Posts Tagged ‘Red Lodge’

This year marked a new moment in my (ski)  life. It was the first time I had lived in Billings Montana and not owned a Red Lodge Mountain Resort season pass. In years gone by since I began skiing again for real the winter of 2006/07 I have always owned one. There were the fabled years of 2008/09 where I owned a pass at both Grand Targhee and RLM. I tried this again last year with the Big Sky Resort gold pass and the RLM pass. Dual citizenship as I call it. Last year it did not play out well for me. I logged too few day at Red Lodge to pay for the pass, or justify the purchase again this year. So it was with a heavy heart (ok not that heavy) that I pulled the plug on my Red Lodge season on Thanksgiving Day, 2013. I was destined to retrun, sure, only after the bullwheel ceased spinning.

Mother nature would have other plans for me. With two weeks left on my Big Sky pass winter was becoming hit or miss. Firm chalky conditions on the north slope of Big Sky resort still called my name. But the siren song of Red Lodge’s snow report called louder… A full 5″ in the afternoon with 9″ overnight. NOAA’s website stated “The snow will be heavy at times.” Yeah, sounds like it. I packed up the gear and pulled out the phone. I hadn’t played for a lift ticket yet this year (despite skiing Snowbasin, Snowbird, Traghee, and 5 days at Jackson Hole) so the hunt for a voucher was on. Before I entered the canyon to drive out of Big Sky I re-affirmed my decision. Red Lodge’s facebook had posted a snowfall of 11″ by 7:30pm. It. was. ON!

 

Advertisements

The “Donut Season” is in full effect at Red Lodge Mountain Resort. Sure you can eat donuts from the City Bakery all year long, but you won’t always get the opportunity to burn them off by skinning 10,000 feet worth of vertical up at the hill all year. Red Lodge’s uphill policy during the operating season limits you to uphill travel before the hill opens and after it closes for the day (better than being banished altogether). But the shoulder seasons (the Donut before which the hill is open and after it closes) inconsistently consistently produces some of the best powder turns off Grizzley Peak…or at least some of the least populated ones.

I set out Saturday properly inspired, my normal eastern Montana ski partner having completed over 8k worth of vertical the day before. Why not push myself for 10k, a gold standard for touring days in my mind. My reasoning behind this standard is simple: when it comes to lift service 40,000 feet in a day is “a big day” or the gold standard to me. For alpine touring that similar achievement is 10,000 feet. I think the 4 to 1 ratio works. Typically a leisurely 5,000 foot day touring is about as much work and time as spinning 25,000 feet of lift service. Sure they both get the legs working and lungs pumping, but they are also both pretty boiler plate days. 10k and 40k days are the things dreams (or nightmares) are made of. Early starts, burned out legs, and lap after lap after grueling lap. And tons of turns….O the glorious turns!

Sunrise Over Miami Beach

Sunrise Over Miami Beach

Conditions at Red Lodge were perfect for just such a personal challenge. The turns off the top into “Continental” and “Berry’s” for the first two laps were playful powder turns with some dicey exposures at the road cuts, and frozen goat heads and frozen goat torsos chucks where the snowcat and rolled the cat tracks. Lower mountain north facing shots too continued to provide soft forgiving turns with soft turns through the slag plies on “Bigfoot.” While skinning up for the 2nd and 3rd laps I talked myself into progressively more aggressive terrain. I reasoned that in order to keep finding untracked and non-sunbaked snow I would have to move into steeper, dicier terrain. Cole Creek could have provided the aspects I needed, but might have been tracked out, and also provides less vertical per skin. Or if I did climb all the way from the top to the bottom of Cole Creek certainly the skin track wanders a bit more.

It was under this thought process that I am proud (and mortified) to admit that I opened up “the drain” for the first time this season. One word to describe the experience… “interesting”. Or “scary”, “spicy”, “sketchy”, “foolish” and “terrifying.” That being said I dropped three laps into it, slicing and dicing my way down the “Main Drain” twice, and “Westside Nosedive” once. Tracks weren’t just laid out in the snow, my skis took a fair number of hits as well. The drain was littered with granite shark fins and bulges in the snow that could have been rocks, stumps, snow piles or other various detritus. By the end of the third lap down the drain even in the steep sheltered terrain the snow was becoming clumped and isothermic. It might have been the warming temps, as the sun really wasn’t out in full force anymore. Also the exposed and open creek towards the bottom of the drain may have been adding moisture to the surrounding snowpack (a first time skiing that line with a creek to greet you at the bottom…guess that’s why they call it “the drain”?).

The fifth and sixth laps were the really butt kickers. I figured on the range between the 7,000 to 9,000 foot mark being a trying time. My feet and legs felt like there were in pretty good shape, with no real hot spots in the boots, but thing in general started to slow down. The hill was deserted, the conditions were deteriorating. Most of the snow had been warmed up and was started to set up as it cooled down. Isothermic snow in the Drainage yielded to halfway re-frozen snow on the runout below the “Face of M.” When I slapped the skins on for one last assault up the skin track on Lazy M I figured the last 1,100 feet would be child’s play. That unfounded optimism lasted all the way to the top of the “Chicken Trail”, or about 250 feet. The steeper sections of the skin track were setting back up, and were riddled with boot packs, giving the skins a lot less grip at times. The runs back down Lazy M were garbage, and the only successful way to ski the difficult snow was to charge the turns hard working the slightly frozen mashed over. After 10k of skinning I was only barely up to the task.

Actually it's the "over 10k" day...

Actually it’s the “over 10k” day…

How to properly toast my second 10k day? Well a nighttime drive through the killing fields of Joliet, Montana dodging deer while trying to eat a footlong sub seemed about right. Having survived the drive home (the sub however did not) I rested easy, content that tomorrow my day would be easier.

Which it was not…after attempting to push Craig’s Yaris up a substantial portion of Ski Hill Road (a great workout to warm up the quads and calves) we abandoned the vehicle and it’s balding summer tires in favor of hiking the few remaining mere miles. About 5″ of wet warm snow blanketed out approach. As luck would have it no sooner had we strapped on our ski boots then our ride appeared, providing us with a lift to the parking lot, and my with my 1st chance to ski some lift(ed) assist vert. The 1st lap was the best of the bunch in terms of consistent snow. “2nd St.” to “Upper Limited” was a nice fresh white carpet of untracked pow. “Upper Limited” was slightly less blanketed in the shelted lower half, and “Lower Limited” while untracked was showing signs of warming 20% denisty snow already. Creating turns that may have looked effortless in the spooned signatures we left behind…but were far from effortless in their making. The warming temps and wet heavy snow marched up the mountain behind us in our next two consecutive laps. After a slog on tired legs through some of the deepest snow on the mountain on “Upper Continental” and “Boomerang” I knew I was done for the weekend.

The Donut season at RLM has been absolutely going off. It feels like it’s high tide for the touring season, and in reality things are just teeing off. I’ve still got some bugs to work out the system, as my lackluster skin glue, and blistered toe will account for. Still it’s been a great start for the northern-most bcbuzzard…and I’ve got the smiles (and videos) to prove it…

-Phil

YTD stats: Days skied: 6, YTD self propelled vert: 31,526, YTD lift(ed) assist: 741