The plan for this year's big ski trip was once again to base things out of our place here in Hamilton, Montana. In addition to some days at Lost Trail Powder Mountain, our local ski area that has been a big hit with everyone in previous years, we would be heading a few hours east to visit Big Sky and Moonlight Basin ski resorts. In conjunction with our ski trip, the guys would be helping out J&E Productions in preparing our latest video travel piece for First Tracks!! Online Ski Magazine: Moonlight Basin - Montana's New Frontier.
If you'd like a preview of some of our favorite pictures from the trip, head to the 2003-2004 Ski Trip Preview Page.
Saturday, February 21st, 2004 - Lost Trail Powder Mountain, Montana
If you'd like to use a map to orient yourself while reading the report, click on the image below to open a high resolution trail map of Lost Trail Powder Mountain in a new window.
Although none of my guests had arrived yet, Saturday morning was the start of the big ski trip for me. We hadn't had any huge dumps of snow over the past couple of weeks, but a few smaller events kept things fresh. Stable temperatures below freezing also meant that any north-facing terrain was retaining high-quality powder. I decided to head up to Lost Trail and do a bit of reconnaissance for the crew, to find out where the good snow would be.
I left home around noontime, and what had generally been a typical drive to the hill suddenly turned into a unique and memorable event as I approached the area of the Sula store. I noticed the car ahead of me braking quickly, so I followed suit as I looked ahead to figure out the cause. I saw a large mound of gravel ahead; making it look like highway construction was under way again. However, as I got closer, I could see that the gravel was actually IN the road! Initially I wasn't sure what had happened, but then I realized a landslide had fallen into the road off the western slope above. It had covered both lanes of the highway, and although a vehicle with good clearance might be have been able to get around the slide off the side of the road, I don't think anyone wanted to tempt fate by driving under the slide until it was worked on. My passage barred by debris, I pulled into the Sula Store parking lot and got out to learn more about what had happened. The owners were right out on the front porch of the store, and indicated that the bulk of the slide had come down a few minutes before we arrived. The slope was still very fluid, with small slides touching off every few moments. The store owners indicated that a large crack had developed on the hillside earlier, and finally it just gave way. Fortunately, nobody was under it when it went. They did say it was pretty comical the way I did a double take as I approached the slide and tried to figure out what was going on. After hanging around at the store for a bit and getting some pictures, I found out about the detour they had opened up to get us around the blockage. It took us a few miles to the east on a mostly dirt route. The road was slow, but it wasn't heavily traveled so it was generally smooth.
Once at the mountain, I immediately headed over to Chair 4 to scope out good snow for Sunday. Main Street and Side Street had pretty good conditions, but I was really interested in checking out the south-facing terrain off the summit. As I somewhat expected, the south facing terrain had been baked by the sun, and the powder was done. I now knew that south-facing terrain wasn't going to yield good snow, so on my next run, I headed down Oreo to visit some of the north facing terrain at the top of Elk Basin. Most of the terrain at the very top of the basin is closed, since there are some cliff areas, and I'm guessing that the patrol doesn't have the manpower to sweep all the extra terrain. So, I made sure to keep tabs on the out of bounds signs as I chose a line. This was my first exploration of this area, but the terrain was really sweet. It consisted of a mixture of moderately spaced trees, with some nice open patches. I came across a nice open area with a pitch of maybe 35 degrees, which was choked with bottomless powder. At the top of the tree-lined chute were a couple of nice pillows that would make for some fabulous skiing. I decided to save these for tomorrow when Greg and I could visit them with video cameras, especially since I could take a line off to the side for now and enjoy the powder anyway. I just had to hope that nobody happened upon the line in the last hour or so of lift service. But, either way, there were plenty more lines at the top of the basin that we could ski. As I surveyed my line, I could look across and see skiers tracking up the (obviously closed) terrain across the basin to the right of Hollywood Bowl. I've now learned that part of this area is called "The Jackson Five", possibly pertaining to a number of steep, rock lined chutes that can be found there. There were so many tracks, that I wondered if the patrol had somehow decided to open up the area for skiing. My best guess is that it was simply rampant poaching.
Satisfied with my reconnaissance for the day, I caught a ride on Chair 3 and headed back to the base. Driving home, I found that the detour route around the landslide was now rutted and muddy, but still quite passable. It turns out that Greg had arrived in Hamilton sometime during the day, but unfortunately I'd already left for skiing. So, he took the opportunity to poke around town, go for a run etc., and came back in the evening. We decided to go out for dinner, but since it was late, E stayed in with Ty, and Greg and I went out to a local steak place called the Hideout. We had a good time catching up and getting psyched for the next day's skiing.
(Greg and Jay hit the powder at Lost Trail)
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