Mountain High 

Monday, Dec. 1 marks the annual closure of 1,600 acres of Mount Jumbo, a status that remains strictly enforced until March 14.

According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as many as 100 elk descend from the Rattlesnake Range and nearby high country when they are effectively pushed out by deepening snows and eager for more readily available forage.

These dropping-down migratory patterns are similar to those of elk throughout their Western range, an area significantly smaller than their historical stomping grounds, which once stretched from California to New England. While intense hunting pressure decimated elk numbers to near-unrecoverable levels during the 1800s, public pressure forced the creation of hunting restrictions, and the population has since returned to sustainable levels.

In and around Yellowstone National Park, massive elk herds began to decline in number when wolves were introduced in 1995. And although elk numbers fluctuate greatly over time, park managers allow them to find their own sustainable level, even though in recent years they have browsed young aspens so extensively that vast tracts of the trees are failing to reach maturity.

Missoula County’s aspens don’t have that problem, as elk here live in much smaller numbers, displaced from historic winter range by city and sprawl. Instead, they choose to winter above our noisy city on the south-facing, low-snow hillside of Mount Jumbo, where they eke it out through the cold months.

Although portions of what is arguably Missoula’s second-most-popular mountain remain open to hikers, runners and skiers, the public is banned from the rest of the area to allow the wapiti to winter in peace.

According to FWP’s press release, it may require only “a few instances of trespass during the closure period…to displace elk from their preferred winter range.” The elk view humans and dogs as predators, and younger or weaker animals will be less likely to survive the winter if they have to run or hide in areas where less forage can be found.

While signs at all public access points explain which areas are off limits and which areas remain open, dog walkers should note that their pups must be leashed across the entirety of the mountain until March 14, and we’re not kidding around—FWP and the City of Missoula ask anyone observing a closure violation to call 911 immediately.

If you’d like more information about the winter closures, call Missoula’s Open Space Program Manager Kate Supplee at 258-4669. Or log on to the Parks and Recreation website to view a map:

The rip-roaringest winter in years has already blanketed Lolo Pass in about three feet of snow, and the Missoula Nordic Ski Club has responded by grooming 10 kilometers of the extensive cross-country ski trail network for your gliding bliss. MNSC encourages all skiers using the groomed trails to consider supporting the grooming effort with a $15 annual membership fee that also keeps the trails of Pattee Canyon and the Rattlesnake in tip-top shape. Log on to to pay your dues.

In-the-know Snowbowl skiers hit the bowl for the first rips of the season on a one-day-only ski last Sunday, Nov. 23, but Missoula’s backyard mountain will be opening the chairs for the season on Friday, Nov. 28. Snowbowl, like most of Montana’s ski areas, sports some of the deepest early season snow in recent memory, so non-passholders might want to take advantage of a preseason ticket purchase that allows $6/ticket savings—but only if you buy them before Dec. 1.

Also opening Nov. 28 will be Blacktail Mountain, celebrating its sixth season of operation high above Flathead Lake. They’ll be selling full-day tickets at the half-day rate ($22) through Dec. 19.

Missoula skiers unable to wait until Friday to strap on the boards should consider heading to Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho, where no less than 54 inches have thoroughly winterized the well-hidden slopes. They opened their gondola to the public on press day, Nov. 25, but as of deadline, had yet to determine the ticket price.

Lookout Pass, Big Mountain, Discovery Basin, Big Sky and a whole slew of other ski areas will be opening the day after Turkey Day, so gobble up the bird on Thursday, and then gobble up the powpow on Friday—and don’t forget the turkey sandwiches for chairlift munchies!

Meanwhile, everybody’s secret lift-serviced powder stash, Lost Trail, has definitely been getting powder-pummeled, but has “yet to determine” an opening date, so call ahead before heading up (821-3211).

Join the Rocky Mountaineers as they invite Dino-phile Marilyn Swick for their monthly meeting in room 201 of the Missoula County Courthouse. At 7 p.m. on Dec. 10, Swick will address dinosaurs and “what was going on in our mountains in the distant past.” It’s a free-for-all, but call Julie Warner (543-6508) if you have any questions.

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