Unseasonably warm and mostly dry weather continue throughout Southwest Montana. There have been bits of snow in and around Bozeman and while conditions are not ideal, there is still decent backcountry skiing if you’re not against a long approach or a bit of a drive.
The Martin Luther King holiday gave me a three-day weekend off of work, and I was fortunate enough to make it out skiing each days. Friday night brought three to four inches of snow to the southern Madison range so Shana, Ted and I set out to ski near Big Horn Peak in Yellowstone. Mike and I hiked up Big Horn Peak in the summer and were wondering about skip possibilities. While we knew there would be skiing, we were unsure about how much snow the area received. Lucky for me, Shana and Ted had skied there before and were great guides, but unlucky for Mike, he was having back issues and could not join us.
From the Black Butte trailhead, it is about six miles and 3,000+ feet to the ridgeline below the peak. (The ridge brings you to the Sky Rim trail, which you can connect with other trails to hike all the way to Hyalite Canyon, just outside of Bozeman.) The peak itself is a few tenths of a mile away but we avoided as it is steep, rocky, and windy with some exposed areas.
It took us about 4.25 hours to reach the ridgeline. After a somewhat flat start, the trail started to climb nicely up through the trees. It never got too steep but was “real” skinning, which required one kick turn after another. (I love that!) About thirty minutes from the top, we popped out of the trees and skinned the last few hundred vertical feet to the ridge. The grey clouds, which had been threatening for a while, drew near and the winds picked up making for a cold push to the ridge.
Skiing down we found a variety of conditions. From wind-swept, firm snow to soft, powdery turns to slightly crusty yet manageable conditions, the descent was varied enough to keep you on your guard. It was a mostly easy traverse out with a few short hills to climb including one, which required a short skin. Overall, it was a six-hour day and we did not encounter another soul. While the conditions were not great, they were far from horrible and it was fun to explore the area for the first time in the winter. This was a worthwhile outing and highly recommended to the keen backcountry skier. A big thanks to Shana and Ted for letting me tag along!
Author's note: My Types of Snow post continues to be wildly popular. Last weekend's ski outing, with the variety of snow types encountered, got me thinking that the type of snow will determine what ski techniques are used and skiers probably have a long list of terminology/phrases to describe them. For instance, while skiing near Big Horn Peak, we utilized the power wedge along with combat skiing and survival skiing techniques. I'll continue to think about other ski techniques and if I come up with a good list, I'll post it. Readers are encouraged to leave your terms along with a definition in the comment section below this post. Happy skiing!