Mountain High 

Another winter for the weather record books has come and gone. Deep snows in November and December had those who track the accumulation (with skis or by watching the books) claiming it could rival our last epic dump, in 1996. Unfortunately, midway through January the faucet dried up. Regulars on Snowbowl’s slopes stopped celebrating powder days, having to warm up to spring conditions instead. Over the months, a muddy parking lot turned bone dry while snow disappeared from the ski hill’s slopes, eventually forcing the mountain to close last weekend. Mountain High thanks Snowbowl and everyone who makes the Bowl a special local place. It was a hell of a year.

But back to that bone-dry parking lot, and what it means for river and fire seasons. According to the National Weather Service, snow pack for the Bitterroot Basin is at 79 percent of normal, while the Upper Clark Fork sits at 81 percent and the Lower Clark Fork touts 75 percent. Meteorologists say that the combination of high temperatures in March and no new snow accumulation during that same time period affected the numbers, which were near 100 percent at the beginning of the month.

This means that rivers could be drying up earlier this year, affecting fishing and whitewater plans, as well as depths in reservoirs, which provide valuable late season water for farmers. Word is still out on what to expect from this fire season. Small-scale fires from burn piles have already flared up. One Bitterroot resident even lost a home already. While a rainy spring is expected, a cool summer is needed to escape the flames unscathed.

Along similar lines, a study published in Science recently found that since 1950, springtime snow pack in Montana has declined 15 to 30 percent, with springtime peak river flows now arriving an average of two weeks earlier. The study also contends that if even the most moderate regional warming predictions come true during the next 50 years, some Western snow packs will drop by as much as 60 percent. For more information on Montana weather trends, visit UM’s Montana Climate Center website at: climate.ntsg.umt.edu.

Might as well ride that bubble of water while you can. What better way to discover the world of canoeing (or revisit it) than to join a crew from Campus Recreation on the Lower Flathead. Lee Metzger and Dudley Improta will teach birding and basic canoeing techniques on April 24 and 25. The Lower Flathead is considered to be a major bird migration route, hosting over 100 different species during the migration. Register by April 21. There is a pre-trip meeting on April 22 at the Outdoor Program at 6 p.m. Contact Campus Recreation for more information at 243-2804.

It’s true, the industrial ski season is over in Missoula. But a short drive north will give you one more weekend to play and participate in end of the season revelry. A lift ticket only runs $20 this time of year at the Big Mountain, and this Saturday is the 35th annual Furniture Race. If you’re not up to speed on the concept of this contest, here goes. Simply take an item you could pass off as a household lounging material, slap some skis and a brake on it, then put on some skimpy underwear and fly down the hill as spectators pelt you with snow balls. Of course, Big Mountain frowns on alcohol consumption before the race, but kegs and bottles have been spotted at the starting line during years past. Registration takes place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the base of Chair 3. You must be 21, have identification, sign a release and wear a helmet. Goggles are also encouraged. The show starts at 5 p.m. Entry fees are $15 per person and $30 for a group.

Thursday is also the last day to get your turn on for the Big Vertical Competition. The challenge is between 6,500 season pass holders, who are vying for the most vertical rides within Big Mountain’s lift system this year. On Friday, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the Mountain will reward the winners at the Bierstube. Prizes include some nice gear, not to mention bragging rights. We say get a job, ski bum. Just kidding, of course.

Speaking of jobs, here’s a race for those poor suckers who work weekends and miss every other chance. Next Thursday evening, April 15, is the 5K Kim Williams Trail Run. It starts at 6 p.m. just north of the stadium. Entry fee is $15 on race day, $13 if you contact Campus Recreation early at 243-5295.

And while you’re out doing your spring thing, be sure to check for ticks. The first sightings have already happened in conjunction with recent warm weather. The little creatures are amazing. They hold onto twigs with two legs and their other legs grasp anything they touch. If you find a tick, obviously, remove it. The City-County Health Department also recommends that you keep the carcass and tape it to a piece of paper with the date it was found. Anybody who spends any time hiking this time of year has surely returned with up to 30 ticks on them before. Hope you’ve got some note cards handy.

The New Rocky Mountaineers are headed for Little Saint Joe in the Bitterroots on Sunday for a ski-and-snowshoe trip. Watch dense forest yield to tree line as you gain 4,700 vertical feet. There’s potential up top for some excellent telemark skiing. For more information call Gerald Olbu at 549-4769.

Send outdoor news we can use to jmahan@missoulanews.com.

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