Friday, March 9, 2012

Downing Mountain Lodge

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2012 at 4:08 PM

We arrived on March 8 with low expectations. We were hoping for pow, but the forecast called for 50+ degrees and sun. Only a trace of snow had fallen recently. Pulling into the parking area, we saw some snow, but mostly bare ground.

Somewhat hesitantly, we began our approach up the icy road. We knew conditions would improve as we climbed, and soon we had our skis on, skinning on a thin layer of snow that quickly grew deeper and deeper. Before we knew it we arrived at the lodge, a warm fire greeting us to its spacious interior. Some friends had already arrived; more walked in 20 minutes later. Once our posse was complete, we fueled up, geared up and soon were skinning up Downing Mountain.

Our hosts—lodge owners John Lehrman and Jen Callahan—set a fast pace under broken gray skies. The work of skinning up 2000 vertical feet quickly separated our 10-person party, with stronger skiers quickly gaining the ridge while off-the-couchers bringing up the rear.

A couple hours (and a broken binding) later, I exited the trees and slipped into a broad meadow. From here the destination towered before us—a rocky and feature-filled ridge known fittingly as The Crown. After a few steeper turns it opened into a treeless low-angle bowl. Two faster skiers had already taken a run, leaving a beautiful pair of signature turns lacing from top to bottom in snow deeper and lighter than anyone had expected for the day.

Katy Garton wears the Crown.

The pow was perhaps boot-deep, and—thanks to the athletes in the group—the skin track was already in. Most of us took a lap or two, some took three while the Lehrmans boogied on down their very familiar mountain to prepare a feast we would get to enjoy just three hours later.

After destroying The Crown, we hit a line called Shore Break (a less committal portion of The Wave) and climbed to the top of Avie Bowl, the prominent slide path visible due west of Hamilton. Upon our host's recommendation, we stayed atop the bowl's southern ridge before dropping into the aptly named Long Run, a spaciously-treed and north-facing powder shot that goes and goes for 1600 glorious feet.

Arriving at the lodge we popped some beers and plowed into a delicious feast of homemade squash soup, steak with morels and fresh baked pie. A hot tub and a good night's sleep later, we went back up and did it again in snow nearly as dank as the first day, this time under brilliant bluebird skies.

Erik Samsoe rocks.

A few laps later and the sun started getting low to the west. We headed back toward Avie Bowl, this time taking a more direct line from the top of the bowl, and again found incredibly soft and deep snow.

Pleasure cruising high in the Bitterroots.

It was a great reminder, that while many were mountain biking, skiing resort corn, throwing disc golf and walking dogs in the grassy valley, creamy pow was still to be had in the high Bitterroots. By focusing solely on north- and northeast-facing aspects, we skied incredible snow, well into March, on a day that approached 60 degrees in the valley. We couldn't have asked for anything more.

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