Mountain High 

First, a quick check-in with our region’s still-prayin’-for-snow ski resorts. At press time, which is at least a few days ago, Missoula’s local favorite, Montana Snowbowl, minces no words. They’re closed, have no idea when conditions will allow them to open, and are making no promises. Thanks for the honesty, fellas.

Further up the compass, Whitefish Mountain Resort is reporting a sick eight-inch settled base at the summit, with the clouds currently providing a “fairly hard” dump and snow blowers functioning at full capacity. They forecast a possible and very limited opening on Sat., Dec. 6.

Looking east, the slanted terrain of Discovery Ski Area near Philipsburg is also reportedly verging upon opening. With claims of a 10-inch base at their summit and fresh snow arriving daily, I guess it’s only a matter of time.

This week’s big winner appears to be the Big Sky Resort, south of Bozeman. With a summit base of 21 inches, four lifts scheduled to operate and a whopping 175 acres—or 5 percent of their total terrain—open, they warn that “early season conditions” exist, which means bring your old boards, or borrow some from a “buddy.”

While the present paucity of snow means the elk are probably all remaining up high, that fact doesn’t affect the closure of Mount Jumbo, which went into effect Dec. 1, with the South Zone opening again on March 15, and the North Zone remaining closed through May 1. Of course, you and your leashed dog can still march up to the “L” or hike along I-90, but given the 10 billion other available hikes, why not just give the place a rest? Cool.

One way to give the elk some space is to spend more time in movie theaters. Take the Wilma, for example, where Thu., Dec. 4, sees the return of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival at 6 PM. The shindig begins with a boozy social hour, during which you can check out all the eco-tablers and such before taking in several hours of awesome and award-winning films. $11/students buy one, get one free.

Another great way to ignore local elk is to run in roughly the opposite direction. A fine opportunity to do so comes when late registration for the Freezer Burn Run opens at 8:30 AM on Sat., Dec. 6, in the Frenchtown High School parking lot, with the main event going down at 10. With a half marathon and a 5K contest, this event’s got something for everyone who feels like remaining active in the face of all those lazy, bedding-down elk. Visit www.soe.umt.edu/hhp/freezer_burn_home.shtm.

Wish those outdoorists well as you seek life-saving knowledge when UM’s Outdoor Program presents a Transceiver Clinic at 9 AM on Sat., Dec. 6, at a location to be announced. Fifteen bucks gets you the class and the beacons, and you’re urged to sign up pronto by calling 243-5172.

Leave the Mount Jumbo elk to their own devices as you cruise north to Arlee, where you can help determine the course of generations of recreationists when you attend a meeting of the Jocko Valley Trails Committee at 10 AM on Sat., Dec. 6, at the Hangin Art Gallery and Coffee House. Call 726-5550.

Should you decide instead to live among the elk this winter, you’ll need some help fitting in. The Montana Natural History Center, 120 Hickory St., comes to your rescue with the Saturday Kids, Activity “Camouflaged Critters” at 2 PM on Sat., Dec. 6. Pick up all manner of tips and tricks for the low, low price of $1, or 50 cents for kids, with members skating through the door for nuthin’. Call 327-0405.

And as shall be the case once we’re gone, birds rule the next few entries. The Five Valleys Audubon Society offers a Mission Valley birding trip on Sat., Dec. 6, so meet with lunch in hand at 8 AM in the UM Adams Center’s parking lot, or at 9 AM at the Ninepipes Lodge. The trip’s free, and fearless leader Jim Brown can be reached at 549-8052.

The next day, the Flathead Audubon Society holds their monthly meeting at 7 PM on Mon., Dec. 8, where Christmas bird count compiler Dan Casey offers the cautionary tale “A Christmas (Count) Carol” in the community room of the Summit Medical Center, 205 Sunnyview Lane in Kalispell. Free.

Keep your bird dollars local when Five Valleys Audubon’s Jim Brown—this week’s avian rock star—takes the crowd on a tropical journey with the visual feast “Birds of Panama,” which transports you to a lush rainforest at 7:30 PM on Mon., Dec. 8, in Room L14 of UM’s Gallagher Business Building. Free.

My pal Sergeant Slaughter always used to say, “And knowing is half the battle,” which is why all potential snowsporters should check out an Avalanche Awareness Lecture at 7 PM on Tue., Dec. 9, in UM’s Urey Lecture Hall. After that, you can go high-marking all you want. Free. Call 243-5172.

The Bitterroot National Forest seems to care about your health, which is nice of them, and which is also why their Be Active Bitterroot program offers a Snowshoe Hike on Wed., Dec. 10, with a 6 PM rendezvous at the Darby Ranger Station. You’re asked to bring extra clothes, water, snacks, a headlamp and snowshoes, if you have them. It’s free, and if you need to borrow ‘shoes, call Janeen at 381-2951.

And if none of these events strike your fancy, there’s always skin-diving in the Clark Fork…
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