Please welcome guest poster, Catherine, sharing a recent spring boarding/skiing anniversary trip.
An early April ski trip is our tradition, started on our long ago honeymoon on Mt. Hood, Oregon. Our local ski area closes early April, making it easy to leave with no fear of missing out on a last good powder dump. We were headed south of the border, to American Kootenai country in northwest Montana. Our destination: 3 smaller mountains, all promising good vertical. To keep things interesting, we were also taking our tiny camper on the back of our Tacoma, our first winter camping adventure.
First up, Montana Ski Bowl, the Missoula local’s favourite. 12 miles from town (it’s USA, no metric here!), 2600 vertical feet drop, serviced by 2 old school double chairs. We arrived around 10am, sorry we’d missed first chair, because there was a good 40cm of new snow. Not to worry, there were no crowds, no powder frenzy, and we skied great snow all day. The Grizzly chair from the base had plenty of options, some tasty glades and good fall line all the way. Eventually we figured we really should try the upper LaValle Creek chair and were rewarded by the West Ridge run. Wow, what a phenomenally fun and super long run down to the base. The vibe was laid back and friendly- as one local told us, everyone had used up their sick days, normally it would be busier. The cozy bar and wood fire pizza joint at the base was packed at lunch, so we ate at the funky A frame day lodge which had the best ever ski area burger and delicious quesadillas. We left Snowbowl already making plans to return, to watch the weather and arrive post-powder dump.
After our great day at Snowbowl we drove 2 hours east of Missoula to Philipsburg, a 19th century mining town nicely restored to become a 21st century tourist destination (with an open campground). Nearby is Discovery Mountain, affectionately nicknamed Disco. Temperatures had warmed up so we weren’t expecting the 10cm of new snow to be great, but exploring a new mountain is always fun. And Disco was a fun mountain, with a mellow family friendly frontside, and a back side with 2 chairlifts and some 15 radical double black chutes. So steep were these chutes, that I balked at making one of them our first run. After a warm up cruiser we proceeded to boogie down all the chutes, using the “run chooser” spinner dial, making the which-run decision super easy. We had a great morning, then the sun came out, the snow got sticky and we definitely didn’t ski until last lift. The retro-disco era cafeteria offers home baked goods (disappointing), but the friendly staff and the $46 lift tickets left us satisfied.
Turner Mountain in Libby was our final stop on what we were now calling our Fresh Tracks Tour, and the rain indeed turned to snow as we climbed the logging road to this one chair, largely volunteer operated mountain. Turner Mountain is 22 miles north of Libby, located on the Kootenai River south of the border. It’s an unpretentious, former asbestos mining town that has seen better days, but that keeps it real. There are motels, but no winter camping in town, and none of the ski areas mentioned allow parking lot camping. Libby does have good local entertainment- the Red Dawg pizza joint on the road to Turner (peanut shells on the floor style) and downtown, the Cabinet Mountain Brewing Company and the Past Time tavern with weekend tunes.
Saturday, April 7th was Turner Mountain’s last day of operation and there were a handful of locals waiting for first chair, with maybe 20 vehicles were in the parking lot all day. Turner has 2100 feet of consistent vertical drop and 360 degrees of mountain playground. There are plenty of groomed runs, 30 % blue, 60% black. But what makes this mountain special is the abundant glades. A forest fire cleared the mountain some 50 years ago and apparently the Turner volunteer brushing crew does the best job ever maintaining their incredible glades. This area is only open Friday through Sunday, unless you want to rent the entire mountain on a Thursday, which is popular with ski groups from Canada. There’s a cozy lodge with a fireplace, home cooked food and lift tickets are a wonderful $38. Turner was the perfect place to end our season. It just kept snowing, and we boarded and skied the trees all day, topped off with an invitation to join the final day potluck with our new friends. We will be watching the storm cycles next year for a return trip.
Another great Spring skiing anniversary trip, so good to have a common love of winter sport and adventure to share together. We also share a love of exploring smaller ski areas. We’ve skied Montana’s big mountains, but we sure enjoyed the laid back Kootenai charm of these smaller mountains.
Sports and the outdoors have been a great focus of Catherine’s life, starting with dropping out of university for a decade of skiing at Whistler, then returning for my teaching degree in order to have a career that let her live in places to pursue her athletic passions. Her passions have led her from windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge to triathlons and now, retired, she continues to embrace new challenges such as snowboarding, paddle boarding, and bike touring.
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