Monday, June 17, 2013

Into the summer doldrums

Actually this picture was taken during the winter after Andrew
 had to work during an epic storm cycle, but you get the point.
In 2004 I wrote a letter to Alaskan Ski Guide Dean Cummings asking for advice on how to pass the ski-less days of the summer. While I hoped he might have a secret recipe, or just put me at ease knowing Im not the only one suffering, he told me to fish. Ive tried fishing, but while I love the sport Im not much of a fisherman. So then I bought a trials bike and headed to the dirt jumps...and broke 3 ribs. I tried mountain biking and someone stole my bike. I like waterskiing and wake-surfing, but there arent any lakes around Bozeman, so I got into rock climbing, but last summer fell 50ft, broke my ankle and scared the last shred of summertime hope out of myself.
After realizing I was no good at most of the summer pass-times, or what I might be any good at significantly lowered my life expectancy, I started looking for more skiing. I've been backcountry skiing for almost 10 years and strung a few seasons together where Ive skied every month of the year. This year I met Jason Bacaj at one of the Seneca Parties at our new shop. He's a writer for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and avid skier, and we decided to work together on documenting the summer doldrums of a skier and the quest to get turns every month of the year. His quest starts like most, on the roadside chutes of the Beartooth Highway. Jason will be checking in every month with updates on his adventures so be sure to check our website or subscribe to the blog or our facebook page for his regular updates!
         -- Eric Newman

 Indoctrination of a ski bum

         It hardly snowed my first winter as a season pass holder at Bridger Bowl. You could only ride the quad to the midpoint until January. And no matter how many times my friends told me, hearing that the lift used to close because there was too much snow didn’t make it any better. Still, the handful of powder days to be had changed the way I viewed skiing. Hiking to steep terrain, skiing thigh-deep powder and having to study lines on the lift ride to make sure you don’t cliff out — it was a far cry from the high-speed ice carving and tree skiing I grew up on in West Virginia.
The Beartooth Pass is even more gorgeous than you think
            The snow remaining on the mountains around Bozeman nearly all summer called to me between ski seasons. By the time my second winter rolled around I made up my mind to ski at least once each month of the year and somehow tricked Eric Newman, owner of Seneca Boards, into letting me write about it for his site.
            The first seven months were easy. Skin up to Bridger before the season starts then ride through the end of the year in April. There’s still snow at Bridger and in the other ranges that ring Bozeman but the way to start the hard leg of this journey isn’t with a swift jaunt 16 miles north of town.
            It just so happened that the Beartooth Pass was scheduled to open up Memorial Day weekend, which also happens to be my birthday weekend. Obviously, it was a sign from God that the Beartooth Pass is where this adventure needed to start. And after watching about a month of snow plowing videos I was pretty stoked to get down there, even though my small crew bailed to float the Smith River.
            The solo drive was a little rough after taking a few days to celebrate the fact that I survived a quarter-century of life. But I made it to Red Lodge and found Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company’s taproom in due time. A friendly chef told me about some free campgrounds just outside the pass. After a couple beers I headed out to check out the pass.
The pass switchbacks from an elevation of about 5,500 feet at nearby Red Lodge to almost 11,000 feet on its way to Yellowstone National Park and is as dramatic as it sounds. I went up to check out the Gardner Headwall, just past the Wyoming line, in the couple hours of sunlight that were left. The snow was soft and I got in a couple runs on low-angle stuff before the light waned and I had to try and find the campgrounds.
Tempting steeps, dangerous conditions
Sleep was hard to come by in the backseat of the Volkswagen Jetta, loaded as it was with ski gear. I packed up and headed back up the pass a little after 6 a.m. It was frozen corn but the headwall skied all right. The steeper chutes were mighty tempting but a wet slide at the bottleneck of an hourglass chute kept me on the low-angle slopes again.
I admired a distant snowstorm at the bottom of the run before starting the hike back up. Maybe 10 minutes later as I scrambled up some rocks on the way to the top, the distant storm was on top of me pounding snow and high winds. Thunder and lightning were crashing around by the time I reached the top. It was whiteout conditions when I reached my car and headed back down the pass.

 The heavy low hanging clouds and rain on Highway 212 gave the world a sharper color and introspective aura. It was a good start to the adventure. The next one won’t include any car camping.

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