mission through all this education—the TV show and the sanctuary— is to help create a world where there will be no wild animals in captivity anymore. That is how this has evolved for me. You often work with threatened species in sensitive ecosystems. What is the most pressing conservation problem we face today? CA: I’m not David Attenborough, and he can get away with saying this, but the answer is the overpopulation of humans. It is the honest, straightforward truth to me. There are 7 billion of us and counting. There is only so much space and so many resources, and as long as people put themselves first, the rest of the natural world is going to

Rick Smith/Grizzly Creek Films

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HEAD LINES

Casey Anderson survives “America The Wild”

“Here’s my advice: Have a sense of adventure. Realize that the scary stuff is mostly sensationalized. Just go, man!” more. He’s been bitten, scratched and transformed into a national backcountry celebrity. So far, he has survived it all.

suffer for it. And that’s it. That is the problem. Everything else trickles from there.

How did you meet Brutus and how does he influence your work? Casey Anderson: Brutus was born in a wildlife sanctuary where I was consulting, 11 years ago now. The wildlife park couldn’t take him on anymore because of their population, so he was basically on a dead-end street to be euthanized. I got to know him during the first couple weeks

What have you learned from working so closely with animals? CA: For some reason, our culture and our society have made bears and deer and moose and elk all very one-dimensional. And because we see them as lacking in complexity, we don’t respect them.

Rick Smith/Grizzly Creek Films

One of the gifts that I was given by Brutus is this window into the soul of an animal. He is complex and individual. He has a personality. And if he is so complex and individual, then why not other grizzly bears? Why not other animals on some level? If we can show people those complexities and personalities, if we can show them how beautiful the wild world is, on the inside equally with the outside, I think then people will want to care more. What are you trying to accomplish with your show? CA: The world of TV is tough, because you are going up against Xbox and “Duck Dynasty” and Honey Boo Boo. I am trying to make the wild world cool, so that I have the ability to compete with those things. So that little Timmy, who is playing “Grand Theft Auto,” sees some dude walking around on TV with a bear and he gets captivated. So he realizes that there are real superheroes in the world, like grizzly bears and wolverines and mountain lions. Jimmy Tobias


PAGE TURNER

Ski porn for your coffee table photographs come complete with text— compiled by Brian Hurlbut—highlighting the histories, the bruises and the bragging rights of our favorite local hills. These stories frequently read with the lightness of fresh powder, as when Hurlbut raves about Lookout Pass’ “stellar snow conditions” or Big Sky’s “non-existent lift lines.” He sums up the Yellowstone Club’s renowned bankruptcy saga as “a few ups and downs,” but doesn’t shy away from calling Snowbowl “probably the most polarizing ski area in this book.” No matter. A coffee-table book, like a ski-porn flick, is no place for heady discourse. We need only stunning visuals and write-ups that remind us why we love this sport, in this state, at these mountains. And while the inclusion of Wyoming’s Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee at the end seems a tad obligatory, the chapter dedicated to skiing on the Beartooth Pass was a pleasant surprise. Reminds me of another trip a few years back … Alex Sakariassen

Montana Headwall Page 13 Winter 2013

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ing on the bar at the Snow Creek Saloon. It’s a weekend I don’t think about much in the off-season these days. But something shook loose in my mind while flipping through the pages of photographer Craig W. Hergert’s new book, Montana: Skiing the Last Best Place. That’s the funny thing about photos; one glimpse of a slopeside deck takes you back. Fast. Hergert has succeeded in finding a new niche for ski porn: the coffee table. He’s assembled a vast array of images from Montana’s 17 ski areas, from breathtaking aerials to sweeping mountain vistas to snapshots of those little details that make each resort quirky and distinct. These pictures remind a Montana skier exactly where he’s been, and where he might want to be when the snow falls again. Hergert’s

HEAD LINES

Years ago, I rode plowed pavement to Red Lodge Mountain in a Subaru crammed with friends and rank with skiboot stink. We sought a weekend on terrain I hadn’t shredded since middle school, and we spent it slugging beers at the Bierstube, mowing down pizza at Bogart’s and danc-


WINTER OLYMPICS

1. WHAT’S NEW? The 2014 Olympic Winter Games feature eight new sports: ski slopestyle, ski halfpipe, snowboard slopestyle, snowboard parallel special slalom, women’s ski jumping, biathlon mixed relay, luge team relay and a figure skating team event. A few of these events could open up spots for Montanans. 2. SKI AND SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE Ski and snowboard slopestyle involve competitors navigating a terrain park while also performing various aerial maneuvers. ESPN named Whitefish’s Maggie Voisin, 14, ski slopestyle’s rookie of the year in September, bolstering her stature on the U.S. Freestyle Team and improving her chances for Sochi. Seven-time X Games medalist Jamie Anderson is the favorite in the debut of

on the 2013 U.S. Freeskiing Halfpipe Rookie Team, but the Sochi event is expected to be dominated by 2012 world champion Maddie Bowman, 2013 world champion David Wise and 10-time X Games medalist Simon Dumont. 4. THE WILSONS Butte’s Bryon Wilson earned a bronze medal in men’s moguls at the 2010 Winter Games and hopes to return to the medal stand in Sochi. He spent last year continuing to recover from reconstructive knee surgery, but still managed to win his first World Cup event and finished the season ranked 10th. Bryon’s younger brother, Bradley, who was profiled in last winter’s Headwall, is also aiming for a spot in

Opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics take place Friday, Feb. 7, but the 18 days of competition actually begin Feb. 6. snowboard slopestyle, but a Montana native may be in the running. Erika Vikander grew up in Bozeman and now calls Colorado home, and has worked her way into contention for the U.S. team. She qualified second for the U.S. Open before finishing 16th in the main event, despite competing with a broken tailbone. The 26-person U.S. Olympic Ski Team will be announced Jan. 19. 3. SKI HALFPIPE This new sport features athletes performing various tricks between two concave ramps. Missoula’s Darian Stevens competed

Sochi. He won rookie of the year last September and a gold medal at the 2012 Junior World Championships. 5. HEATHER MCPHIE Bradley Wilson says McPhie is like an older sister to him on the U.S. Ski Team. The Bozeman native, who is the first moguls skier sponsored by Red Bull, finished fourth in last year’s World Cup and won her first U.S. National title. 6. CURLING CRAZE Every four years this curious sport appears to capture the attention of casu-

Heather McPhie

limited to the Winter Olympics, though. Three curling clubs call Montana home: one each in Missoula, Billings and Whitefish. All three hold instructional classes and host full winter seasons. Learn more at whitefishcurling.com, missoulacurlingclub.com and the Billings Curling Club’s Facebook page. 7. BIG SKY’S SERBIA CONNECTION U.S. Olympic trials may be ongoing, but Rocky Mountain College student and ski team member Andrija Vukovic already knows he’s going to Sochi. The Serbian native and current Billings resident will be one of two competitors for his country’s ski team.

Bonus coverage Nick Davis followed his fall Headwall feature on what it takes to produce outdoor television with additional behind-the-scenes coverage from some of the genre’s best shows. Read stories of NFL Hall of Fame running back John Riggins showing up for a hunting shoot in Lycra pants—“dressed like a ballerina”—and a Texas wrangler wrestling a bull elk to the ground for the cameras.

HEAD ONLINE

Only at First float Brooks Johnson isn’t ready to embrace winter just yet. Before he waxes his snowboard, the recent UM graduate reminisces about his first-ever kayaking adventure on Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. His maiden voyage involves plenty of beer and a shortage of sunscreen.

al fans and pop culture. “The Simpsons,” for instance, dedicated an entire episode to it. Curling’s popularity isn’t

PLUS:

Montana Headwall Page 14 Winter 2013

• Planning a fall trip? Explore Headwall’s exclusive places database for more than 600 detailed descriptions and reviews of parks, peaks, resorts and more. • Like Headwall on Facebook to keep track of the latest news, condition reports and exclusive Headwall contests.

Eric Schramm

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Seven Montana storylines to follow before Sochi



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he avalanche came, as avalanches do, suddenly and with unstoppable force. My friend turned away in an effort to shield himself from its violence, but it was futile. He was grabbed as if by giant hands and dragged down the rock-lined couloir he’d been climbing. The wet spring snow solidified like cement as he came to a stop. Luckily he was on top. Bruised and scared but unbroken and alive, he stumbled out of the mountains that day under his own power. Chastened and still sore from his beating—“I truly thought I was going to die,” he said shakily—he was in no hurry to ski big mountains again anytime soon. Which made our upcoming backcountry trip to a new skier’s cabin in the mountains outside Cooke City problematic. Long known to the powder cognescenti as one of the premier winter-adventure destinations in the Northern Rockies, Cooke City—elevation 7,608, population 140—is renowned both for the immensity of its mountain terrain and the car-burying reliability of its snowpack. In a region popular with out-of-state snowmobilers, the new

Woody Creek cabin sits in an old mining claim on the edge of the overlooked and snowmobile-free North Absaroka Wilderness south of town. I’d skied in the area once, before the cabin was built, and its labyrinth of snow-choked 10,000-foot peaks has lived in my dreams ever since. After a last-minute search for a new partner proved fruitless, I did what any self-respecting skier with reservations at a backcountry cabin would do: I went alone.


A solo trip to Cooke City puts risk and reward into perspective Story and photos by Aaron Teasdale


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he drive to Cooke City in winter leads through a series of progressively more remote landscapes: the Paradise Valley, into Yellowstone at Gardner, through the wolf-and-bison-packed Lamar Valley, until the road snakes into the steep folds of the Absaroka Mountains and simply ends. Or at least the plowing does. Highway 212 continues its march up to the sky-scratching Beartooth Plateau and beyond, but in winter the road is buried under snow, leaving Cooke City a dead-end town with the feel of a frontier. Its three hotels, single bar and lone gas station are kept afloat by adventure-hungry skiers and snowmobilers who come for unrivaled access to the high mountains. I pulled into town on a Sunday afternoon to meet Ben Zavora, skiing fanatic and founder of Beartooth Powder Guides, in his office at the High Country Motel. We put climbing skins to skis in the snow-covered alley behind the motel and headed straight into the forest rising from the edge of town. Threading between centuries-old trees, we skied three miles to the Woody Creek Cabin, tucked into a small clearing in the timber about a quarter-mile from the Wyoming state line and the wilderness boundary. Zavora built the cabin last summer with timber felled on site, expressly to host skiers. Motorized access is not allowed. I unshouldered my pack of food and gear and Zavora showed me the woodstove, propane cookstove, outhouse and snow-gathering spot for melting drinking water. “The nice thing about coming into a place like this is that it narrows your focus down to the simple things,” Zavora said sagely. “There are no distractions.” Falling snow gathered on our shoulders as we headed out for the afternoon and skied alongside Hayden Creek, slipping between snowbanks the height of men. Trees bent in the wind as we climbed.

Cracks in the barreling clouds allowed only glimpses of the surrounding peaks. Even with limited visibility we saw possible ski lines everywhere. “People are so into the motorized skiing that they don’t bother coming over here,” Zavora said. “So when you stay at the cabin they’re like your own mountains.” As we climbed through a whitebark pine forest, Zavora pointed out “millennial trees,” their huge, 1,000-year-old trunks hard as stone, perfectly spaced for skiing. I wondered how many human lives they’d seen, how many skiers had slid between their gnarled trunks. Endangered by pine beetles and climate change, these ancient high-elevation trees have one of their last strongholds in these high, cold mountains. We were grateful for their shelter as we stopped climbing below an exposed 10,100foot ridge. It was mid-April, but at 19 degrees with 40 mph winds it could just as easily have been mid-January. We put on more layers for the descent, grinningly clacked our poles, and began sliding downward into that familiar ethereal glide. Sluff spilling around our legs, we floated and whooped through the whitebarks, which insulated us from avalanches, and carved boot-top powder back to the creek bottom. An avalanche roared like thunder down an unseen mountain as we skied the two miles back to the cabin. As we stopped to listen, Zavora told me about the Bozeman man killed in a slide last New Year’s Day, just around the bend on East Hayden Creek. Zavora, a member of the local search-and-rescue team, said he woke that morning, looked at the heavy load of fresh, unstable snow on the mountains, and said grimly, “Someone’s going to die today.” Then it was just a matter of waiting for the call. Zavora headed back to Cooke City that night, but his friend and co-guide at BPG, Beau Fredlund, skis in to the cabin by headlamp to show me


around the next day. A ski bum of the highest order, Fredlund is renowned for heading out solo and skiing dramatic, committing lines. When the snow melts off here, he flips hemispheres and spends late summer and fall skiing the mountains of New Zealand. His avalanche training may be deep, but even he is not immune to the whims of the mountains. He’d recently posted a picture on his blog, The Cooke City Chronicle, of a fracture he’d kicked off while soloing a huge, exposed face. In his typically taciturn style, he described the experience in a single word: “humbling.” Avalanches, like skiing itself, are teachers, forcing us to continually examine our perception and judgment. Death is the ultimate form of humility. You may believe a slope is safe because you want it to be safe, then a slab pops and you realize you were wrong. In these snow-covered alps we learn to constantly question, to never assume we know, to let go of agendas and egos and accept what the mountains give us. Every serious backcountry skier has avalanche stories. Everyone knows someone who has died. The question is, why do we keep coming back? What is it about skiing wild snow that causes people to devote their lives to it in the face of obvious and potentially fatal risk?

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he next day we climbed through the whitebarks of Woody Ridge and into the treeless alpine zone, where Fredlund expertly stitched together lower-angle ramps and routes until we gained the scoured ridgeline. Below us, on the ridge’s forested west side, were avalanche paths lined up like white, 1,800-foot columns. It was our own backcountry ski area. There was over a foot of fresh snow underfoot and more falling—ripe conditions for slides, but Fredlund knew these mountains and their snowpack intimately.

Entrusting my fate to his judgment, we picked one of the alpine alleys and dropped in. At one point on that day’s first run, I was charging into 1,000 vertical feet of perfect virgin powder that plunged to the valley bottom when all thoughts and concerns were swept away with the snow crystals in my vapor trail. Whitebarks blurred past, my breath pumped rhythmically, and the world was reduced to the dynamic weightlessness of surfing through powder. My bloodstream turned to adrenaline. Nothing else existed. It was one of those you-are-the-universe moments of single-minded exultation that all skiers seek in the backcountry. That moment alone made the day, and the trip, instantly worthwhile.

I

had no plans the following day other than to kick back and enjoy the cabin. With Fredlund back in town and no other skiers due to arrive, I shoveled snow off the deck, chopped wood outside, gathered more snow for water and filled the lanterns with fuel. Then I made five-grain hot cereal with dried cranberries and four slices of bacon, double my usual portion, because why the hell not? It took me a while to reach the actual kick-back phase because the biggest problem with not having to do anything is getting over the feeling that you should be doing something. Eventually, though, thanks to the total lack of distractions, I managed to settle down. Sitting by the crackling woodstove with a cup of steaming tea, I reflected and ruminated on what’s important, on worrying less and enjoying more, on what I want to do with the time I have left in this life. A vole that had taken up residence in the cabin sniffed around my used plate. I didn’t mind. It was like a little companion, making its way in the world just like me, like all of us.


“The nice thing about coming into a place like this is that it

narrows your

focus down to the simple things. There are no distractions.”

Watching the logs slowly succumb to flame, I came to insights on my future. (Take my kids out of school for a year and travel!) I thought of the sign on the road near Gardner that helpfully points out its position halfway between the equator and the North Pole. Which was another reminder—along with the sun and the stars and the moonlight that bathed the meadows I would ski through later that night—that the cabin and the vole and I were all on a great orb hurtling through space. In the blink of a cosmic eye we’ll all be gone; even this planet and its glorious mountains will someday cease to exist. But while we’re here milling about on its surface, the question remains: What do we do with our time? Outside the window, beyond the trees, two peaks rose skyward: Republic Mountain and its extension, The Fin. As the angle of sunlight shifted over the course of the afternoon I kept noticing what looked like a fracture line on The Fin, named for its resemblance to a mountain-size shark’s fin. I finally realized it was a fracture line. Looking at it through binoculars, I recognized it from Fredlund’s blog as the slide he’d set off a few days earlier. It bent my mind to imagine him up there skiing that face alone. Humans used to routinely make decisions with our lives in the balance, relying on skill and cunning to survive. Now, in the modern world, we’re insulated from most of life’s physical trials. We need remarkably little skill and cunning. Life is easy. Life is handed to us. But there are those of us who still crave elemental challenges. Like Fredlund. Maybe like you. In ages past we were the scouts, the roamers, even the warriors. We learned to read mountains, weather, ourselves. We developed strength and skill. Today our civilized society has no need for scouts. No need to climb high points, to read mountains. Some of us, however, choose to ski.

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he next morning was my last at the Woody Creek Cabin. I hated to leave my wood-heated serenity pod, but what really creased my brow was thinking about the images I’d captured for my story—or more accurately the images I’d failed to capture. Storm clouds had smothered the views when I was skiing with Zavora and Fredlund, and I hadn’t bothered to shoot pictures of myself sitting around the cabin pondering the meaning of life. Which left me with a problem. I was slated to deliver an article on one of the most scenic backcountry skiing destinations in North America and I had virtually no pictures. I tried to embrace a worry-less/enjoy-more philosophy, but my stress simmered beneath the surface. Not that it was going to stop me from getting another day of skiing in. As I grabbed my pack to head out, a group that had reserved the cabin after me appeared from the trees, skiing in with pulks and big packs. We chatted briefly, I mentioned where I was going, and then I set out. I stopped frequently under sunny skies to ogle the plethora of ski lines above Hayden Creek. With all the steep, twisting, vertical lanes and gaps leading between walls of rock and through openings in the whitebark forest, it was as if the mountains had been designed by a benevolent god just for skiers. The calls of Clark’s nutcrackers rang through the air as I contemplated the snowpack, wind and sun, calculating what would be safe to ski and what wouldn’t. Yes, there was the potential to die here—I was in the mountains, after all—but a careful reading of the terrain and good decision-making could mitigate that. It was invigorating to consider, like a giant alpine chess game. While examining fresh porcupine tracks, I heard the approaching voices of the group from the cabin. After a chat about objectives we agreed to ski together. They were a sporting group of five friends from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, including Melissa Alder, owner of West Yellowstone’s Freeheel and Wheel bike and ski shop. Together we skied past the site of the fatal avalanche from the previous New Year’s Day and carefully made our way up toward Pilot and Index peaks. As we climbed, Alder’s husband, Dan, and I talked about the terrain and the myriad possible ski lines, some of them puckeringly technical. As the most experienced member of his group, he was their de facto leader. The latest snow was bonding well, and we decided that all of the surrounding big-mountain terrain was open for business. “This is why I picked this time of year, to come in when things are stable and learn the terrain,” Dan said, sharing his philosophy for approaching the backcountry.


“I believe in achieving success in the mountains through skill, not luck. You get to know an area and work your way up, build your skills. It’s a long life. You can’t rush anything out here.” We may not have rushed, but we did gain a knife-edged ridge with views across a world of summits, Yellowstone Park rippling away into the distance. There were so many sharp mountains puncturing the sky in every direction I could imagine what it would feel like to be in the mouth of a giant shark. We spent the rest of the day marveling at the peaks, carving our signatures down north-facing powder fields, high-fiving with gusto, and debating the potential risk and reward of frighteningly exposed lines that we ultimately opted to save for another year, or another life. Adding to the day’s greatness, my new friends even let me grab a few photographs of them in action. At afternoon’s end I found myself standing at 10,400 feet on the flank of Pilot Peak, a long, 40-degree field of untouched snow below me. I stood there for a few minutes, lost in the view deep into the Beartooth Plateau. It felt like the whole world was below me. As the shadows of fast-moving clouds raced across the mountains, I thought about the man who’d died in the drainage below, about my friend who’d been caught in the avalanche, and about the mountain life I’ve chosen to lead. Yeah, I could die up here, but I know of no better, more soul-satisfying place to celebrate the time I have in this world. These wild mountains grant me adventure and vigor, solace and peace. The truth is that I don’t know if backcountry skiing is worth the risk. All I can say is that as I stood on that mountain and plunged down its snowy face, I’d never felt more alive.

Montana Headwall Page 21 Winter 2013


HEAD LIGHT by Cathrine L. Walters

To shoot and protect Weatherproofing your gear during wicked Montana winters

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y partner and I had just hiked nine miles to our campsite at Cosley Lake in Glacier National Park when we noticed an approaching dark cloud that threatened rain and snow. We moved fast to erect the tent and as soon as the last stake was driven into the ground, the sky opened up and we dashed inside. The temperature started to drop, as did my stomach. I was on assignment, with photos still to take, and had no way to recharge my camera’s dying batteries. I decided to do the next best thing: I ejected the one from my camera, grabbed the spare and climbed into my sleeping bag. Long, frigid days in the outdoors can be a drain on battery juice, but snuggling up and keeping them warm will extend their life and keep you shooting in bone-chilling conditions. Preparation during winter months is key. Before you set out, it’s critical to make sure

your batteries are fully charged. I usually take two; one in my camera, the other in a pocket close to my body. If I don’t plan on shooting right away, I place both batteries in my pocket and don’t pull one out until I need it. Placing them in a Ziploc bag will ensure that they stay dry. It’s also important to keep your gear dry, especially if you’re out in snow, sleet or rain. I store my CompactFlash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) photo cards in a waterproof container to keep them free of moisture and protect them from accidental drops into snow or puddles. I like to carry multiple lenses on snowy expeditions, even if they do add weight to my pack. Wide-angle lenses are great for grand backdrops, and a telephoto zoom will bring viewers closer to your action. If you find yourself needing to swap lenses in a snow storm, it’s best to find a sheltered area

Montana Headwall Page 22 Winter 2013

or wait until you’re indoors to make the switch. This helps prevent moisture from getting inside the camera body. A good chamois is also helpful for removing any water droplets that may accumulate on the glass. After spending long days out in the cold, visions of warm fires and hot furnaces begin to fill my head. But before heading to any heated oasis I place my camera in a plastic bag and leave it on an unheated porch, near a cool window or in a cold corner of the room for a few hours. This allows the camera to warm up slowly, and condensation to settle on the surface of the bag instead of on your expensive electronics. Before you turn in for the night remember to charge your batteries once again—or take ’em to bed with you if charging is not an option. When you wake up you’ll be ready to keep shooting up a storm, even if you’re in one.



HEAD SHOTS mtheadwall.com Evan Ruddell skinning up the south ridge of East St. Mary's Peak in the Mission Mountains. ÂľCanon PowerShot SD 1400IS, 28mm, auto mode.


Colin Cornberg


David Hobbs catches some air while tele-skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. ÂľCanon EOS 5D Mark II, 85mm, 1/2000, f/8, ISO 200.


Cannon Colegrove

Camping out after a day of snowshoeing in the Scapegoat Wilderness Area. µCanon EOS 7D, 17mm, 1/15, f/3.2, ISO 1600.

We know you’re out there, having epics and snapping photos. Instead of condemning them to anonymity in hard-drive purgatory, go for the glory and send your best images to us at hweditor@mtheadwall.com. Include the location, your name, the names of all people shown and any information you think is useful. We’ll take it from there.

Casey Greene

A self-portrait at a remote lookout tower in the southern Bitterroot Range. µSony NEX 5N, 18mm, 1/160, f/22, ISO 100.

Leslie Hittmeier


HEAD SHOTS mtheadwall.com Kevin Porto gets ready to drop into the extreme terrain of The Headwaters at Moonlight Basin Ski Resort. ÂľNikon D600, 24mm, 1/4000, f/4.5, ISO 200.


Ben Reed


e tried to save it. Arms outstretched, legs stiff as lodgepoles, one ski tilted up like a catamaran hull, he tried. My dad growled through gritted teeth as he toppled downhill. At the last minute his scarecrow form came completely undone as he succumbed to gravity and speed. His chest hit first, driven into the snow with nearly mechanical efficiency.

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Now he lies crumpled and still, and the subtle tension that built as I watched his long fall ignites into embers of unfamiliar concern. Fear, even. “Get up,” I think. “You’d better get up.” The essential fact hadn’t hit me until the moment he hit the ground: My dad is getting old. Too old to crash like that, anyway. It was a 65-year-old body that crumpled into the side of the mountain; a 65year-old neck and collarbone that took the brunt of the impact; a 65-year-old knee that twisted as he fell. My concern is justified—we’re deep in the backcountry, far from help and well out of my dad’s comfort zone— but it’s even bigger than that. When he went down, I realized my responsibility for my father, and the significance of it startles me. If I am responsible for my father, who is responsible for me?



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inally he stirs, awkwardly rolls downhill and gets up groaning, but grinning. Snow is falling lightly, adding to the fluff that already pads the bowl. Above, chutes spill from a sawtooth ridgeline like creamy colonnades flocked by dark vine. “That was a hard one,” he says, slapping the snow from his hat and collar. “The snow’s soft, but not that soft.” My sudden fear evaporates, replaced by relief, and I default to my first instinct: to heckle. “You should give up sooner,” I suggest dryly, “instead of hanging on and picking up speed. Your old bones can’t take that kind of abuse.” But I’m impressed. Here he is, trying new things, crashing hard and laughing it off at an age when many of his peers are sipping fruity drinks at an RV park in Florida. Impressed but not surprised; courage is something he taught me long ago. My dad took me skiing for the first time when I was 7. We used old crosscountry gear: ankle-high leather boots, three-pin bindings and waxable skis without edges. He broke trail up the wooded mountains near our home in eastern Washington and I followed. Slowly. Reluctantly. He bribed me with hard candy and hot chocolate from a thermos. He waxed our skis and sometimes got the temperature right. Mostly I remember the climbs. After struggling upward for what felt like a significant percentage of my young life, we would stop to take in the

view. My dad loved traveling in the mountains—just being there, with snow in the pines, and cornice-rimmed creeks and fresh cold air filling his lungs like a drug. It seemed entirely like work to me, but even then I could feel the magnetism of exploration—and the fear of the unknown. Before we pointed our long, virtually unturnable skis back downhill, Dad always offered the same calming advice: “If you get going too fast, just fall down. The snow’s soft and it won’t hurt a bit.” Now, watching him pry snow out from inside his goggles, the memory of his advice from 22 years earlier cracks me up. Much has changed since then. I abandoned cross-country skis in favor of alpine gear. We moved from Washington to Wisconsin (of all places for a skier). I raced for a while. My dad stopped skiing altogether— sliding down icy Midwestern hills didn’t appeal to his aesthetic. I went to college in Montana and became a ski bum. I began writing and traveling and soon was the editor of a magazine devoted to backcountry skiing and ski exploration. The sport has taken me to Europe, the Arctic, South America, mountains no one else has ever skied. The mountains tell me stories that show me how to live. Skiing has become my way of experiencing the world. And now, I’m trying to share all of this with my dad. We’re at Bell Lake Yurt, in

the high folds of the Tobacco Root Mountains near my home in Bozeman. He recently turned 65 and this trip is my gift to him, an adventure celebrating age and new experiences and cold beer. I’m teaching my dad—a Midwesterner who hasn’t skied in years—about the backcountry.

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ack at the yurt, a round, 20-foot cocoon of warm canvas and wood, my friends and ski partners Simon Peterson and Lance Riek mix drinks and tell jokes while my dad reclines in front of the singing woodstove. His face glows with warmth and windburn. He looks the part of a skier. Until this trip, I don’t know that my dad ever really understood this part of my life, but now he’s in it. Whether he likes it or not. Outside, a storm is picking up and flakes fall fast past the window, heaping on pine boughs. Occasionally the roof sheds its load with a startling swoosh of snow sliding on canvas. It’s dusk, but I can just make out the impressive 1,800vertical-foot couloirs that rise almost straight up outside the front door. Under normal circumstances they would be my week’s objectives, but my dad isn’t interested in couloirs or the weightless grace of skiing steep powder. He just wants to travel through the mountains again. In the dry warmth of the yurt, Simon begins to fondly recall the time that he and I were caught in an Alaskan blizzard and had to dig an emergency snow cave,


spending the night shoulder to shoulder in an icy tomb. I counter with the story about how we once spent 10 days freezing in the Yukon, but quickly change the subject when I consider how it might sound to my dad. I assure him that nothing of the sort will happen on this trip, but he isn’t intimidated. He seems to relish the story, and what it means. “I know you’ve got everything under control,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise. You know what you’re doing.” And while he’s not wrong, I am reminded of my responsibility, and once again surprised by the suddenness of age. To be fair, my dad’s in great shape. He’s not frail, he’s not sick, he’s not nursing old injuries. He’s strong, for his age. He’s fit, for his age. He rides motorcycles and refinishes furniture and does a fair bit of physical work, for his age. But there it is: his age. Perhaps because he’s in good shape and active and as full of life as ever, I’ve never considered a day when he might not be. It’s a strange thought. In my dad’s hand is a book I brought, an old, wormy account of the rough mining camps where men once pulled gold from the Tobacco Roots—nearby places like Alder Gulch, Mammoth and Pony. He clutches it absently, like a minister clutches a Bible, alternately flipping through its pages, waving it to make a point, getting lost in a passage, then slapping it against his thigh for emphasis in a story. It’s fitting that he has a book in his hand, even here. In my earliest memories of my father, he is reading to me. As a lifelong scholar and educator, he and my equally scholarly mother taught countless students to love and appreciate the gift of reading. It was almost inevitable that I should become a writer. My words are as much their legacy as mine. Dinner is spicy elk and pasta with garlic bread and Caesar salad, served by soft lantern light. The woodstove pops and hums and climbing skins steam on a drying line. The snow is still falling outside, and by now Lance, Simon and I are giddy with predictions of face-shots. Dad listens to our self-indulgent banter, weighing the pleasure of his meal against our ritual of eager anticipation. “It’s going to be beautiful, that’s all I know,” he concludes. After too many mountain margaritas—powdered mix shaken with tequila and fresh snow—we stoke the fire and tuck into our sleeping bags. Tomorrow will be a powder day, and I wonder if my dad feels it: the wonder and possibility and uncertainty and delight. I hope, as I drift to sleep, that he does.

He owes me nothing and I owe him everything and I still have much to learn.


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acon is sizzling on the stove when I wake—Simon is raring to go. The window is bright, but snow is still falling like it might never stop. “This is it, Dad,” I tell him. “This is just about as good as it gets: bacon, coffee and 18 inches of powder.” He grins in agreement, and I get the sense that maybe he’s starting to understand. It seems silly, but I want him to approve of the choices I’ve made and the life I’ve built in the mountains. “We’ll see how it goes,” he jokes. “At least when I crash it’ll be a soft landing.” With packs loaded and jackets zipped, we push open the door into a new world. Trees lean under the load. Landmarks are gone. The very topography has changed. The forest is closer, pushed inward by its bulging whiteness. Hard lines of rock are softened and smeared like oil paints beneath the thumb of an artist. My dad takes it all in as we stretch skins onto our skis, check the signals of our avalanche transceivers and chatter in excitement about the day ahead. The world has changed overnight—one of the miracles of the mountains. I have seen this change, this resetting and resettling of balance and beauty too many times to count. But my father has not—at least not recently—and I watch him to see if he feels what I feel. He shivers in the startling cold and stares up at the mountains encircling the yurt like a fortress wall, smiling. He feels it, too, I think.

The line on Bell Lake Yurt HOW TO GET THERE: The yurt is located in the Tobacco Root Range, a tight cluster of 10,000-foot peaks within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, approximately one hour west of Bozeman and one hour south of Helena. ACCOMMODATIONS AND ACTIVITIES: The insulated 20-foot-diameter yurt is equipped with a roaring woodstove, large propane cookstove, solar LED lighting system, skylight and two windows, and bunk beds. Skiing is just outside the door, with terrain from mellow to extreme.

NIGHTLY RATES: Nightly rental is $265 (two night minimum) for up to 6 people. Guided packages are available starting at $250/day. Custom options and avalanche education courses are also available. MORE INFO: Email info@belllakeyurt.com, call 406-581-5754 or visit belllakeyurt.com. EDITOR’S NOTE: The author enjoyed his stay at Bell Lake Yurt so much he bought the operation in fall 2013. He says he’s pleased to offer the same easy access to ideal ski terrain and deep snow that he found with his dad.


We climb toward Bell Lake through woods not unlike those behind our old house in Washington. This time, though, I’m the one breaking trail. I set a gentle track, looking back from time to time to make sure all is well. Simon and Lance are helpful, offering my dad tips without becoming upset at our slow pace. I know they can’t wait to sink, waist-deep, into turn after turn, but they too seem to want my dad to understand the life we’ve all chosen. They’ve adopted him into our community.

As I push into the alpine terrain, into snow still lightly falling, I know how my father must have felt when I was 7, following him into the winter woods for the first time. As much as I love being on my skis, my thoughts are almost exclusively with him. How to keep us safe. Where he’ll have the best experience. How he’ll remember this day. I dig a pit to assess the avalanche danger and my dad listens to my explanation as a student listens to a teacher. I remind him to drink some water; dehydration comes on quickly at 10,000 feet. I tell him to weight his heels on steeper sections of track to keep from slipping and he’s delighted when it works. My dad has never had much ego, but he’s surrendered completely to this experience, and I’m surprised. His trust is complete, and there’s a weight to it. It’s the burden of trust he’s carried all my life, I realize. As I watch him push off down a gentle bowl brimming with Montana cold smoke, legs stiff with effort, I feel anxiety creeping up my throat once more, but also pride. I lean with him, twist my legs to mimic a recovery, and wince when he nearly crashes. It’s still unfamiliar, this feeling of accountability, but it’s not so bad. He owes me nothing and I owe him everything and I still have much to learn. I’ll be responsible for us both. When he reaches the bottom, I can see him grinning under his goggles, and he shouts something through the falling snow. I cup my hand to my ear and he shouts again. “That was fun.” Montana Headwall Page 35 Winter 2013




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he New Year was coming and I was restless. When I’m restless, I scheme, concocting ideas for pursuits into the unknown that seem like good ideas at the time, but sometimes lead to dubious outcomes. Closing in on the demise of another year, I felt the pressure building to squeeze one more fresh experience out of the calendar. My wife, Kris, is restless like me, so it takes no persuading to talk her into adventure. We keep a running list of ambitions handy just for occasions like this. When we’re feeling stagnant, we consult the list and pick a new exploit. Thirty-three years of embarking on adventures and misadventures has taught me that if an experience is unfamiliar, it’s likely to expand my understanding of myself, my relationships, and the natural world. This time out, that urge to the unknown steered us north, toward something neither of us had ever tried: backcountry skiing in Glacier. We left Missoula salivating over thoughts of deep powder and untracked lines, far from the 7 billion two-legged inhabitants of our planet. Google, for the first time in a while, couldn’t tell us where to go or what to ski, couldn’t deliver turn-byturn directions to our destination, or a photo of the address we’d call home for the night. We resorted to pulling out a map and contemplating possibilities. A dead-end road terminating at Two Medicine Lake held an unexplained appeal for both of us, and the contour lines told a story of a mountain lake surrounded by potentially skiable terrain. Quivering with anticipation and too much

caffeine, we pulled into the ranger’s office in West Glacier mid-morning. We hoped to get our backcountry permit and hit the ice-encrusted road for what looked, at least on the map, like a quick drive over Marias Pass to the trailhead. Strolling into the office we were greeted by a wise gentleman being mobbed by hordes of tourists firing requests for the best way to “get a view” in the park for the least amount of physical exertion. After 20 minutes the ranger turned to us. “So you folks want to go to Two Medicine? Just remember, the wind and weather over there can be hell.” Leaving West Glacier on Route 2, we began a protracted ascent up freshly glazed Marias Pass toward East Glacier. The untouched snow increased exponentially as we gained elevation. The scheme appeared to be coming together. As we dropped down the other side of the pass, it shattered. Though we were at the appropriate elevation and the temperature was frigid, the snow virtually disappeared, scoured off the terrain by the wind. All we could see was dirt, rocks, tawny grass and meager drifts of snow. One minute we’d been blabbering about bottomless turns and the next we went silent with the realization that we might not get to ski at all. We arrived at the unplowed Two Medicine road dejected. Staring down our approach we could see plenty of bare pavement, a few icy spots and hefty drifts crossing the pavement into haggard, wind-battered trees. “The wind can be hell over there” reverberated in my head as gusts swayed the truck. We parked and mulled whether we should even venture out of our warm, fourwheeled sanctuary at all.


1705 Bow St. • Missoula, MT 59801 549-5283 •sapphirept.com John Fiore, PT • Rachael Herynk, DPT • Jesse Dupre, DPT


Five minutes later, we told ourselves to toughen up and forced ourselves into the desolate gale. We frantically loaded rations and gear onto our sleds, knowing full well that we’d be overtaken by dark on the eight-mile trek to camp. As we began slogging up the road, a lone figure appeared on the horizon, skiing toward us. I was excited to pick someone’s brain about the area’s backcountry ski potential and any difficulties we might face on the approach. When we finally met, the first thing he asked was, “Do you have a backcountry permit?” The man, a ranger for the park’s east side, met my puppylike enthusiasm with the grumble of an old dog protecting his food. It was his job to keep tourists like us from ending up as next spring’s wolverine scavengings, and he was obviously not impressed with our early-evening departure from the car, knowing full well it meant that we’d be traveling after sundown. After a quick scolding about our late arrival, his mood lifted, and he quickly answered our questions and sent us on our way. Kris and I skinned swiftly as the light faded and the landscape began to speak that desolate language for which we’d been longing since we left Missoula. The wind had blown away any remnants of snow on the road except the tracks of native creatures, frozen to the granular pavement. The road eventually entered the trees and our doubt of finding skiable snow lifted. Suddenly the road was blanketed with deep freshies that sparkled in our headlamp beams. Deep into the night we finally arrived at the Two Medicine campground. The muted outline of peaks hovered above the silhouetted trees and a few bright stars poked through the high cloud cover. We dug out our tent platform, wrestled the poles into place and collapsed into our sleeping bags, cold and spent. The next morning dawned clear, biting and blowing. We zipped open the door of our dwelling and an entirely new view lay before us. Our wind-burned eyes saw a dizzying array of pyramid-shaped peaks, and the snow on the surrounding summits reflected a sky of vivid oranges and pinks. The challenge of getting here instantly melted away. Kris and I boiled water for coffee and shoveled muchneeded calories down our throats. After loading our packs, we started breaking trail toward the shore of Two Medicine Lake, Montana Headwall Page 40 Winter 2013

hoping to scope skiing opportunities from a panoramic vantage. But as we bulldozed toward the lake we were greeted with a blustering gale and a view of craggy peaks with hardly any snow. What would normally be safe ascent routes up the ridges had less powder than a beach in Hawaii. The only lines that looked skiable were in gullies and bowls; the wind had amassed all of the mountains’ snow into these avalanche-prone traps. We were skunked. We decided to trek down the center of the frozen lake in hopes of finding at least one small, safe patch of snow to indulge even a single floating turn. As we meandered down the lake toward Sinopah Mountain, ice crystals blasted us in the face and clouds began to stream in, dropping snow and graupel. When we reached the lake’s center, the clouds, sunlight and wind began a surreal show of beauty generating an enigmatic mood. One minute it was ominous with 50 mph winds, the next it was sunny, warm and calm. Spindrift whipped off the peaks in massive fading tails. Toward the west end of the lake, beams of sunlight highlighted the serrated ridges of the cloud-enshrouded peaks. We skied over a patch of ice that was obsidianblack, cut dramatically by a sharp fissure. Gazing at that onyx ice, the wind-carved snow and the powdery manes flying off the peaks made us feel as if we were traversing an elaborate sculpture. As we reached the far shore we realized we weren’t going to find even one soft turn. All the lines that looked skiable had avalanche written all over them. We stood grimly at the end of the lake wondering how it was possible to have wind-scoured rubble next to pockets of snow-loaded danger? We retraced our steps with the wind howling past, captivated by the towering views and the landscape-shaping forces on display. Eventually we locked eyes and began snickering at the idea of skiing. Touring the lake for the past few hours had fingerprinted its impression on us as much as any powder turn could. The raw elegance of Two Medicine spoke to us. We had gone to Glacier to ski powder, and we returned home without accomplishing a solitary gliding arc. Geology and weather had baffled us and forced us into humility; they had also given us a remarkable show. Not one part of the trip had matched our powderfilled dreams, but even so, it delivered every last grain of the experience we’d come for.


2960 EATON #A, B & C Corner of Agnes & Eaton near Southgate Mall

$162,900

• 3 BEDROOM, 1.5 BATH • BACK YARD WITH PATIOS • NO LAWN CARE • COMMON AREA & PRIVATE YARDS MAINTAINED BY HOA • SINGLE CAR GARAGE • ON THE BITTERROOT BIKE/PEDESTRIAN TRAIL

COLLIN BANGS, Broker 406-544-1819 SHERYL MICKELSON, Realtor® 406-239-2562 Montana Headwall Page 41 Winter 2013


WILD THINGS by Lisa Densmore

How western rattlesnakes cozy up during winter

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ndiana Jones might not mind getting trapped in a snake den if he were in Montana. Of the 10 species of snakes found in the state, only one is poisonous: the western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). And even if Dr. Jones stumbled into a Montana rattler den, the odds of him receiving a fatal bite are much lower than if he were in one of the North African viper pits from which he usually needs to escape. Victims of rattlesnake bites develop extreme soreness in the bite area, nausea and vomiting. The bite can lead to gangrene and the amputation of a limb, but rarely to death, unlike cobra bites, which affect the nervous system and cause heart failure. Luckily, of the hundreds of thousands of hikers, hunters and others who have ventured into Montana’s backcountry over the last decade, only a half-dozen have been bitten by a rattler, and none have died. During the winter, the odds are virtually zero of encountering these shy, well-camouflaged slitherers. “You would need a backhoe to uncover a den,” says James E. Knight, a wildlife specialist at Montana State University in Bozeman. “They are not easy to get to in the rock.” Rattlesnake dens, also called hibernacula, are typically located on rocky, south-facing slopes. “Western rattlesnakes don’t dig,” Knight says. “They use an existing hole or spaces under rocks, and they generally return year after year. Rattlers have a small range, about 10 acres.”

Rattlesnakes den to conserve body heat, and they often share the space with other snake species. The protection of a den “slows the rate at which their temperature drops and keeps them from freezing, but eventually they get real cold, reaching equilibrium with the ground around them,” Knight explains. As their body temperature drops, rattlesnakes move with much less vigor, which makes winter a good time for scientists to extract their venom through a technique called milking. The process involves a trained expert holding the animal firmly behind its jaws to control its head and to open its mouth. With the snake’s fangs hanging over a small glass vial, the milker squeezes the snake around the back of its head, triggering the venom gland above its upper jaw to release the yellow toxic substance into the vial. It’s a risky process, not one to try at home. Rattlesnake venom is most commonly used to make antivenin, but the pharmaceutical industry is exploring other potential medicinal uses. Snake venom contains a number of enzymes, proteins and other chemicals linked to possible cures for diseases, including breast cancer and hypertension. But not all snake venom is the same. Rattlesnake venom has shown its greatest promise in the treatment of high blood pressure, as a bite from this bellycrawler attacks the cardiovascular system. Such potential could be enough for even the biggest ophidiophobe, like Indiana Jones, to reconsider his fear and loathing of snakes.

Ronan Donovan


Montana Headwall Page 43 Winter 2013


GRUB by Ari LeVaux

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he sunset over Siberia’s Lake Baikal looked ominously beautiful from the peaks of the Barguzin mountains, far above the shore. The warmth of the March day was vanishing fast, glazing the snow with a crust that promised a hellish descent for me and my dad on our skinny, 1990s-era backcountry ski gear. Our friend Ura was better equipped. A researcher at the nearby sable preserve we were visiting, Ura was a quiet bear of a man, perfectly suited to that unforgiving environment, right down to his Siberian skis, called kamoos. The boards are short and wide, with seal skins—harvested from the nerpa freshwater seals of Lake Baikal—glued to the bottoms. Instead of ski poles Ura carried an angura: an 8-foot staff cut from a birch sapling. The trip down was a series of painful face-plants for Dad and me, but Ura sailed through the trees, chilling on his ice breakers. When we finally reached Ura’s home in the hamlet of Davsha, Dad and I were battered and broken. I huddled by the fireplace trying to muster enough energy to walk to the table. Ura handed me a bowl of beef-bone broth. It was thin, salty and simple, but full of warmth and rejuvenation. That broth was first aid for my own bones, a liquid spatula that lifted me off the cabin floor and delivered me to the table, where we ate a dinner of fried trout, fried potatoes and a salad of shredded carrots and garlic. I’ll never know exactly what was in Ura’s broth. Like many Siberians, he kept a cow, and his broth was cow-bone based. I’ve been trying to replicate it ever since. Broth walks a fine line between stock and soup. Stock is more ingredient than meal, and should be free of fat and salt; soup is a finished product, ready to eat. Broth falls somewhere in the middle. It has fat, salt and other flavorings, but no chunks. Vegetable-based broth exists, but the most potent broths are made from bones. Bone’s cartilage and marrow aid in the body’s absorption of protein and deliver other nutrients as well. To make broth in its simplest form, all you have to do is simmer bones in water and add salt to taste. That will peel you off the cabin floor. But for a more wellrounded culinary experience, there are some extra steps worth taking. Brown the bones first for added umami and depth of flavor. This can be done in oil in a stovetop pan, on low or medium, with a lid for splatter protection, or it can be done in the oven. I usually bake my bones for about two hours at 300 degrees, checking often to make sure they don’t burn. For extra umami, carefully coat the hot bones with tomato paste or even a little ketchup, just a tablespoon or two per pot, for the last half-hour. Now add the bones to a pot of water and simmer. You can also deglaze the roasting pan and add the drippings for a richer, fattier broth. Add carrots and onions for more fragrance. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours, then turn off the heat and leave the pot, covered, to cool. About four hours after turning off the heat, strain the broth and salt it to taste. At this point you might want to pick any good meat off the leftover bones and scoop out any accessible marrow—it makes for a yummy snack. Or add the meat scraps to the broth. You might be crossing the line into soup territory, but as long as it peels you off the floor, who cares? Cathrine L. Walters


Western Montana Clinic

ENJOY YOUR HEALTH

Montana Headwall Page 45 Winter 2013


G

rowing up in Montana I’d come to think of the state as a super-size playground with terrain to satisfy any kind of exploration. Like a kid, I played in that playground as if I were invincible. I believed I was protected from most dangers because I asked the mountains for safe passage and gave thanks after returning. But while skiing in Glacier National Park last January I encountered a force that made me reconsider that theory. It was on the third day of what was supposed to be a weeklong trip when nature reminded me of some of the playground’s finer rules, mainly that mental precautions go only so far in the physical world.

Saturday, Jan. 5 My Subaru was packed before I headed off to work. About halfway through my eight-hour shift I started to angle for an early departure. By six, my numerous requests to leave early finally wore down the manager. “Why don’t you get out of here, and have a good trip,” he said. I had been anticipating the trip to East Glacier to visit my childhood friend Jason Robertson. We planned for a week of backcountry skiing—a couple of day trips so I could get my ski legs, then maybe an overnight or two. I’d put aside my studies at the University of Montana School of Journalism for


winter break and Jason, a woodworker and seasoned backcountry skier, would be my guide. He’s lived near the park since 1998 and has explored it extensively. Over the years, our travels inside Glacier have been some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. I grabbed a coffee for the road and drove the majority of the five-hour trip in silence, aside from the sound of wind forced though the fading seals of my Subaru’s doors and windows.

Sunday, Jan. 6 A light, steady snow fell as Jason, our friend Cody Iunghuhn and I set out for an easy day on the front side of Elk Mountain. Cody, 28, lives in East Glacier and is a yearround mountaineering companion with Jason. As we drove to the mountain, hip-hop thumped on the hi-fi and Jason

and Cody critiqued the work of the morning snowplow driver. Jason honked and he and Cody flipped the plow driver a friendly bird as we passed. I’m sure they knew him. At the mountain we worked our way up a mild incline about 700 feet through some small pines, alders and windblown snow. “You doing alright?” Jason jokingly asked every few minutes. I was fine. My technique isn’t the best, but I’ve been on skis since I was 8 and it has become second nature. Although I’m not as seasoned as Jason and Cody, and I hadn’t been on skis for more than a year, my muscles carried out the action from memory and I held my own. We reached a dead-end of exposed rocks and crusty snow with no appealing option to continue our ascent. As we traversed 200 yards of bulletproof snow, Cody and I struggled to hold an edge. When we got to the chute that would carry us down to the truck, we shifted into downhill mode. The wide-open terrain was dotted with trees to hug turns around and stumps to jump off, a skier’s playground. As we neared the bottom my movements found some coordination and I was already looking forward to the next day.

Illustration by Jonathan Marquis


Monday, Jan. 7 Morning brought more snow and stronger wind. We drank coffee and stretched before grabbing some convenience store pastries on our way back to Elk Mountain. The plan was to ski a line known as Backstrap on the southwest side of the mountain, and the conditions seemed perfect. The temperature reached the mid-20s, making the snow light and fast. At the mountain, Jason geared up quickly and was gone as I fumbled with last-minute adjustments and tried to catch up. His pace in the mountains is unrelenting, so when we reached the Fielding Creek Cabin I was already warm enough to shed down to my Tshirt. Beyond the cabin we branched off the trail and climbed about 2,500 feet up Elk Mountain’s southwestern face, stopping 400 feet from the summit because of poor visibility. Posting up between some trees, we removed skins from skis and grubbed on high-calorie snacks. It wasn’t easy for me to eat with the excitement and nervousness rolling through my body, but I knew fuel was a necessity. As soon as we finished eating we reaped the reward of untouched, kneedeep, fluffy powder. Jason pointed his board downhill, gave a holler and reached full speed in a few seconds. He ripped down the mountain, hardly turning to slow his momentum. My style is a bit more reserved. If the first day had me imagining a playground, this was an amusement park. My mind ran wild deciding which line to take. Jason waited for me to catch up and we reveled about the conditions. I

laughed as we reached the bottom. It doesn’t get much better, I thought. A short ski took us back to the truck and a short drive returned us to East Glacier. We watched the BCS championship game that night as we waxed our skis and prepared for the next day’s adventure.

Tuesday, Jan. 8 Jason and I started the day earlier than the last two. Our plan was to extend our coverage by climbing Peak 6996 and skiing down, then climbing Elk Mountain and skiing Backstrap again. Jason broke trail on the way up the eastern aspect of 6996. It pleased me to keep on his heels this time, although he was doing the hard work up front and my pace didn’t last long. I had known that Jason’s friend Brian Curtis Wright, better known as “Verbal,” lost his life in an avalanche while skiing this mountain in April 2010. Jason still calls the mountain Curtis in remembrance. I’m sure Jason thought of him as we climbed a ridge near the top of 6996. I didn’t. I was thinking about the beauty around us and how perfectly the day was going. Through my sunglasses the orange snow crystals glimmered in the sunlight as the wind swept them over the ridge and out of sight. I’d never really thought much about avalanches. They’d always been more of a theoretical danger—possible, but only for those who didn’t take certain precautions. I felt safe with Jason, especially on such a mild day. We took off our skis and skins and kicked a few steps to reach the summit. Incessant wind made our time at the top brief. As I dropped off the cornice my legs gave way, perplexed by the depth and loft of the snow.

The 2,200-foot bowl was filled with inviting powder. My skis were fairly narrow, so it took a great deal of energy to stay on top of the fluffy powder. Jason waited for me to catch up, and offered bits of advice like, “Don’t cut too hard.” It’s simple yet sound advice for an infrequent powder skier. As the bowl tightened into a gully and my speed increased, the room to carve disappeared. Jason reached the bottom while I was still halfway down. I tucked, legs burning, for the last several hundred feet and came to a stop by flopping in the deep snow. We ate a quick snack before crossing the valley to Elk Mountain. As we worked our way across and up the other side, I began to question my stamina and skill level. While maneuvering down a steep, heavily treed section heading to the valley floor, I lost control, my legs sprawling into splits. I shoulder-checked a tree and ended up pointed downhill with my face in the snow, missing one ski. When I got to the Fielding Trail, I pondered whether I should continue. I tried to get closer to Jason to tell him I wasn’t going on. Along the way I regained my drive. After gaining nearly 2,000 feet up the ridgeline, a slough of snow about 50 feet wide broke free just a few feet from me. It was about a yard



“I remember having one complete thought: How long can this go on?”

thick and revealed a smooth surface of snow underneath. Although it was a relatively small slide that occurred almost in silence, I sensed its power. I saw Jason about 100 feet ahead and hollered to him but the wind drowned my voice. Should I be here? Is this safe? The questions stuck in my mind as I pushed on. I finally reasoned that it was good that the snow broke free because it probably relieved some pressure. I caught up with Jason as he was already on his way down from the summit. “It’s nasty up there, let’s cruise down,” he said. I picked up on the concern in his voice and thought maybe he had seen the slough. “Did you see that slide?” I asked. He hadn’t. We talked briefly about what I’d seen as I removed my skins and put on my jacket. We both had a sense of unspoken urgency. The flat light and clouds made depth perception difficult, so I felt my way down the first 200 feet. Skiing virtually blind, Jason yelled directions to me from below. After a couple hundred feet the visibility improved and the snow transformed to epic conditions, leading Jason to yell his usual suggestion: “Point it!”

Instead I made wide, sweeping turns and savored the dreamy surroundings. I wanted to charge like Jason, but my fatigued legs lacked the necessary strength. With our route pretty clear, Jason took off and I puttered down the mountain. My earlier concern faded as I skied in blissful, casual ignorance. Jason later told me that when he dropped into the bowl, something didn’t seem right. He realized that the small slough I’d seen wasn’t small at all. Huge amounts of snow must have slid while we continued our ascent, and now two-thirds of the bowl’s cornice had moved. He told me later this was an “oh shit” moment. None of his concern was apparent to me at the time. I skirted the edge of the main bowl before dropping in, then stopped for a minute to adjust my boot and take in the surroundings. That’s when I heard a slight whoosh behind me, like trees rustling in the wind. Just then I was knocked off my feet. Everything went dark. My world felt turned inside-out. It took a second to realize I was in an avalanche. I was powerless. The third of the bowl that hadn’t already slid was

hurtling down with me somewhere in the mix. My mind struggled to make contact with my limbs, to coordinate movement, but my attempts proved futile. There was no up, down, right or left. I thought about trying to swim, but that wasn’t happening. The information flow between my mind and body couldn’t comprehend the situation. Pressure from the snow was light at first, and then intensified, squeezing the air from my lungs. My body slammed against unseen objects, trees most likely. I couldn’t tell what parts of my body were being pummeled, but grunts of pain were forced out of me. I remember having one complete thought: How long can this go on? Then it ended. My head and shoulders were protruding from the snow. I was dazed and unable to move. It took a few seconds before I realized I was yelling. Not consciously yelling for anything in particular, not making any sense, just yelling from pure adrenaline. Picture a man buried alive finding his way to the surface. That was me. Continued on page 58



HEAD OUT mtheadwall.com

Chad Harder

DECEMBER DECEMBER 7 Dance and prance through the jingle-bell square at the Missoula Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis 5K, where runners are encouraged to wear costumes and bells. Proceeds from the event benefit arthritis research. Starts at Caras Park at 10 AM. Register at missoulajingle bellrun.kintera.org. DECEMBER 8 Perhaps this will be the year you take the plunge and join the Libby Polar Bear Club, which meets at the bridge over Libby Creek on Farm To Market Road at 2 PM on Sundays through April. If the ice can be broken, the club dives. Check out libbymt.com/outdoors/polarbearclub. DECEMBER 11 Break the ice at the 17th annual Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival in Hyalite Canyon. The event draws professional athletes and participants to the Emerson Center in downtown Bozeman for myriad clinics, demos of the latest gear, slide shows and evening entertainment. This year’s event hosts the UIAA North American Championships. Visit bozemanicefest.com to register for clinics.

DECEMBER 13 Holler for Buck and answer the call of the wild in at the Rodeo Run Sled Dog Races, with adult and junior divisions and four-, six- and eight-dog teams. Head to West Yellowstone to watch for free. Check out wysleddograces.com to learn more. DECEMBER 15 The weather might be frightful, but it’ll be cozy and delightful during the Winter Candlelight Tours throughout this month at Lewis and Clark Caverns. $15 for adults/$8 for age 6-11. Not recommended for kids under 5. Call 287-3541 or visit stateparks.mt.gov to learn more.

DECEMBER 29 The annual New Year Snowmobile Fun Run cruises through an array of trails in and around lovely Lincoln, and includes prizes for winners. Email ponderosasnowwarriors@yahoo.com or visit the Ponderosa Snow Warriors Facebook page to learn more. DECEMBER 31 Ring in the Año Nuevo Flathead-style at the New Year’s Eve Rockin’ Rail Jam at Whitefish Mountain Resort, with a rail competition, torchlight parade and fireworks. Check out skiwhitefish.com to learn more.

JANUARY

DECEMBER 21 The Kick Out the Kinks ski race gives that rascally British band the boot while you have a good time competing in a 3K, 5K or 10K cross-country event. There’s also a free 1K race for kids. Hosted by Izaak Walton Inn, near Essex. $10. Learn more at izaakwaltoninn.com or call 888-5700.

JANUARY 1 Jump-start your 2014 with the annual Flathead Lake Polar Bear Plunge, held outside the Raven Brew Pub in Woods Bay. Costumes encouraged. Parade at 1:45, plunge at 2 PM.

DECEMBER 24 It’s not over ‘til the dude in the red suit shows up at the annual Santa’s Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at Whitefish Mountain Resort, where folks can watch from outside Ed & Mully’s restaurant or be a torch bearer. Head to skiwhitefish.com to learn more.

JANUARY 8 Shoot to ski and ski to shoot at the annual Seeley Lake Challenge 10K Biathlon, where competitors of all skill levels will ski a loop, lie down, fire at a target, and repeat. Loaner rifles available. Register at raceseeley-montana.info.

Montana Headwall Page 52 Winter 2013


JANUARY 10 Remember to keep the highsticking to a minimum at the always-competitive three-day Seeley Lake Pond Hockey Tournament, held outside Lindey’s Prime Steak House. Visit the Seeley Lake Pond Hockey Facebook page to learn about signing up. Free to spectate. JANUARY 12 You don’t have to be a cat to appreciate the Telemark Community Event Series on Sundays in January at Bridger Bowl’s Bobcat race course. Events include apron challenge, dual giant slalom and classic race. Visit bridgerbowl.com.

FEBRUARY BRUARY FEBRUARY 6 Ski the powder by day and scoot your boots to bluegrass by night at the Big Sky Big Grass Festival. The four-day event features performers including Drew Emmitt, Infamous Stringdusters, Travelin’ McCourys, Deadly Gentlemen and more. Tickets on sale at bigskyresort.com.

Why drive all the way out to Fort Peck Lake this weekend, you ask? Why, perhaps to win the $2,000 top prize in the Ice Fishing Tournament at Dredge Cut Trout Pond. Holes are pre-drilled, so just bring your fishing equipment. Limited to 200 fishers. Noon-3 PM. Call 228-2222 to learn more. FEBRUARY 22 Prove what a fast land mammal you are at the 35th annual Snow Joke Half-Marathon, brought to you by BSORE. The race takes a 13.1-mile lap around Seeley Lake on plowed roads. Start and finish is at the grade school gym. Pre-registration online at mtsnowjoke.com or register on race day starting at 8:45, race at 11 AM. $20 for age 20 and older, $5 for age 19 and under. Held regardless of weather.

JANUARY 19 Make like Finnish village-raider Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen at the Pacific Northwest National Wife Carrying Contest, just make sure you’re bringing home your own lady. The competition is part of the annual winter carnival at Lookout Pass Ski Area and includes prizes. (Pro tip: Estonian wives ride upside-down, holding on to the husband’s waist.)

FEBRUARY 23 The 2014 Special Olympics State Winter Games kick off today in Whitefish with a parade of athletes and opening ceremonies downtown at 3 PM. Visit somt.org to learn more.

JANUARY 25 Show ‘em what you’re made of at the Whitefish Whiteout, a European randonee-style race that starts with competitors skinning up the slopes of the mountain and then descending “the most challenging terrain that conditions permit.” Have fun with that, kids! Learn more at skiwhitefish.com. Go over Seeley’s creeks and ridges during the venerated OSCR Cross Country Ski Race, which includes 10K, 25K and 50K portions on a single-loop course of groomed trails. Chili feed and awards ceremony to follow. Visit seeleylakenordic.org. Get out on the ice for a good cause at the Stan Shafer Memorial Ice Fishing Derby, with prizes for the biggest fishies, at Clark Canyon Reservoir 20 miles south of Dillon. Proceeds benefit Beaverhead Search and Rescue. Call 865-0133 to learn zmore. Show ‘em your lung power at the Powderhound Winter Triathlon National Championships, which include a 5K run, 10K mountain bike ride and 5K Nordic ski, all at Homestake Lodge in Whitehall. Visit homestakelodge.com.

MARCH MARCH 8 The ski season might be ending soon, but wipe those tears and gear up for the 34th annual Yellowstone Rendezvous Race, featuring cross-country races from 2K to 50K for skiers of every level. Visit rendezvousrace.com. Matt Gibson

FEBRUARY 8 Escape the midwinter blues with the Whitefish Winter Carnival, featuring rail jam, parade and fireworks on Ed’s Run. Learn more at skiwhitefish.com. FEBRUARY 15 Run like there’s ice cream at the finish line, ‘cause there is, at the Catch ‘Em If You Can 5K, a benefit for Missoula’s Hellgate High School Cross Country. Starts at Toole Park at 9:30 AM and follows the Riverfront Trail. Check out runwildmissoula.org.

May the wind be at your back during the annual St. Patrick’s Race in Anaconda, which features three- and six-mile runs. Walkers are welcome, too. Meet at the Locker Room Bar for bus transportation to the starting line, with staging starting at 10:30 AM and the race at 11. Visit anacondaaoh.com. MARCH 15 You just might have good fortune after the annual Run For the Luck of It, a 5K or seven-mile run in Missoula that starts from Sean Kelly’s at 8:50 AM. Race routes go through the city’s Northside. Food and a free Highlander beer await you at the finish. Visit runwildmissoula.org.

Montana Headwall Page 53 Winter 2013


HEAD GEAR

a

fatty

by Dave Reuss • photos by Casey Greene

Big-rimmed bikes approach the mainstream

M

ouths dropped open, eyes bulged and heads tracked a full 180 degrees to follow my path. Toddlers and grandparents alike stared. I was cruising through downtown Bozeman on a cold winter day, pedaling away on a white Salsa Mukluk, an otherwise normal-looking bike that rolls along on what look like two bee-stung doughnuts. I was straddling the illegitimate love child of a mountain bike and a monster truck—and unlike any other wintery twowheel ride, the Mukluk handled black ice, snow banks and sanded streets. While leaning into a sharp, slick corner, my hip and elbow gave out a phantom ache—muscle memory from dumping too many normal bikes in winter conditions— but I floated through unscathed and grinning like a labradoodle. From the throng of onlookers, “Sweet bike, man!” came in a close second to “What’s the deal with those tires?” Around Montana, people know fat bikes exist, but seeing one in action still demands a second look. Over the last decade, fat bikes have steadily become a legitimate form of travel for outdoorsy types. With tires that are more than double the average mountain bike width, fat bikes will never reach the speeds of high-end mountain bikes, but they can handle almost any terrain. Snow, sand, mud, loose dirt—they’ll take just about anything.

As the multi-season potential of fat bikes is being realized, more and more people are throwing a leg over them for commuting, recreation and even racing. Demand for these alternative rides continues to grow, and ski resorts, race organizers, bike companies and riders across the country are gearing up for the biggest season yet.

Arctic beginnings There are reports that fat bikes were first designed for sand in the southwest, but winter use originated in Alaska. Riders competing in the Iditasport, a 160-mile winter bike race first held in the late ’80s, created the bike’s monster-sized rims out of necessity. They needed a tire that would float across packed powder without breaking through. All Weather Sports, a small company in Fairbanks, Alaska, stepped up to create rims fit for the task. The company started by welding two standard bike rims together and carving out the middle ridges to make one extra-wide rim. Soon after, they decided to design a 44-millimeter rim from scratch, called the SnowCat. Riders with these rims dominated subsequent winter bike races, and word about the new “fat bikes” began to spread around the country.


Modern fatties The very first fat bike to roll from the fringe toward the mainstream came from a small Midwestern bike company in 2005. After two years of research and tinkering with rims, frames and tires, Surly Bikes introduced the Pugsley. This ride shared plenty with its Addams Family namesake: fat in an overstuffed sofa kind of way, simple and, well, awkward-looking. But despite its homely appearance, the Pugsley helped make fat-biking an option for the general public, lending visibility to a ride otherwise relegated to the far north. “We were never really sure a bike with 4-inch tires would take off because so many people thought it would be a niche market,” says Tyler Stilwill, Surly’s marketing manager. “Every year, we’ve tried to be conservative on production, but every year we’ve completely sold out. All people have to do to want one, is to ride one. They get hooked pretty quickly.” Surly’s fat bike production started small but has grown in recent years—as has competition from other bike manufacturers. “From 2005 to 2012, there were around 5,000 fat bikes produced by Surly and Salsa in total,” says Gary Sjoquist, advocacy director for Quality Bicycle Products, which owns both companies. “And in 2013 alone, that number doubled to 10,000. The demand is staggering.”


inflated fat tires, shocks simply aren’t With sales on the rise, companies connecessary. The tires’ ballooned-out tubes tinue to put their own spin on the fat bike. Salsa recently debuted a lightweight carbon and thick rubber offer decent shock absorption with none of the maintenance fiber version. Surly introduced a fat 29er issues of suspension. called the Krampus, and Mongoose When it comes to inflation, it’s all stepped into the ring, manufacturing a fat about putting the most rubber to the road bike sold through Walmart and other mass retailers. “With Trek, Specialized and Kona Trek, Specialized debuting their own fat bikes, 2014 is going to be and Kona their huge,” Sjoquist says. In the last few own , 2014 is years, bike shops across Montana and the Northwest have going to be . started carrying fat bikes, and report a (or to powder, as the case may be). By slow but steady increase in sales. In the running with tire pressure unthinkably last year, sales at Missoula Bicycle low to regular bikWorks have jumped from one bike to ers, fatties can lay seven, and more than half the staff now down well more own a fat bike. than quadruple the “It’s growing here and everywhere,” amount of surface says “Shirtless” Abe Jindrich, Missoula area of a regular Bicycle Works’ in-shop mechanic. mountain bike, “People love these things. Each of our three demo fat bikes went out at least 15 providing more control and a huge times last season.” footprint. Some fatbikers, in some Fat technology conditions, run Riders interested in a fat bike can’t their tires as low as simply convert their current ride—every5 psi, compared to thing on a fatty is built especially to standard mounaccommodate the swollen tires. That tain-bike pressures means all this fun doesn’t come cheap: A of 35-60 psi. ready-to-ride Pugsley from the factory Most often, the costs roughly $1,600. wide rims have While there are fat bikes that feature holes drilled out of both front and rear suspension, they are the metal to lower the weight. Disc brakes typically even more expensive, offer the best stopping power—and an elehard to find or prototypes. gant way to avoid fitting brakes around But with properly the massive rims. When it comes to actually blazing down the trail on a fat bike, it’s not— unlike the classic saying—just like riding a bike. With so much rotational weight stored in the tires and rims (rotating mass on the tire has about twice the

“With

debuting

fat bikes

huge “

kinetic energy of mass on the frame), winding this baby up takes a little more mustard. Steering can also take a little getting used to, and at higher speeds on paved surfaces the tires give the bike a rhythmic, bouncing feel. But for these minor adjustments, a fat bike is no longer confined to a single season, and you have the ability to rip through just about anything a full 12 months of the year. “It’s a perfect go-anywhere option,” says Ryan Krueger, a Bozeman-based freelance photographer who spent a week fat-biking across 70 miles of Yakutat coastline in Alaska last spring. “There’s no way we could have done that trip without fat bikes. When the sand packs down just right, it gets better than singletrack.”

Snow jobs Along with beaches, packed trails that work for snowshoeing, snowmobiles and cross-country skiing are all excellent fodder for fat-bikers. There’s a bit of friction between cross-country skiers and fat-bikers (similar to the tension between skate and classic skiers 25 years ago), but fatbikers believe both groups can benefit by compromising. Because of the bike’s massive low-pressure footprint, it can leave less of a mark on the trail than many skiers do. To help promote respectful trail use and fair access, the International Mountain Biking Association recently released its recommendations for riding on trails managed by other winter users. To promote the sport and bring together fat-bike fans from around the country, the third annual Fat Bike Winter Summit and Festival is scheduled for Jan. 24 and 25 in Ogden, Utah. As the premier gathering for fat-bikers in the western U.S., the event features several races, seminars on technique and access issues, group rides and more.


“We had around 100 people come last year, and we’re predicting even more this time,” says QBP’s Sjoquist, who also serves as director of the summit. One of the organizers’ primary goals is to improve access for fat bikes, including permission to ride in national parks. The current parks winter-use policy, which was originally aimed at trucks and dirt bikes, bans all wheeled machinery. “Really, it’s because people just don’t know much about them,” Sjoquist says. “Once we put a land manager on a fat bike for a test ride, they absolutely love them. They’re quiet, they don’t rip up the trails, and they’re just fun.”

The future of fat With a hook that goes beyond novelty

and offers a viable alternative to traditional transportation—think longboards to skateboards, snowboards to skis— industry experts believe fat bikes are poised to gain market share. Old-timers equate the rise of fat bikes to the birth of mountain bikes in the ’80s: No one could imagine why anyone would want to ride a bike off-road, but over the years it has evolved into a mainstream sport. “We keep upping production,” says Surly’s Tyler Stilwill, “and we still haven’t found the ceiling.” As production rises, aftermarket parts for fat bikes will get cheaper, lighter, easier to find and more diverse. When it comes to customization, reliable suspension forks are just around the corner, and

several companies are experimenting with 1x11 drivetrains. “If someone doesn’t come out with a production-ready, full-suspension fat bike in the next three years, I would be really surprised,” Stilwill says. Following my snowy afternoon cruise, I took a spin down Bozeman Creek Trail, a local favorite for cross-country skiers. As I sat on my tailgate enjoying a postride beer, a skier glided up. “What the hell did you do to your bike?” he said, poking at my front tire with a pole. After a few standard questions about the bike’s tech specs and capabilities, he asked the third-most-frequent thing you hear while riding a fat bike: “Where can I get one of those?” I laughed and told him, “This year, they’ll be everywhere.”

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Avalanche CONTINUED FROM PAGE 50 Jason had seen the avalanche coming and skied out of the bowl before the slide surrounded him. He skied up to me and used his shovel to loosen the snow’s grip. He gently moved my arms and legs, checking for injuries. His main concern was the blood pouring from the top of my head, something I hardly noticed. I felt a great amount of pressure in my lower left arm; I was sure it was broken. The entire right side of my body throbbed and I was having difficulty breathing. A strange gurgle came from my lungs when I inhaled. As I started to get my bearings I knew that we needed to move—first from the avalanche’s path, then to the trailhead. Jason assured me we could do it. He phoned a friend in East Glacier, Cory Pine, and told him where we were and what happened. He asked Cory to bring some skis and meet us. Next, he called 911 and calmly explained the situ- Justin Steck ation. Jason asked if I thought I needed a helicopter. Embarrassed, I declined. It didn’t matter. The operator told him a helicopter probably wouldn’t work due to poor weather in the area, and suggested we start moving. Jason gathered a few pieces of my gear, including a chunk of my broken helmet. My skis and poles were gone. With Jason at my side, we took our first few steps. I’m not religious, but I looked to the sky and expressed my gratitude. I realized I’d been run through a mountainside Plinko board that could have shredded me to bits, but now I was walking away. The first half-mile proved painfully slow and steep. With each step we sank to the top of our legs, sending piercing pain through my rib cage. My right arm was on Jason’s shoulder and he held me up by the collar of my coat. He tried to sit me on his snowboard, but that hurt even more. We received a few calls from rangers checking on our location and clarifying information Jason had provided to 911. Our frustration built after two more calls broke our momentum. When the slope leveled, Jason was able to put me on his splitboard with the skins on backward to keep me from sliding. It was a great improvement. Just as darkness fell we saw Cory’s headlamp and hollered to him. He’d brought skis for Jason, who had been

trudging through waist-deep snow in his boots for several miles. It took another hour until we neared Fielding Cabin and heard the sweet sound of snowmobile engines and saw headlights. I took a two-mile ride to the trailhead parking lot where a small army of emergency and park vehicles awaited. I was put in the back of an ambulance and a park employee asked me a series of questions. “Have you been drinking?”

thumb-side bone in the lower arm that’s instrumental to basic hand function. A surgeon secured it by drilling a metal plate into the bone with six screws. I stayed a second night in the hospital to make sure there were no complications from my head injuries. After that I was free to go home. Hospitals are good at fixing broken bones, but my other aches and pains would best be healed through the medicine of food and family.

Friday, Jan. 11

“Were you wearing a beacon?” “Did you check avalanche reports?” I answered no to all of his questions. Everyone who had the opportunity to talk to me asked if I was wearing a beacon, as if that would’ve stopped the avalanche from battering my body, or would have guaranteed Jason could locate me in such a large area before I suffocated. The beacon wouldn’t have helped a bit. I survived by pure luck.

Wednesday, Jan. 9 EMTs drove me to Browning so I could be examined. The hospital had a CT scanner, but no one to operate it or read the results. The staff asked whether I wanted to be transferred to Great Falls or Kalispell, and I chose my old hometown, Great Falls. A $3,000 ambulance ride took me to Benefis hospital for X-rays and CT scans. The final tally of my injuries: six broken ribs, a broken left radius about 3 inches from my wrist, a concussion, a left thigh puncture and a gash on the crown of my head. My whole right side was extensively bruised and both knees were battered. When I woke up later that day I had my first surgery on my radius, the

Montana Headwall Page 58 Winter 2013

My older sisters, Christi and Jen, traveled from Missoula to be at my side after the accident. We spent a few days at my mom’s house in Great Falls after leaving the hospital. I was given a child’s xylophone to beat on if I required anything. My nephew also came from Missoula and cooked homemade bean soup. My mom returned early from a vacation in California to pamper me for a week. Chad Harder She made healthy, great-tasting meals and took me to medical appointments. I took natural supplements, and she applied salves regularly. I placed bags of ice on sore knees morning and night. The whole process of recovery was an exercise in patience and humility, made much easier by the support of loved ones. After my mom left, my girlfriend continued the great meals and rubbed my feet with essential oils. A few weeks later my father popped up from Phoenix for five days to help get me started with the spring semester. I am thankful to finally be back near full strength. The broken ribs took several months of limited activity and one uncomfortable month of sleeping in a recliner. I saw a hand specialist who delivered a healthy dose of good pain every visit, along with a list of stretches to do on my own. I continue to work on regaining full function of my dominant hand. I often get asked if I plan on returning to the backcountry. My life will certainly involve more experiences in the wilds of Montana, the playground I’ve always appreciated. And I intend to ski again next year. But only after purchasing a beacon and probe, as well as taking an avalanche safety course. I realize I can’t always count on luck to survive.



The Crux CONTINUED FROM PAGE 62

Cathrine L. Walters

me stark naked offered me pink wine and a three-hour ride back to Missoula. Another time, at night, a little four-door sedan filled with five folks who lived on the Flathead Indian Reservation stopped and told me, “Hey brother, sure, we have room.” This was back when I had intense talks with guys from my English 101 class. We discussed writer Jack Kerouac, folksinger Woody Guthrie, doomed nature-lover Chris McCandless and country-rocker Steve Earle—all vagabonds. We were just like them, we said. I hitchhiked to prove it. Once, I got picked up by a carload of Helena High grads who poured gasoline all over dark roads and lit them on fire. I wrote a song about it later. Because wasn’t I like Steve Earle? Controlled drama, like hitchhiking to a pool as warm as a bubble bath and then back in time for English class, was fun. And surprising. One year, I tried to interject the journalism school into the decades-long rivalry between the law school and the forestry school. Traditionally, law students steal from the forestry school a stuffed moose head named “Bertha.” I thought it would be funny if a band of student reporters went to the law school and stole Bertha ourselves. We showed up one night with bolt cutters, but the moose was gone. Days later, hitchhiking in a sleet storm near Lolo, I got a ride from a law student in a giant pickup with a topper. “You know that moose, Bertha? She’s in Montana Headwall Page 60 Winter 2013

the back,” the driver said. “I’m taking her someplace safe, because people are trying to steal her.” “I can’t imagine,” I said, “who would do something like that.” Nowadays, at my home in New York City, I get nostalgic. You bet I miss basks in natural baths, but I also miss the hitchhiking. (Hitchhiking, by the way, is still legal in Montana as long as you’re not soliciting a ride from the roadway, as opposed to the shoulder or berm, but I called a highway patrolman who told me he writes hitchhikers tickets.) Sometimes I think I ought to do it again. Maybe start by paying it forward, give somebody a ride. Then I’ll see a shady-looking dude thumbing two blocks from a New Jersey prison, and I’ll keep driving. Alas, I am not Kerouac. That 2012 hoax, where a West Virginia man shot himself while hitchhiking in Montana and blamed it on somebody else, made the country laugh, but it made me sad. It just proved that hitchhiking is the province of dangerous nut-jobs. Every winter, though, when the sink piles high with dishes and the litter box overflows and my car needs oil, I’ll put on an old Steve Earle live album. Between songs, he says there was a time in his life when he thought, despite a heroin addiction, that the only thing really wrong was that he wasn’t doing enough hitchhiking. “Hey brother,” I’ll think, “I know what you mean.”


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Montana Headwall Page 61 Winter 2013


Thumbing my way

by Nate Schweber

THE CRUX

Soaking up Montana’s natural beauty, one ride at a time The hum from the engine in the big 18-wheeler dropped from a grumble to a rattle and in my peripheral vision I saw the huge thing slow, its right red blinker winking. I had to squint. The sky was so bright blue it made sunlight ricochet off white snow that stretched out like a coroner’s sheet from both sides of the interstate. For two hours I’d stood on the shoulder of I-90 near Livingston with my thumb in the air. I’d gone to Yellowstone on a January break from journalism classes at the University of Montana and simme mered my body in a hot spring. I loved the contrast of a winter soak. Steam, like dry ice smoke, rose from a freezing river where scalding runoff poured in from a geyser. I sat in that perfect junction, dunked my head, opened my eyes and watched a 16-inch cutthroat trout fin next to me. How cool. Now, watching this massive truck come to a stop, I felt like a hunter who just felled a buffalo. I had hitchhiked in the relative safety of Yellowstone, once carrying a sign that read, “Friendly Park Employee,” but never before on an

I had one thought: This is awesome. Hitchhiking to hot springs was my favorite thing to do in the winter in Montana. I didn’t ski, I never rode a snowboard and I never hammered a pick into a wall of ice so I could dangle. Spring and fall were for fishing, summer was for internships. Winter Once, a was for soaking and hitchhiking. Hitchhiking turned soaks into who introduced herself adventures. Who knew what characters I’d meet if I cocked my thumb southward on Highway 93 toward to me stark offered Goldbug, westward on Highway 12 toward Jerry Johnson or east toward wine and a three-hour Yellowstone? I was a knucklehead undergrad, a band nerd, a newspaper dweeb. But on hitchhikes I rode ride back to with lion hunters, speedboat racers and a one-eyed man who told me he had to wear his pirate’s patch ever since a barroom brawl in Butte. into his cab. He was a wiry guy with yelI did learn the right way to hold a low teeth, gray hair and eyelids peeled a knife in a fight (blade backward, facing little wide. He served in Vietnam, and away from your forearm). I also learned boy did he like to talk about it. I conabout paranormalist broadcaster Art Bell. vinced myself he was harmless. Then he And to never take a ride with seven dogs pulled a knife. if only six are housebroken. Once, a beau“Has anybody ever taught you,” he tiful woman who introduced herself to asked, “the right way to hold a knife in a knife-fight?” Continued on page 60 interstate. I never rode in a semi, either. I jogged toward the big rig and considered the obvious: Is this dangerous? Then the trucker pushed open the passenger door, threw down a hand and pulled me up

beautiful

woman

naked

pink

Missoula.

Chad Harder