72″+12″=84″ on Lolo Pass

ImageWe are back in Missoula, and before we move on, we decide to check out a spot the locals like to tour.  Lolo Pass is at 5,233ft in the Bitterroot Range, along the border between Montana and Idaho.  There is a lot of wildlife in this area, and we watch carefully for moose, hoping to see something we don’t normally run into at home.  As we reached the top of the pass, I was surprised to see a large visitors center at the top, with bathrooms and a parking attendant.  It almost felt like a ski resort, although most people were there to snowmobile or take their family sledding.  Never having been to the area, we had no idea where to go, but we tried to read the mountains and pick the best places to ski.  We followed a skin track up a ridge to some mellow, yet open, north facing trees.  There was a lot of evidence of logging in the area, so we skied lightly, hoping not to undercover a stump lurking below in the snow.  After the first pitch, we came to an old narrow road, but other tracks kept leading downhill so we followed.  The snow was light and deep.  After the second pitch, we crossed the abandoned road again.  It was obvious if we followed it, it would lead back to where we started, but we decided to ski the last pitch to the bottom and hike on the highway back to the parking lot.  Below us was the most open part of the run, which allowed us to ski fast and take wide turns.  At the bottom, we came to an open creek and had to find a place to cross it.  There was one down tree that was too narrow to walk across, but if we threw our skies to the other side, we could scoot across it on our butts.  We all made it safely across and then boot packed up the shallow ditch to the road.

On our next lap we decided to cross the highway and see what the south side of the pass had to offer.  We skinned up a closed forest service road packed down by snowmobilers.  At first, it looked futile; the terrain was too flat and it didn’t look like the road was leading anywhere.  After the third bend in the road, Jon eyed an open ridge line in the distance, and decided he had to ski it.  It was a ways away, but we skinned our way there.  The higher we climbed, the colder it got and the wind began to pick up.  Half way up the ridge I realized I couldn’t feel my face.  Time to climb faster.  When we reached the top we switched over quickly and dropped in.  This aspect seemed to have more snow coverage, and even though there were a lot of down trees, you could just pop over them like skiing over small pillows.  The snow was so soft if was like goose down.  You knew it was there, but when you skied it it felt like you were floating on a cloud.  It’s rare in Colorado to ski such light consistent snow; there is too much of a temperature gradient.  Here though, it had been very cold since we got here, which was a gift hidden in the snow.

After we made our way back to the truck, we were unsure of our next move.  Since we had begun our trip, it had been snowing across the northwestern United States.  Somehow we had skied everyday, each one being better than the last.  We had been spontaneously having the time of our lives.  Now though, there wasn’t much snow in the forecast, so we weren’t sure where to head to next.  We decided to try somewhere neither of us had ever skied, so we called up our friend Justin McBride and drove to Bend, OR.Image

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