February 18, 2013

Crashing Snow Bowl & Booting Point Six

In our second winter here in Montana, Lisa and I finally made our way up to ski at Snow Bowl.  My coworkers Ric and Mark convinced Lisa and I to join them out on the slopes for Martin Luther King day.  I have been up to this area several times before to run but never during the winter.  There is something about paying for an easy ride up any mountain that just doesn't sit right with me.  I prefer to stomp it out myself for free and not be limited to chair lifts.

Neither Lisa nor myself had skied in over two years.  Adding to that, snow bowl is know for steep icy slopes.  This was going to be interesting.  Something that hasn't changed in the two years since we last went skiing - why is it so damn expensive?  For a moment I thought about snowshoeing up and skiing down but I would have ended up alone all day.  A hundred dollars later and we were ready to go...

Lisa was pretty nervous while riding up the Grizzly Lift for the first time.  As advertised, the bowls looked very icy and steep.  On the first run Lisa completely stopped halfway down and was unsure she could make it down to the Levelle Creek chair lift.  After a few runs, with some hard falls, she gained her confidence back and was flying down the slopes.  She was looking particularly good on one run until crashing into Ric and a six foot embankment next to the Levelle lift.  The look on Ric's face as she crashed into him was worth the lift ticket!

After a few hours of skiing the western bowls, we took the long eastern boundary paradise trail back to the lodge.  Lisa, Ric, Mark and me shook off the snow, ice and bruised muscles while enjoying an expensive cafeteria lunch.  After lunch I decided to head outside of the park, into the backcountry and up Point Six.  At 7,940 ft, Point Six rises high above the Missoula valley floor.  On most days Point SIx is buried deep in the clouds but today we had a beautiful cloudless day - minus the smog of course.    

Point Six is known for its weather station called the Death Star.  I've seen this dark ball from as far away as Lolo Peak.  It's huge and makes strange noises.  This summit is the windiest of all the Missoula area peaks. After hurdling downhill at break neck speeds all day it was nice to finally push myself slowly, upward.  

The snow drifts were incredible.  One second I was on the surface and the next I was chest deep in snow.  Oh and there were huge cornices that I was trying to avoid in my big ski boots.   Add the deafening, skin freezing winds gusting at 40mph and it made for a great mountain summit experience.   

In my opinion, Point Six has the best views in the Missoula area.  While on the summit you are right in middle of all the major peaks.  You have great views of the Missoula and Bitterroot valley floors, the Bitterroots and Sapphires off to the South, the Missions and Swans to the North and obviously you are nestled among the Rattlesnake peaks.  Ch paa qn peak and the town of Arlee sit just West of the Point Six.

Murphy Peak (8167 ft) is so close that it feels like you can reach out and touch it.  Behind Murphy are the Missions.  Serious Griz country and monster 10,000 ft peaks.  Missoulians like to pretend that Griz don't wander over to the Rattlesnake, right....

Close up of the Missions.  I really want to hike / run over there sometime soon.  

Looking northeast into the Rattlesnake Wilderness at Mosquito peak (8057 ft).  Way off in the distance you can just make out the snow covered peaks of the Swans.  Most of the flat areas between the major peaks are wet marsh areas in the summer.  In the winter they freeze and it is much easier to navigate and connect peaks.  

Straight east is the formidable Stuart Peak.  Twice this winter I have tried and failed to summit Stuart.  The Stuart Peak trail is currently waist deep and would require more than just me breaking trail.  Can't wait for the Spring thaw.

Oh how small Mount Jumbo and Sentinel are from the surrounding peaks.  The Sapphires are tiny but beautiful.  

While peak gazing I noticed movement far, far below on one of the alpine lakes.  If you look carefully there is a guy skiing in the middle of Jenny Lake.  Lisa and I miraculously crossed paths with this guy on our final run.  He snowshoed out from the lake and came out on the upper paradise trail.  He looked exhausted and was happy to downhill back to the lodge.  It took him a couple hours to snowshoe out from the lake.

Finally, the beautiful view of the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys.  Due to a stagnant high pressure system, we had plenty of smog trapped in the valley.  When sunlight hits the smog it turns into a blueish white haze.  I can't stand it.  Such a beautiful, remote place surrounded by wilderness should never have air quality issues.  All the city does is issue air quality alerts and recommend its citizens to stay indoors.  That is not acceptable.

Great day out on the slopes but I enjoyed the awkward ski boot hike to Point Six the most.    Can't wait for summer and running to the summit while snacking on wild huckleberries.  We finished the day off with a pizza and a few pitchers of beer at the lodge.  Not sure if I will come back here to ski again but the pizza and beer might be worth a long drive!

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Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.