Mountain High 

Yellowstone National Park is experiencing a change in the way visitors see the park in winter, reporting a 17 percent drop in the number of snowmobiles entering through the popular West Entrance since last year. And while unseasonable warmth and dismal snow conditions have prevailed, that’s not the only reason for the drop off, according to the park.

Instead of buzzing through the wildlife-rich plateau on snowmobiles, visitors are opting for the convenience of snowcoaches, the use of which has increased 20 percent over the last year. And while deciding just how much noise, air and water pollution Americans want dumped into their first national park has been a source of litigation for years, getting tourists off their sleds and into the coaches will certainly help wintering animals survive the park’s notoriously harsh winters.

Interestingly, while 720 sleds are currently permitted to enter the park daily, that maximum has not yet been reached this year. Confusion about constantly changing regulations, a well-publicized and miserably thin snowpack and an apparently growing willingness among visitors to treat the park in a less-destructive manner have effectively served to keep the numbers low. Might be a good time to go take a snowcoach tour.

The Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society is hosting a free showing of Feeding Time, a fly-fishing film with “footage of fly-fishing, fly-tying, and anglers of different genders, ages and regions.” Like the books, poems and other poetically-waxed mediums that have covered this always-romanticized activity ad infinitum, according to the press release this film “portrays the unique experiences fly-fishing provide.” Never before shown in Montana, the film was shot on locations from Belize to Montana, the Bahamas to Alaska. Feeding Time is showing at the UM North Underground Lecture Hall at 7 p.m. Feb. 17, so contact Dawson Dunning at 543-8317 or flashbackpt@yahoo.com to learn more.

UM’s Campus Rec has put together “the hottest collection of high-adrenaline outdoor films” for your viewing pleasure. “The Radical Reels Tour” hits the University Theatre Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. and tix are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Call 243-2804 for the scoop.

If the snow holds you can join The Sierra Club for a full-moon ski in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area Feb. 23. An eight-mile main corridor jaunt through “low elevation Ponderosa Pine forests and wide-open meadows” is planned. Attendees might note that the press release also mentions that this popular recreation area “is the site of the…group’s fuel reduction partnership project with Society of American Foresters and the Forest Service.” (This project also includes logging sites in Blue Mountain and Pattee Canyon. For an excellent opportunity to see how the “fuel” part of “fuel reduction” can really mean “big trees,” drive Pattee’s Larch Camp Loop Road for a highly visible from-the-car tutorial.)

Anyway, don’t forget that dogs are banned from the ‘Snake in winter, and hot drinks and warm treats will be provided. Join the posse by contacting Margot Higgins at 543-0702 or margothiggins@hotmail.com.

Northwest Connections is heading out the weekend of Feb. 19–21 for a weekend Animal Tracking Workshop, focusing on tracking skills and natural history awareness. This hands-on course in the Swan Valley includes lodging (but not meals) and costs $150 ($75 for Swan Valley residents). Register or learn more at 754-3185 or nwc@montana.com.

Glacier National Park and the Kalispell Parks and Recreation Department invite park neighbors and friends to the Columbia Falls High School Cooperative Greenhouse Feb. 16 at 10 a.m. for an introduction to the Volunteer Senior Ranger Program, a program rallying the silver-haired set to mentor local students in the park’s native plant restoration program. “Disturbed” areas inside the park need to be rehabilitated, and the program will help collect seeds, grow plants and rehab sites. The orientation will provide a hands-on overview of techniques and materials used in the program. Experience is not necessary, so anyone interested in this opportunity to dig their (mid-winter) hands in the greenhouse dirt should call Glacier horticulturist Joyce Lapp at 888-7817.

Rocky Mountaineer Fred Schwanemann continues his brisk pace of leading public trips into the wild, and on Feb. 24 he’ll lead a 14-mile crosscountry ski foray at Lolo Pass along the Moose Ridge Loop Trail. Conditions have been, uh, “variable” at the pass of late, so call him at 542-7372 to confirm and/or make plans.

Or join another Rocky Mountaineer on an ungroomed intermediate crosscountry ski trip at Lubrecht Forest Feb. 20. If the conditions are too thin the group will hit the trails at the always-deep Chief Joseph Pass, so email Alden Wright at ski@wrightmontana.net to get the lowdown.

The long-overdue weather system that moved through Western Montana Monday brought our valley’s year-to-date precipitation levels up 13-fold to a still-meager 0.40 inches, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Big Mountain. On Feb. 19 the region’s largest ski area will host its second annual Slopestyle Competition for skiers and snowboarders looking to air it out over the terrain park. Warm-ups begin at 10 a.m., competition at 11, with all hucksters getting two runs to be judged on style and difficulty. Cost is $20 (plus lift), and helmets are required. Spectating is encouraged in this open-to-all event, and volunteers score a free lift ticket for future use. Call the Big at (406) 862-2911 to get in the game.

Elsewhere, ski areas are still talking a good game, with Montana Snowbowl reporting four inches of pow-pow on a 52-inch base; Lost Trail has eight inches of fresh on a 57-inch base; Discovery Basin is reporting a 30-inch summit base; Lookout Pass is reporting nine inches of new snow on a 52-inch base; Silver Mountain is reporting 16 inches of the freshy-fresh on a 30-inch base; and Blacktail Mountain is reporting half an inch of new snow on a 28-inch base.

Send your outdoor plans to: photo@missoulanews.com

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