Mountain High 

With the winter season of cold, snowy frost officially upon us now, I urge all Mountain Highsters to consider the myriad benefits of a soak in one of our nearby hot springs.

Your Comrade spent his New Year’s Eve in what’s probably our best-known and possibly most heavenly piping mineral water locale, the town of Hot Springs. A 1.5–2 hour journey from Missoula, dependent upon driving style, Hot Springs provides developed venues for rejuvenation, including the Symes Hotel (741-2361) and Alameda’s Retreat (741-2283), as well as several below-the-radar pools.

If you feel like a short trip to a steamy reunion with alienated tendons and ligaments, try Lolo Hot Springs, a developed resort that houses both indoor and outdoor pools. It’s a quick 35-mile jump from Missoula and the new owners have focused on improving the site and added a “naturist night” option on Sundays and Wednesdays. Call 273-2290.

For a chance to gander at “nothin’-but-naturists,” you’ll want to step onto the slightly less traveled paths leading toward some of our region’s backcountry springs. Journeying past Lolo Hot Springs on Highway 12, you’ll come to a number of soak zones that require a little hoofing before the payoff. Jerry Johnson and Weir Hot Springs top the list with their remote-ish settings, hollowed-out cedar trees for sleeping and clothes-free sensibilities. Drive on past these two and you’ll hit one of my favorites, Stanley, which requires a six-mile hike from Wilderness Gateway, or head south on U.S. Highway 93 to Gold Bug, near the town of Salmon, Idaho.

Of course, there are lots of other places to get into hot water around these parts, and any sins of omission are more space-related than anything else. A few that are worth mentioning include Lost Trail, Quinn’s, Boulder, Alhambra, Bozeman, Chico and Fairmont. Indeed, in this chilly winter wonderland, we are blessed to live near so much hot, healing water. Now go soak it in.

Ski resorts left and right are basically freaking out about how much snow they’ve been getting, so I’ll make it official and proclaim that we’re having an outstanding early season, and you can’t really go wrong wherever you decide to slap boards to your feet. In lieu of a rundown of base-depth boasts and yeti-sized claims of open acreage, I’ll leave it at this: You have the Comrade’s full support in pursuing whatever downhill or cross-country ski or board option best tickles your fancy. Use Web or phone to double check, or just roll the dice and head on out there.

As for other outdoor-related event offerings, things are picking back up again after the holiday lull. We start with some brain food from the Traveler’s Rest Chapter of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, which, besides having one mouthful of a name, is pleased to present retired Lolo National Forest wildlife biologist Mike Hillis, who tears a page from their playbook as he offers up the free but cumbersomely titled program “How Have the Wildlife Populations in Montana Changed Since the Time of the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1805 and 1806?” at 7 PM on Thu., Jan. 3 at the Lolo Community Center. Call 273-3651.  

Just in case a good soak doesn’t dissolve that competitive streak of yours, rest assured in the knowledge that you can still vie for supremacy on the slopes. On Thu., Jan. 3, Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Thursday Night Telemark Race League begins with registration at 5 PM. Non-knee-benders can still compete, as the Wednesday Night Alpine Race League began on Wed., Jan. 2. Either way, you’ll get the info you need at 862-2900.

It’s like being outside, only you’re inside: Missoula’s Currents Aquatics Center offers free admission to their indoor marvel of chlorinated—or possibly brominated—habitat beginning at 5:30 PM on Mon., Jan. 7. Bring the family, slap a swim diaper on the wee tikes and spend the evening hurtling down the waterslides, which verge on being terrifyingly fast. Call 721-PARK.

The Yellowstone Association collaborates with the Park Service to present a vast array of educational opportunities to the public each year, with the express purpose of increasing everybody’s understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of Yellowstone Park. From private “ed-ventures” to field seminars and backpacking courses, their catalog is packed with better ways to explore the Yellowstone ecosystem this summer than in an RV. Registration for members begins Mon., Jan. 7. Non-members can sign up a week later, starting Mon., Jan. 14. Visit yellowstone association.org/institute or call (307) 344-2294.

Missoula’s intrepid Dirt Girls have set a schedule of hikes for the next few weeks, and they call all women who desire a bit of earthen residue ‘neath their nails to get involved: This week, the Girls meet at 5:45 PM on Tue., Jan. 8, at the Waterworks parking lot for a saunter through yon North Hills. Call Julie at 721-1776 ext. 214 or 549-2226.

Another resident herd of trippers, the Rocky Mountaineers, invite all parties with an interest in mass year-round outings to attend their monthly meeting at 7 PM on Tue., Jan. 8, at Pipestone Mountaineering, 129 W. Front St. After the business portion of the meeting, which involves the logistics of planning all kinds of rad adventures, member David Wright will present a program on the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan, where the Mountaineers plan to organize a weekend hike just as soon as the last few bugs are worked out of the new transporter technology. Call Julie at 543-6508.

And with that, my friends, I turn you loose to find your own source of sulfuric salvation amidst the rocks and waters of this great land. Be well into the new year and send me news of upcoming outdoor exploits.
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