Mountain High 

In the interest of proper chronology, let me first say that on Fri., Dec. 15, the Rocky Mountaineers will take a trip to East St. Mary’s Peak in the Mission Mountains. They plan to leave Missoula around 7 AM and the climb gains 3,500’ in the first 1.5 miles, so participants should be in good physical shape. You’ll want to bring skis with skins, though snowshoers are welcome and shall not be taunted. Contact Forest Dean at 240-7612.

And now, on to the meaningful introduction:

Each year, hearty groups of wildlife enthusiasts take to the hills in the hopes of returning with trophies and stories to tell around fires and cocoa cups. They trudge through the day and into evening, keeping their eyes peeled and ears perked for sign of their stealthy and elusive prey.

These hunters flock together each year not to stock their freezers, which by now are either full or unplugged in defeat, but to lend their skills to efforts to refine human knowledge of the animal kingdom.

I was once a volunteer ornithologist—in the most amateur connotation of the word—with the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count in West Virginia.

Our team spent the day with warm whiskey-laced coffee and cheap cigarillos, surveying the woods for brown creepers, white-breasted nuthatches and the like. At the end of the day, despite the fact that our stickfights and wrestling matches probably scared off much of our intended quarry, we returned to our group’s base with a decent bird list to submit to science.

This is not the way to go about it. This is: the Five Valleys Audubon Society will hold its 47th annual Bird Count in the Missoula area on Sat., Dec. 16. The group has put out the call for birders of all calibers, though the tipsy and boisterous need not apply.

The bird count area is a circle with a 7.5-mile radius centered at the Reserve Street/I-90 intersection, so the more birders, the merrier. Volunteers can either roam in their search for avian data, or stay at home by their own feeders to monitor from a favorite chair. If you’re interested, give Larry Weeks a call at 549-5632, or call Elizabeth Johnston at 327-1525 about birding from home.

If you’d like to look for birds without the onus of contributing to our collective pool of knowledge, by all means do so when the New Rocky Mountaineers take a ski/snowshoe trip up Trapper Peak on Sat., Dec. 16. The strenuous eight-mile journey each way will reward the stout of mind and body with stunning views and an elevated pulse. Call Gerald Olbu at 549-4769 if you’re interested.

For those of you looking to test new ski gear this year, this week offers two opportunities, one of which is the annual snow demo day at Big Mountain starting at 8:30 AM on Sat., Dec. 16. Company representatives and local merchants will be all too happy to offer free equipment demos from the rental shop. Call 862-2900 for more details.

Speaking of skiing, Moonlight Basin will open its runs on Sat., Dec. 16, and will offer discounted all-day lift tickets to tempt those on the fence.

The most unusual downhill news of the day is the 3rd annual RUST—Rails Under the STars—which takes place at 7 PM on Sat., Dec. 16, at the base area of Big Sky Resort. The rail jam will feature skiers and snowboarders competing on technical rails and boxes. You may indeed have the moves to contend with other snow athletes, but competing in this event is by invitation only, so unless your entry has been sought, plan on simply observing the riders and enjoying the fireworks and awards ceremony to follow.

Another chance to grind grooves into recreational equipment you don’t own presents itself when Lookout Pass hosts a ski and snowboard demo day on Sun., Dec. 17, at the Lookout Ski Shop. Call 208-744-1301 to learn about your end of the bargain.

It’s a banner weekend for the Rocky Mountaineers, who host a second excursion on Sun., Dec. 17, to Ward Mountain in the Bitterroots. The group leaves Missoula around 7 AM to make the 12-mile ski trip (with skins, of course) before darkness engulfs them. Call Forest Dean at 240-7612 if you’d like to go.

And in a much-anticipated annual move, the west entrance to Yellowstone Park opens to over-the-snow visitors at 8 AM on Wed., Dec. 20, when a ribbon-cutting ceremony will mark the beginning of West Yellowstone’s 51st year of welcoming winter guests. In a burst of noise and particulate matter, 400 snowmobiles will be allowed to enter the park from the west, so bring a gas mask and join in the fun.

And here’s a cheer for the Missoula Skatepark Association. Thanks for all you do to keep kids off Little League. Readers looking for a cool Christmas gift will find all kinds of goodies—T-shirts, hats, posters and even engraved bricks—at the group’s website,

Now come up with a great, all-inclusive pre-Christmas outdoor event and send it off to:

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