Mountain High 

The Natural Resource and Conservation Service reported the obvious last week, quantifying in alarming fashion a fact of which every fish, ski-area owner and rancher in the state is already aware: Montana’s snowpack sucks.

Apparently, Old Man Winter is feeling a bit meek this year, despite the fact that our eternally optimistic ski areas continue to report “great!” (albeit artificial and limited) snow conditions.

But whether we’re experiencing a sign of the global warming times, the effects of El Niño or just a singularly shitty winter, the record dryness of Western Montana has some shaking in their flip-flops and lamenting the cash dropped for barely used passes. Many will go unpaid-for this year as Snowbowl and Discovery Basin are slated to close Sunday, March 13—an early-season shuttering that’s tragic by any standard.

The good news is that the lack of snow doesn’t stop the party, so be sure to hit the ‘Bowl before it closes, at least for Sunday’s End of Season Party, a shindig that spreads across the entirety of the mountain and doesn’t end with their best-in-class Bloody Marys.

Big Mountain has better, although still underwhelming conditions—Hellroaring Basin is closed, night skiing is cancelled, the Nordic course is closed—but in response they’ve dropped their ticket prices to $39, a fine price to ski their still-expansive slopes beneath bluebird skies atop consistent corn snow.

Skiers with Preferred Skier Cards at Discovery Basin are getting their free week of skiing earlier than planned, March 7–13, due again to lack of snow. There are free ski races for anyone March 12–13, too, although many lowbaggers will be keen to note that next year’s season passes will run a meager $149 through May 1. Log on to www.skidiscovery.com for details.

There’s not much to report elsewhere in the lift-serviced world, although many ski areas are reducing rates in an effort to lure folks out of their lawn chairs and up to the mountain. Perennial pow(d)erhouse Lookout Pass still has decent snow (36 inches up top) but is open only on weekends; Blacktail Mountain is about 50 percent open; Lost Trail has a best-in-the-region 60 inches up top; and Silver Mountain will only be open Thursdays through Sundays for the rest of the season. Ski industry retailers are also feeling the crunch of our non-winter, and so discount prices can be had from both local retailers and sporting good superstores. (I bought a brand new snowboard earlier this week for the cost of a day’s rental ($29!) at Gart Sports, and they had many, many more...)

The New Rocky Mountaineers are heading up the 9,425’ East St. Mary’s Peak March 12 for a snowshoe/hiking adventure. This is a burly mile-high climb, and the views of the southern Missions reward anyone with the hiking endurance necessary to get to the summit. Call Gerald Olbu at 549-4769 for details.

The Lolo Watershed Group is meeting March 16 and will “feature an analysis of what Lolo-area residents might expect if Tom Maclay’s proposed “Bitterroot Resort” proposal becomes reality.”

This development will have social, environmental and economic effects on a large area, says the group, and the 7 p.m. meeting at the Lolo Community Center looks to address these issues and more. If you share their desire to “preserve the rural character of the drainage, restore Lolo Creek’s wild trout fishery, and advance conservation practices in the Lolo Creek watershed,” call John Zelazny at 544-7430 to get on board.

Rocky Mountaineer Steve Schombel is heading up to ski the moderate nine-mile route from Lolo Pass to the top of Packer Ridge March 13, an itinerary that likely crosses the fabled path used by Lewis and Clark as they headed over the Bitterroots. Good views and fun bowls abound, as do variable snow conditions, so leave the dogs at home and call 721-4686 for the scoop.

Missoulians on Bicycles are back in the saddle, and they’re heading out March 13 for a 35-mile cruise to Huson and back. Meet at the Perkins restaurant near the bicycle maze of Reserve Street and Mullan Road at 10 a.m. and count on a drink at “the nice warm bar in downtown Huson.” Call trip leader Ken Moe at 239-9754 to learn more.

The details are thin, but if you’re interested in either living vicariously or getting ready for next year’s ski season, be sure to check out the University of Montana Outdoor Program’s “Backcountry Skiing Lecture” March 11 at 6 p.m. They’ve got a big staff of talented and experienced ski experts to work with, so anyone looking to discuss equipment, learn about evaluating terrain or in any way stay safe in the backcountry should check out this free lecture. Call 240-5172 for the beta.

Send pictures of your secret stash and your outdoor schedule to: photo@missoulanews.com.

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