Mountain High 

If you only read one line from this week’s column, it might as well be this one, a quote from Mon., Dec. 10, from a member of the Ski Patrol at Snowbowl: “Snow conditions are great right now.”

With that bit of wisdom coming down the mountain, you know what to do: Visit your favorite ski hill’s website or call for current conditions before heading out. I’ll get to a brief rundown a bit later, but first, a bit of disturbing news.

In the aftermath of a ferocious and costly fire season, which managed to put the Forest Service many millions of dollars in the hole, the agency made a confusing late-September purchase. For a little more than $600,000, the overseers of the forests bought 700 Tasers—euphemistically known as “Electronic Control Devices”—for their law enforcement agents.

The nitrogen-propelled stun guns, which can deliver 50,000 volts of electricity to disrupt a victim’s electromuscular system, have been connected with over 200 deaths in the past five years. The jury’s still out on the weapon’s classification as “less-than-lethal,” and each new report in the media about a convulsing victim suffering cardiac damage brings me back to this question: Do Forest Service law enforcement officers really need to be electrocuting people?

Wherever your opinion falls on this one, there’s no need to fear the forest just yet: The Tasers will remain in storage until officers can receive adequate training in public immobilization. Until then, they’ll just have to make do with their standard-issue guns.

To begin this week’s roundup, here’s a reminder about someplace not to go: The Pattee Canyon Folf Course is closed until Apr. 30, 2008, as it intersects with the cross-country trails and managers want to give the place a little time to recover. Avid folfers are requested to huck over to the Blue Mountain course in order to avoid any stray voltage. I mean, if that guy in Florida could get Tased for asking a question, where’s the line, exactly?

Whitefish Mountain resort draws a line in the snow on Fri., Dec. 14, as they kick off their 60th year of operation with a day of festivities and downhill mayhem. In 1947, a lift ticket cost $2, and while prices for the day will remain fixed at 2007 levels, you can expect ribbon-cutting, monument-blessing and honorable-mentioning to highlight this special day. Call 862-2900.

Moonlight Basin reveals the truth of the matter—the area south of Bozeman is in really good shape for snow—as at press time they report a 42-inch base and all runs open. On Fri., Dec. 14, you can ski for relatively free during their “Turkey for a Ticket Day,” the details of which are succinctly contained within the name. Call their Snow Phone at 993-MOON.

Speaking of turkeys, and birds in general, you could take a break from the slopes on Sat., Dec. 15, in order to participate in the Five Valley Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. You needn’t be a pro birder to help out, and you don’t even need to journey out into the wilds—you can keep tabs on the little hollow-boned wonders huddling around your backyard feeders, if you like. To join up with a scouting party, call Larry at 549-5632, or to get set up as a feeder watcher, give Elizabeth a ring at 327-1525.

Alternately, you could use Sat., Dec. 15, to increase your knowledge of snow behavior when you attend Minot Maser’s day-long course “Avalanche Clinic: Snow Pits and Transceiver Training.” Once you meet up at 8 AM in the K-Mart parking lot, you’ll spend the day learning the basics of snow stability assessment, transceiver use and modern rescue digging techniques before doing a little backcountry skiing to cap it all off. A bag lunch is just one of the required materials, so give Minot a call at 546-2771. 

Heading back to the commercial slopes, here’s the rest of the offerings: Blacktail Mountain opens on Sat., Dec. 15, and while information is somewhat patchy, here’s hoping the snow won’t be. Call 844-0999.

Missoula’s most local pow-pow destination, Snowbowl, which at press time reported a 36-inch base at the summit and 45 percent of runs open, begins their shuttle bus service on Sat., Dec. 15. You can expect pick-up at 8:45 AM in the Sevenar parking lot at the base of Grant Creek, with the return trip leaving from the hill at 4:15 PM. It’s cheap, you get to meet people you share at least one interest with and you can avoid driving your car into a ditch. Call 549-9777.  

Also on Sat., Dec. 15, Whitefish Mountain holds their own Pray for (More) Snow Party at 7 PM at their Bierstube. Meanwhile, Big Sky, which boasts 46 inches of snow at upper mountain and yet is only 43 percent open, hosts their annual Rails Under the Stars competition at 7 PM in the Plaza area by the Snowcrest Lodge, to be followed by a “sick” fireworks display at 8. Call (800) 548-4486.

Here’s wishing you a chilly and clear powder week—may the only currents you encounter involve the aquatics center, and may your greatest shock be at what a blast you had in our mountain home.
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