Mountain High 

Last weekend’s dismal temperatures kept the fresh snow off-limits to most hopeful skiers, as several area resorts opted to forego some lift ticket revenue in favor of preserving a customer base. Kind of a goose-that-lays-the-golden-egg scenario.

But now, as you read these words, our local shredshed is in full effect once more. Starting locally, Montana Snowbowl reports a summit depth of 28 inches, with just a smattering of precipitation touching down in the past 24 hours. They plan to open back up on Thu., Dec. 18, remain open seven days a week—excluding Christmas Day—and continue to serve up the most fantastic Bloody Marys this side of Winnipeg. But don’t take my word for it: Visit montanasnowbowl.com.

Glancing to the north, our powder-hungry eyes rest upon Whitefish “Big” Mountain Resort (WMR), which remains open and reminds visitors that it’s still very, very cold, so bundling up is critical. The WMR website currently reports a 29-inch base at the summit, with 25 groomed runs open for business. Their Fishbowl Terrain Park officially opens to the public on Sat., Dec. 20, and the layout’s apparently changed considerably since last season, so expect the unexpected, brah. And perhaps you’ll do your own research at skiwhitefish.com.

Peering west toward Philipsburg, the report from Discovery Ski Area is an equally optimistic appraisal. Their 24-inch summit base, with 10 runs currently deemed suitable for your boards, gives them the go-ahead to open back up for the weekend. Also, this year Discovery unveils the Bighorn Freestyle Terrain Park, with features to include “a straight rail, a flat fun box, a flat-down fun box and two jumps, including a 35-foot step-down jump.” Check it out yourself at skidiscovery.com.

Hopping even further to the west, we land in the just-south-of-Bozeman environs of the Big Sky Resort. In addition to maintaining an intense coldness, the venerable hill has a sufficient 25-inch base at the summit and reports 50 runs available for your pleasure. Also, on Sat., Dec. 20, and Sun., Dec. 21, you can get trained in all the skills necessary to teach adaptive lessons during the Eagle Mount Clinic. Give a little something back when you call 586-1781 or visit eaglemount.org. 

There are certainly other resorts offering downhill opportunities to you and yours this week, but in the interest of space and time, I’ll urge you to take a gander at the ol’ Internet for the latest from places such as Moonlight Basin, Blacktail, Lookout, Bridger Bowl and on and on. For now, I’d turn our attention to a Mountain High activity with a bit more of a scientific bent. On Sat., Dec. 20, the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count takes place in Missoula. The annual event’s been going on throughout the Americas for 109 years, with citizen scientists braving the elements to contribute their observations to Audubon’s massive database reflecting the state of the avian world.

Here in Missoula, our 50th annual Count takes place in an area with a 7.5 mile radius centered at the intersection of Reserve Street and I-90. If you want to be involved, you’ve got a couple of options. First, you can trudge out into the wilds—it’s like hunting, only with binoculars—with an experienced group leader by signing up with Larry Weeks at 549-5632. Alternately, you can remain warm and cozy in your abode, but still help the effort by keeping an eye on your yard’s bird feeders and reporting the visitors. Again, call Larry at 549-5632.

Young lovers of the great wilds can make their way to the Clearwater Farm near Stevensville on Sat., Dec. 20, where another in their series of Art and Science Classes takes place at 9 AM. Whether the program involves science experiments or the crafting of recycled art cards, the junior Mountain Highster in your set is sure to gain a few nugs of knowledge to share incessantly. $15. Call 370-0808.

Guardians of the gate to the natural world, our very own Rocky Mountaineers have a cross-country Lolo Pass ski loop planned for the morning of Sat., Dec. 20. Should our area see a few more inches of snowfall, the option of backcountry skiing will also be placed firmly upon the table. This is the last trip the group’s got listed for a while, so get in on this one by calling Ron at 370-5470 or e-mailing rpierson@mt.gov.

The Winter Solstice is typically observed on Dec. 21, also considered the true beginning of winter, but the actual moment of greatest night is an article of trivia best reserved for a late-night whiskey marathon with your favorite astrologer. Instead, let’s focus on the town of Hot Springs, where on Sat., Dec. 20, a town-wide Winter Solstice Celebration engulfs all comers in food, fire and folly. From kids’ activities to fire twirling, community banquets to music at the Symes Hotel, there’s a full day of soaking and pious observation in store, and it all begins at 1 PM. As is often the case with Hot Springs events, there’s not really any contact info, so just get up there and the rest will become apparent.

And finally, this column just wouldn’t be complete without some mention of Christmas. We cover that base this year with the announcement that on Wed., Dec. 24, Whitefish Mountain Resort’s annual Torchlight Parade with Santa comes shooting down Ed’s Run at 7 PM, with participants gathering at 6:15 to learn about the important guidelines. Be a part of it when you call 862-2900. 

Now keep those hands warm, folks, and get out into the cold.
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