Chasing Snow

Big MountainI was born in Montana. My mother was born in Montana, and my paternal grandparents homesteaded a small farm in the Flathead Valley. Both my parents and my daughter graduated from the University of Montana. I’ve spent most of my life elsewhere, but maybe these associations are the reason I feel so connected to Montana.

Part of Surviving Seattle is finding ways to spice it up, so last week I left Seattle and drove East chasing snow. Three years in Vietnam had severely impacted my ski program and I was determined not to let another year go by without getting back on ‘em. I missed it and I’m spoiled. After almost thirty years in Ketchum/Sun Valley and Salt Lake City I like fresh powder and Seattle is not the place to find it.

On my first ski day on the road I managed to catch some new snow at Schweitzer Basin in northern Idaho, but it was too warm to be considered powder and I decided to move on to Montana where the prospects were better. I struck gold at Big Mountain in Whitefish and stayed for 5 days. Marilynn and I stayed at a great little B&B called Good Medicine Lodge just outside of town on the road to the ski area. The innkeepers, Woody and Betsy Cox, were welcoming hosts and the gourmet breakfasts were outstanding.

At Good Medicine I met two Canadian couples who had skied Big Mountain before and they let me tag along with them for a couple of days. Out of the 5 days in Whitefish I had 6-8” of fresh powder and blue skies 2 days and cut up powder and flat light for 3. Powder snow is like cocaine. Once you’ve had a hit you end up chasing the high – and 2 days out of 5 is pretty good.

Whitefish is a great little ski town. It reminded me of Ketchum in the 70’s – a cool place with a local vibe and no class distinctions. The people are friendly and unpretentious and the mountain is stellar. When the visibility is good Big Mountain is as good as it gets, but the mountain has a reputation for low clouds and fog and that means flat light in the open terrain at the top. On my second day the fog cleared and I realized I had been riding the chairlift over some of the most beautiful open slope powder covered terrain for a whole day without even realizing it. It would have been difficult to ski in flat light, but it showed me the positives and negatives of Big Mountain.

I wish I had more time to chase the snow this season. I’ll probably only end up with 10 to 15 days this year, because we’re headed back to Vietnam in a couple of weeks. Still, this was a good re-introduction to quality skiing. I ended up buying new skis and we’re already planning to meet the Canadian couples in Whitefish next year. Then it’s on to Big Sky and Bridger Bowl to see what they’re all about. Montana definitely has a lot to offer on the ski side. In fact, I like the whole package – the people, the little towns, the mountains, the Western feeling. I guess it’s no wonder that I feel connected there.

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