The plan was hatched before the East got pummeled with snow and the West had one of the lowest snow years on record. In a way, it worked out. Sweeney and Kelly flew out and Catherine, Dylan, Atlas and I met them in Montana for some hut living, hot tubing, warm weather, and spring skiing.
We had a 8.5 hour drive from Seattle across the state, through Idaho and over 3 mountain passes. With Atlas still only 6 months, it was our first long trip with a dog in tow, and while he did well, it’s a bit different road tripping with a dog. But this story is about spending a few days up on a ridge with friends in western Montana, and doing some skiing, so let’s focus on that. Unfortunately Dylan and Catherine had to work part of the time, but we all got to enjoy the views and the hut amenities.
We met at a motel the night before, and it was great to see old friends again. The next morning, Sweeney, Kelly and I drove up early to ski until the hut was open to us. Catherine and Dylan took care of the pup and met us after.
Usually, there’s several feet of snow blocking the road for the last 1.5 miles to the lodge. Not this year. We drove up, and still had about a half mile hike to the snow each way. Behind us, the avalanche basin and upper zone glistened in the midday sun on the upper mountain.
Skinning commenced in the base of the gully and we set a steep track up. Luckily the snow had plenty of time to consolidate and the Low danger meant we were mostly concerned with timing the corn right. Day one was mostly a quick up and back, following the skier’s right side of the gully where some lightly crusted powder lay. The hike out was what made it unique.
That evening we all sampled Montana brews, and enjoyed the hot tubs and dry sauna and sunset over the valley below. We let Atlas outside on a long lead but as he’d never been ‘off leash’ outside a dog park, we kept an eye on him.
We set out sights a bit higher for the second day, and skinning up past our previous days top out over the looker’s right shoulder and neared the summit ridge. Up there we found cool lines and some powder. Sweeney wanted to push on, but Kelly and I were content to hang out. I found myself in especially rough shape after being sick for months.
Sweeney got the best views as he pressed on a bit higher than us, all around were snow capped peaks and enough lines for a lifetime.
On the descent we found some variable powder, then snaked through trees in the burn zone and back out to the main gully.
We were hoping to make an afternoon group jaunt with skis, skins and snowshoes, but because of the lack of snow we instead took short walks on old logging roads and hung around the lodge.
The last day I was pretty beat. Sweeney, Kelly and I make the trek up once again, first to our ski cache, and then following our day old skin track. The day was warm and I wanted to maximize lounging, so I turned around and did my best to make the most of the pristine corn for one last run. Sweeney and Kelly followed suit not far behind after they’d gained a few hundred more vert. They still had a whole second half left of their trip. After one more day at Downing Mountain they were headed to Whitefish.
Catherine and Atlas greeted me at the lodge. After we said our hellos and were headed inside, Atlas spotted a crow, and took off exploring for the first time. We were a little concerned at first, but he came back when called, and after handing out treats to everyone, we turned it into a fun game. By the afternoon he was playing fetch in the yard and was good and beat from romping about in the open spaces.
We let Atlas tire himself out a bit as we packed up for the long ride come. We chased the sunset across Washington, where it beat us to the horizon near Ellensburg. After the long drive, we felt good to be home.
Here’s a short video of some of my skiing footage from the trip. Sweeney has much more, and everyone snapped some great shots of the trip.