Mountain High 

After weeks of dashed hopes, Old Man Winter has finally answered your calls to blanket our valley and our entire state in a few inches of powder. I have to say, it's about freakin' time, don't you think?

I guess we'll just have to blame the delay on our consistently bi-polar weather patterns in this neck of the woods. But now that we actually have a good amount of that fluffy stuff, let's celebrate by hitting up our local peddler of downhill antics known as Montana Snowbowl, as they anticipate to be open daily starting Fri., Dec. 18., at 9:30 AM. As of Sun., Dec. 13, only the T-bar and rope tow was open, but according to information on their snow phone, they expect to be able to open up the higher parts of the mountain later this week. Once they are fully open, plan to part with $39 for an adult full-day pass or $34 for a half-day pass. Also, make sure you stay updated on conditions and opening times before you leave home by calling the snow phone at 549-9696 and visiting montanasnowbowl.com.

On the chance that conditions aren't so stellar at the bowl, I'd recommend taking a trip east to Big Sky on Fri., Dec. 18 so you can take advantage of Moonlight Basin's Turkey for a Ticket food drive, which nabs you a free lift ticket to shred in exchange for donating a turkey, or 20 or more cans of non-perishable food. All you need to do is stop by the Madison Village Base Area when the mountain opens at 9 AM and drop off your donations, which will be given to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. Visit moonlightbasin.com for detailed directions to the mountain, and be sure to call 995-7716 for any burning questions you have.

For a less physically taxing excursion this week, I'd suggest spending Sat., Dec. 19 in the company of avians and avian enthusiasts during scheduled Christmas bird counts by the Flathead Audubon Society as well as Missoula's Five Valley's Audubon Society.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ALEX SAKARIASSEN

The count in the Flathead is based around Streeter's Corner, north of Bigfork, and will start soon after the sun rises in a host of to-be-determined locations dotted along a spot 15 miles in diameter. Count groups are being finalized this week, but you can still join up with other Audubon members on Saturday by calling member Dan Casey to RSVP at 857-3143 or by e-mailing him at caseys4@centurytel.net. It's free to count, but a fee of $5 is requested to help with the cost of tallying up the counting, which will then be published in the Audubon Society's national journal. Your grumbling belly should also note a potluck is scheduled at the Bigfork Senior Center after the big count. Visit flatheadaudubon.org.

In Missoula, the Five Valley's Audubon Society plans to get its own bird calculatin' on starting around 9 AM or so at various locations within a 15-mile diameter area around the intersection of I-90 and Reserve Street. Groups of counters are being assigned this week, so if you want to join in, contact member Larry Weeks quickly at 549-5632 or e-mail him at bwsgenea@onlinemt.com. This count is also free, but you are asked to chip in $5 to help with tabulation, which also gets you a free copy of the published results. A potluck follows the count at 6 PM, so click over to fvamissoula.org to download the newsletter for directions.

The exploratory lot among you can also spend Sat., Dec. 19 on snowshoes or cross country skis in the Bitterroot when you meet up with Rocky Mountaineers' trip leader Shawn Bennett for a two-day, overnight excursion to Little St. Joseph Peak, which is also where the Mountaineers' cabin is located. If you're down, meet at the old Big Lots parking area off of Brooks Street at 7:30 AM, and then you'll drive up to the cabin to drop off your overnight gear. Afterwards, plan to rock out all day Saturday and Sunday in the snow. But before you throw those snowshoes in your car, RSVP by calling Shawn as soon as possible at 493-4892 or e-mail him at shawnedwardbennett@gmail.com.

Perhaps you don't know how to calmly shred on a pair of Nordic skis. Remedy that on Sat., Dec. 19 when Kellie Carim of the Missoula Nordic Ski Club leads a skate technique ski clinic at 10 AM at the Pattee Canyon ski trails. The event looks to be free, but the club would like you to get a membership if you want to participate in future events, so click to missoulanordic.org for info. Plans for the clinic could also change due to the weather, so keep your eyes peeled on the website for updates.

Sun., Dec. 20 brings us opportune time to chillax from a few days of exertion by watching the buttery smooth moves of members from the Missoula Figure Skating Club during its Holiday on Ice event, which runs from 4:15–5:45 PM at the Glacier Ice Rink, 1101 South Ave. W. For a $2 or more suggested donation, you can check some of the slip-free scratch spins or camel spins of experienced club members and more. Visit missoulafsc.org or call 543-5889.

We couldn't possibly end the week without mention of Christmas, could we? Don't worry, I didn't space it. So in the spirit of the season, summon that day of over consumption of food and presents by watching others, including Santa, shoot down Whitefish's Big Mountain during Santa's Torchlight Parade, which starts at 6 PM Thu., Dec. 24 at the Whitefish Mountain Resort. Free to watch, but you can also join in on the fun by registering to ski in the parade by calling 862-2907. However, only intermediate and advanced skiers are encouraged, so novices need not apply. Visit skiwhitefish.com.

Now get out there and play hard, but be sure to drive safely and give bicyclists plenty of room to navigate our newly icy terrains.

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